The Ones to Watch: Amanda Ruiz, HUMM Alpaca Knitwear

BusinessZone
Dan Martin
Former editor
BusinessZone.co.uk
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Name: Amanda Ruiz
Company: HUMM Alpaca Knitwear
Year established: 2007
Twitter ID: @hummknitwear
1. Describe your business in one sentence
Designer and retailer of luxurious alpaca knitwear ethically produced by skilled artisans in Peru.
2. How did you come up with the idea for your business? 
 
I was inspired to start the business after the birth of my first child, Felix. When we he was born we were given lots of beautifully bright gifts from my Peruvian husband’s relatives – ponchos, hats and cardigans. I loved the styles and bright colours of these items and I had many compliments on the garments from friends and even strangers on the street, plus the added benefit of the warmth alpaca gives to a product. I had the Eureka moment in thinking I could share this wonderful discovery and design and sell my own range of knitwear.
My mother used to run an extremely successful mail order business (Janet Coles Beads) importing beads from all around the world and I learnt a lot from her over the years, both whilst I was growing up at home seeing her run her successful cottage industry to then working for her. Running my business seemed to be a natural next step.
I also am very proud of the fact that HUMM is supporting a developing country, Peru where 44% of the population are under the poverty line, and every order we give means more work for the artisans in Peru.
3. What have been your key challenges and how have you overcome them?
 
I have two very young children, so a big challenge has been the childcare – fitting in a five day week into two days when the children are at nursery. Childcare was particularly difficult during the height of the selling season when I first launched as I was determined to attend as many gift fairs selling the knitwear as possible. Now, I am focussing more on online sales by generating hits to the website through search engine optimisation, our catalogue and PR .
Another challenge was that I personally developed the website to get it ready for the launch in September 2007 in order to catch the Christmas gift market, not an easy task taking all the photos of the clothes and the models and zero knowledge of HTML! I now have a very good web developer who has taken that burden off my shoulders.
Finding a reliable supplier took a lot of time an effort, as dealing with Peru initially was difficult due to the distance, time zone and cultural difference in business practice but as I speak fluent Spanish and make trips over there, I have managed to build up great working relationships with the factory owners and artisans who I can rely on for excellent quality and more importantly, I see first hand how well they treat the staff.
4. How have you funded your start-up?
 
I funded the start up just as Doug Richard says in his manifesto where nascent businesses find funding: personal loans from friends and family.
5. How do you market your business?
In terms of marketing, we are keen to build a loyal community of happy customers. We have a Twitter presence as well as a new Facebook fan page (we need more people to press ‘LIKE’ as we have just re-branded the name to HUMM so we are inviting our fans on the Peruvian Knitwear page to migrate!).
For a whole year I have been attending various seminars organised by Doug Richard’s School for Start Ups and heard time and time again the importance of a WordPress blog. We now have one and I really enjoy writing it.
We also have a PR agency who is pushing the brand. We are scheduled to be in national newspapers, glossy magazines, regional publications and online press. Our most recent PR coverage was the November issue of Tatler.
6. What are your plans for the future?
Initially the incentive for starting the business came from wanting to be my own boss and work flexibly around my young children, but in a very short space of time, my increasing knowledge and passion for Peru, its people and a more ethical way of manufacture has fired my ambitions to grow further and further, to not only highlight the plight of developing nations all over the world, but to grow a successful business to be proud of.
I would ultimately like to develop a brand that leads the way in the world of ethical fashion, and be selling directly to customers all over the world. Through developing new ranges, and developing the branding further, we hope to create a strong brand identity and products that people love, all over the world.
More immediately, while the focus currently is on direct sales to customers via ecommerce, we hope to begin wholesale in the UK in the next year. The next step is international expansion and we would be keen to start selling via wholesale in Scandinavia within the next two years as (by already having customer demand) we see great potential for the knitwear there, and then more countries beyond, growing the company organically.
7. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs based on your business experience so far?
 
Starting your own business is a long hard road, but a very rewarding one, and to receive awards and recognition really does make the long hours worthwhile. So be prepared to work extremely hard, to get to understand social media, and I can’t recommend more highly Doug Richard’s School for Start Ups as he really has been instrumental in my business development as his seminars time and time again give you killer tips that are low to no cost to implement but really make a difference to sales. For example, he recommends doing a video testimonial. I took his advice and sold out of the HUMM alpaca sleeved poncho the customer was raving about! See the clip here.
So go for it, keep plugging away and try every day to promote your business in some way or other. By the way, I was doing that at my tennis club and got told off for being over zealous, so there is a time and a place, but that is my passion! Or should I say pasión!
8. If you started again, is there anything you’d do differently?
Have a fulfilment house right from the outset! The home office got rather swamped with stock to begin with! We now have a company that picks, packs and stores the stock, so a major logistical headache has been taken away.

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