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Outgrowing the dining room

Friday, 23 September 2011 | By Michelle Hammond
Kathryn Heaven, Style and SubstanceWorking from home is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of starting a business, particularly if you never need to leave the house in order to make sales.

 

While service-based businesses need nothing more than a laptop, it’s a little more complicated if you’re a home-based business selling products, particularly if you offer women’s clothing on behalf of designers.

 

Kathryn Heaven can vouch for it – she’s the founder of former home-based business Style and Substance, an online retailer providing plus-size women with the latest fashions from overseas.

 

Heaven has always had a passion for fashion, but was initially put off by the industry for its cookie-cutter image of stick-thin models.

 

She decided to put aside her fashion career aspirations and trained as an accountant, until she began to regret her decision.

 

“I realised that life is for living, not something to put aside until we achieve a particular number on the bathroom scales,” she says.

 

This realisation led Heaven to create Style and Substance, which launched in 2009.

 

According to Heaven, the most challenging part of starting her business was learning how to import products from the United States and finding the space to accommodate them all.

 

“I had it in my head I would only need a corner of the house… I thought, all I need is my laptop in the corner of our dining room and a big desk,” she says.

 

“I actually wrote in my business plan that I needed maybe three or four square metres. I planned to take a drop-selling approach where I would sell the stock and then order it.”

 

“However, suppliers didn’t operate that way. That was my first mistake – I assumed I could do drop-selling, not have to buy stock in advance.”

 

The sheer volume of stock was another aspect Heaven failed to take into account.

 

“I hadn’t taken into account how much room clothing takes up. It’s not like having clothes in your wardrobe – they have to be in immaculate condition, ready for sale,” she says.

 

“I lasted like that for a month before I took over the entire dining room with mobile clothing racks. I then went into the lounge room.”

 

“From there, my partner built me a room at the back of our house – about five metres by three.”

 

“People would come into our house and it was embarrassing… There was nowhere safe to sit and eat because of the clothes. It also felt like I was continually chasing my tail.”

 

Heaven eventually acknowledged that she needed storage space outside of her home, not only to free up space but to restore her sanity.

 

Within 10 months of starting up, she had moved her entire operation into a warehouse, since dubbed “Diva Central” by the customers who frequent it. Last year, the business recorded close to $350,000 in revenue.

 

Despite her initial setbacks, Heaven has made a name for herself as a leading player in the plus-size industry, both here and abroad.

 

“I learned to get as much information about the type of business you are embarking on. Perhaps find a business mentor before you begin your journey,” she says.

 

“When you do make a mistake, as long as it can be overcome at a minimal expense, learn from it and use the knowledge you have gained to improve your business decisions in the future.”