Zaini: How to grow your business from the idea stage

First of all, what’s the Zaini story?

After leaving University I went to the Swiss Alps to ski instruct but sadly one month into the season I had a nasty accident which put me out of work so I started making hats. There wasn’t a beanie I could find in resort which was bright or baggy enough for my style so I started to make my own. A friend and I knocked around with some logos and  - boom -  we had a brand. 

How did you come up with the business idea? 

While making hats in the resort I noticed a gap in the market for this style of beanie that I was designing and suddenly everyone wanted one. I started selling them to clients, friends and shops in resort and it became a real craze. This put me the idea in my mind that this could be more than a hobby and had the potential to become a business. 

The rest of my time in resort, when not making hats, I would wobble around on crutches researching beanies - what are people buying, what they don’t like, seeing where and when beanies are worn and what the shops stock etc.

Miranda Harper Zaini

When did you realise the potential of the product and decide to make it a full-time project?

On returning to the UK, after the season ended, I noticed that people in the UK wanted my hats and it wasn’t just a ski season fashion so I spent the next six months, 16 hour days and without a weekend developing this idea and headed over to China to source a manufacturer. To make a serious business I needed to outsource the workload of making the actual hats. 

They are all, and still are, handmade so this was important to find a perfect manufacture as a lot of hard work and details needs to go into each hat. Once that was sorted I knew I could make it a full-time project and I got on with the rest; website development, PR, admin, accounts, marketing etc. We officially launched in October 2010. After my first event - Glasgow Ski Show - we sold over 200 beanies, in one day, so I knew I was on the right path!

Plenty of of celebrities including One Direction wear your hats, this PR must be great?

Yes it is! Social media is so powerful for us and having endorsements with celebrities helps a lot as they have huge followings that we need to reach. I’ve done it through hard work, persistence and timing - but normally you get some response from them if your persitent!

It is also nice to know our beanies are loved by fashion pros such as Sadie Front to Sports stars such as England Rugby International Dylan Hartley and even the biggest boy band in the world One Direction. Our beanies really are for everyone!

You were on Dragons’ Den last year, how was that experience?

Well…..it was terrifying to say the least! But a really good experience getting my business torn apart by five of the wealthiest business people in Europe. No investment sadly but some great feedback and advice which I have taken on board and will grow the business with.

It also gave Zaini great publicity in front of six million viewers in the run up to Christmas! I have grown up watching the programme so to actually be on it was a great feeling!

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?

Working for myself. I love getting up in the morning and know that whatever I do I’ll benefit from directly and working my own hours is also nice! It's amazing what driving force and determination you have when decisions effect your business and life directly. 

But also with the good times comes the bad when cash low is low and your chasing up suppliers for payment etc. Its not all fun and games! But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to going back to employment! 

And it must be great to have a business that you’re passionate about, right?

Absolutely - this is key to any business. I always said from day one, when I stop enjoying what I do I will stop doing it. I try to live by the moto - ‘don't spend too much time making a living that you forget to make a life’ . For me,  it’s about having fun and experiencing new things - not just making lots of money!  I’m 27 and have my life ahead of me so enjoying it is the most important part! 

Developing a business around my hobbies (skiing, outdoors etc) allows me do these things while driving my business. I go skiing once a year and get to travel the world (I have been to South Africa, India, China and Bali on business sourcing new suppliers etc) so incorporating my business in with my passions is also what I love. 

What do you put down to your success?

Having an idea and applying the following; hard work, commitment and determination. Anything in life is possible with these three aspects. 

Any plans for 2015?

Big plans! We are expanding our product range to over 200 styles of beanies - we started with just 15! We’re also adding new products including neck warmers, hand warmers and some other top secret designs! Another thing we’re doing is bringing out our sports collection which will include the top UK Football and Rugby teams coloured beanies and a Rugby World Cup range so fans can keep warm while pitch side! Lots to keep us busy!

Where can we buy one of your hats? 

All available online at - www.zaini.com  - we only sell online and at events we go to around the UK. Go keep warm…. 

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