If someone had told my 18 year old self, studying hard for my A Levels to ensure I got into my first choice University before the Government tripled the fees; that in just over 5 years I would be celebrating the 5th Anniversary of my own business I would have laughed. This was never the plan! It wasn’t even an idea lurking in the depths of my mind. If you start to google ‘business plans’, ‘should I start my own business’, ‘is starting a business risky’, you are faced with page upon page of advice and tips, lists and statistics; the most famous being ‘8 out of 10 business fail in the first 18 months’. If I’d have read any of it before I started I think it’s safe to say Custom Converse wouldn’t be here today.
I get asked quite regularly why I started the business, what made me want to do this and take such a big risk. I used to make my answers fairly ambiguous and leave people to fill in the gaps. My local newspaper started off an article with “A teenager has turned down a place at University after her unusual business idea took off.”, which is only half true. I did turn down my place at University but only because of mental illness and a constant battle with general anxiety. The business came after. You spend your life in education working towards the next year, the next set of exams, the next goal and I’d grown up with University as the big target. Once that was gone I had a totally empty future ahead of me. I needed to do something on a daily level to keep occupied and to give my mind something positive to focus on again. My therapist at the time asked if I was creative and suggested painting and drawing to be a good use of my time. It’s both relaxing and productive. I was studying Psychology, Geography and Chemistry at A Level so I hadn’t even thought about Art since my GCSE’s.
In the middle of this my 19th birthday was approaching and my parents had been asking what I’d like for a present. They had nothing planned since they expected me to be away at University and I was still stuck in my ‘empty void’ frame of mind with no idea what I wanted other than to be happy. My mum had threatened to throw away my oldest pair of Converse over the summer as they were falling apart but I was too attached to them. Instead I asked for a new pair of Converse for my birthday. I stumbled upon the customising options on the Converse website and started to play around with the colours; but soon gave up on that idea when the I.D Tag only allowed one of two lettering positions and 12 characters. Was it really that unreasonable to want your favourite song lyrics on the side of your Converse? Why not go one step further and add your favourite band logo too? Why can’t that be done?
A sleepless night and some in depth Googling later and I was no closer to finding anywhere which could create my perfect pair of Converse. Having doodled the band logo multiple times before, I knew it was something I could get pretty close to perfect. My friends had drawn on a pair of Converse for a previous birthday of mine with sharpies, but they bled into the canvas and faded quite quickly so I needed to find something else to use to make sure it looked sharp and lasted well. I got straight to work the next morning and started to compare the canvas material of the shoes with the canvas material I’d painted as part of my GCSE Art coursework. They looked pretty similar so I dug out my crusty left over acrylic paints and got to work on my old Converse. It took me a week to complete them because I was terrified of making a mistake! They had the comfort of an old pair with the freshness and excitement of wearing a new pair. I’d really enjoyed painting them up too and felt that buzz of excitement as the design started taking shape. I did received a brand new pair of Converse for my birthday but they were put to one side for a while because I had fallen in love with my painted pair.
The business side of things developed over the next month. I’d enjoyed painting my own Converse and I still needed something to do to fill my time so why not do another pair? I won an ebay auction for a cheap second hand pair of Converse and painted them up with a Cat in the Hat design. Listed them back on ebay and made a small profit. That was all it needed. My brother suggested setting up a Facebook page so I could post photos and get design suggestions. My artistic confidence grew with every pair I painted and I made the move away from smelly second hand Converse to brand new ones. There never was a business plan, and it never seemed like a risky thing to do as I didn’t have anything to lose. Things just spiralled from there and the last 5 years have thrown up opportunities that I genuinely never saw coming. From being picked up by magazines in Australia, to the Magners brand needing Converse for a product launch, to Bastille wearing their pairs on stage and TV!
Thank you to everyone who believed in me and allowed me to bring your great ideas to life. I hope you are as pleased with the end result as I am. To anyone who has shared a photo, tagged a friend or simply asked ‘where did you get them from?’ to someone on the street, thank you too. I have built this business up to be personal, trustworthy, honest and reputable and I feel immensely proud to be able to say that Custom Converse has been in business for 5 successful years. So happy 5th birthday to Custom Converse, and happy 24th Birthday to me!
Have a watch of the 5 Years video below: