3 Lessons I’ve Learned in my First Year of Starting a Sustainable Fashion Brand

2018 was an unforgettable year. It was the year that I had enough courage to leave my full-time job as Head of Design at an HR tech startup to make a childhood dream a reality.

In the first 5 months, I had a lot of doubts whether or not I made the right decision to start this new venture. Fiscally, I was worried; I wasn’t seeing any results and I was barely selling anything each month. But my friends and family, especially my husband, were rooting for me; I had to be determined; I had to go for it. And I’m glad I did.

Building a sustainable and conscious fashion accessories brand


Here are a few highlights from 2018. I...

By the end of 2018, Hathorway…

  • Sold over 350 products through Shopify
  • Grew in instagram followers by ~666% and in facebook followers by ~150% compared to last year
  • Made it on the first page (#3) of Google Search for “Buffalo Horn Jewelry” from page 7 in 2017 and the first page (#6) for “Horn Jewelry” from Page 12
  • Was in the top 12% in traffic of the Shopify stores that launched the same week, which is amazing because I didn’t touch it much much in 2017

While I’m grateful for these highlights and results no matter how big or small, this year was all about discovery, research, and iteration. As well, it was a year filled with little lessons that will continue to guide me in 2019.

Here are 3 key lessons I've learned:

1. Speak up & ask

The saying “A closed mouth don't get fed” is true; if you don't ask for what you want, don’t expect to get it because the world doesn’t know what you want and need. I knew that I needed to get Hathorway out there; I knew I needed to host pop-up shops so that people can see, touch, and feel my sustainable jewelry and accessories. And so, I took the courage reached out to several brands and asked them if they could host a Hathorway pop-up shop. By simply asking, I was able to collaborate with amazing brands in 2018 -- brands like West Elm, Therapy, Amour Vert, and Madewell. On top of that, it gave me the opportunity to learn more about my market and gather feedback about my products.

2. Sweat the details

Working in a startup environment for years have taught me to to ship things even if it’s 20% incomplete. But this year, I realize that extra 20% makes a huge difference when you a building a sustainable fashion accessories brand. There were days where I was sweating on all the little details, because I was deep in my creative flow. I obsessed on the details of my product packaging and the content and flow of my product page that I questioned whether I was spending my time wisely. But I’m glad I did, because the details has turned customers into returning customers, it has turned customers into evangelists (aka my extended marketing team), and it has turned customers into my extended product development team with the feedback and ideas they provide. Not to mention, a few of them even became my friends. That 20% shows authenticity; it shows thoughtfulness and care in your products and brand. And when people see how much love and thought you put into your work, you’ll make them fall in love.

3. Give Generously

Giving generously without expecting anything in return is something my parents-in-law and husband has taught me. They give their time, resources, encouragement, support, and love generously. They give because they know life is abundant and there is enough of everything to go around. Through their many acts of generosity, I am able to learn from them and share it with others. And this is what I tried to practice this year.

I stumbled upon a new group called Sustainable Project, a lifestyle movement that aims to inspire and educate the community about the environmental impacts of the fashion, beauty, food, and home industries. The team was hosting their first launch party in a few days and I wanted Hathorway to be a part of it. I reached out to the team and asked if I could get involved. They said they were giving away goody bags to their attendees and suggested that I slip in my business card or coupon code. Instead, I decided to give my products so that people can see and feel my jewelry. In one day, I hustled to create 60 items (valued $2K). Of course, once the event was over I questioned whether this was all worth my time and resources. However that act of generosity has opened doors and opportunities for me weeks later. The founders of Sustainable Project invited me to join their Rising Tide group, where I was able to meet other creatives where we shared insights and stories about running a small business. And because the group was filled with makeup artists, event planners, stylists, photographers, videographers and more, many of them asked me to used my products for their photoshoots throughout the year. I was able to use these photos for my own site and social media sites. On top of that, they would share these photos with their followers and mention @Hathorway; they became an extension of my marketing team. When you give generously and expect nothing in return, life will surprise you and return your generosity in different ways. Generosity is the key to success both in business and a fulfilling life.

What’s next?

With these key lessons, I’m excited for what’s to come in 2019. I will be aiming for bigger goals, better results, and even more meaningful lessons. I’ll be sharing a few of my goals for another post so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I like to thank all the people who was a part of my Hathorway journey in 2018. Thank you for empowering me to keep going with your little acts of appreciation, feedback, collaboration, and encouragement. I could not have done it without you. You know who you are. :)

P.S. Be sure to check out what’s left in my sustainable fashion accessories and get them before it’s gone. I may not be restocking them later in 2019 because I am constantly testing and iterating.

Radiate Beauty Inside and Out,

Jessica Phan

Jessica Phan

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