It’s 3 years since I took the password off the frahmjacket.com website I’d taught myself to make, and sold our first ever jacket, to a chap called Ian, in Liverpool.
Ian did more for me than he’ll ever know. He told me I might not be making a fool of myself. That maybe I might not let my family down again. That maybe I was ok at this. A lifeline, the first foray into the wide world, after 15 months of hell - going bust, trolling, hating myself, near bankruptcy, breakdown, depression, the possibility of suicide - then, gradually, recovery.
FRAHM was my determination not to give up on myself. To use what I’d learnt in humiliating failure. To support my family the best way I knew how. To show myself I could do this far better, without fucking it all up again.
FRAHM was just meant to be a small family business that offered us a financial lifeline and would hopefully create a low stress way for me to re-enter The Real World. My world before then had been anti-depressants, childcare, washing the dishes and quietly creating a new kind of jacket business in my head.
IT WAS NOT MEANT TO GO THIS WELL.
This is my over-riding feeling, 3 years in. That all my expectations are exceeded. I’ve actually found it very hard to get used to. I’ve been in a state of (very low level!) shock for months.
Whilst I remember my first business ‘Vulpine’ as all fear, pressure & desperately trying to work out what the hell I or anyone else was doing from one minute to the next, FRAHM is the opposite. I never felt happy with what I achieved at Vulpine, because I’d set the bar so high that I could never reach it. My ambitions & targets for FRAHM were always small… bar the vital basics: quality, design & service.
So now, I’m loving FRAHM. It’s a joy. It’s not always easy or fun, but it often is. Now it’s pretty low stress, high achievement, because it was only supposed to quietly unlock the bloody doors and open them with wooly mittens, not blow them off!
FRAHM was carefully constructed to take what I know I’m good at (jackets, talking to and looking after customers) and to mitigate what I’d been bad at in Vulpine: finance, operations, structure, finding & taking good advice, clarity, simplicity.
FRAHM is different for 4 main reasons:
- The jackets are genuinely awesome
- We care about mental health & give to charity
- We really really care about service
- We sell by pre-order
The first three are a base level for me. I’m too passionate about my work not to try my, thus our, hardest. I don’t do ‘phoning it in'.
The 4th point is the dry, vital, business changing aspect that I put into my strategy long before we launched. If I can sell in advance, I don’t have to raise investment = low pressure, family business. If I make too few, I don’t have loads of extra stock kicking about. Thus I don’t need to do big discounted sales periods that erode our brand & the quality (because if you’re always doing sales, you need to find new money by reducing quality). Stock is just cash you can’t access, so because I’m not holding stock, I need less money to run my business. Thus we are safer, kinder, more environmentally friendly. It’s all great…
Except it’s REALLY HARD getting a pre-order model going.
I had to create more interest than we had stock for, then steadfastly refuse to make enough. It’s totally counter intuitive. It’s contrary to what business people are taught to do: Meet demand! Make more! Get money! Grow faster! No risk, no reward! Go hard or go home! Etc.
Yet here I was refusing to do that. Sell less, Stop selling. Say no….. Madness (?)
Here I am 3 hard (HARD) years on, and we sell everything by pre order before it even arrives. Demand is so high folk are buying a year in advance, and we disappoint more customers than we provide to, so we have queues for returns. Back in 2018 I wondered if this was actually possible. Clearly it is.
How? Obviously by not making enough. Also, by building an amazing reputation: By adhering to the basic values of making the best stuff we can, practicing what we preach & actually giving a shit, we’ve become a great little brand. Shouldn’t these things be universal? Heh, I’m not arguing - that’s how small businesses beat the big brands - we care a lot. They don't. Thanks corporations.
By caring, we’ve developed an amazing reputation. I STILL cannot believe how amazing the reviews are. In the beginning it was frightening leaving myself that exposed to whatever anyone says, so when those comments are far more passionate & positive than I’d dared hope, it’s shocking, daily. We get asked about how we ‘curate’ (edit/lie) reviews all the time. We don’t. I have to keep saying that because the reviews look too good!
FRAHM had grown unexcitingly (which is good in its own way) until it all started going bonkers in January, and has accelerated since then. It’s taken me 6 months to reconstruct the operations of the business to cope with this demand & growth: to build a far bigger range. To go from 2 full time (me and my wife Emmalou) and 3 part time staff, to 4 full time and 11 part time! Multiple award winning packaging. Overcoming (well, mitigating it at least) Brexit. It goes on… Those hourly/daily/monthly battles or achievements you don't see..
But the greatest obstacle has been shifting my mindset from doing almost everything in a small family startup, to a brand that… Well, what is it? What am I trying to do? What next? I’ve rediscovered confidence & ambition I’d shelved in 2017. I hope, it’s far quieter ambition now; more careful, humble. I’m not exactly shy about saying how good FRAHM is - but that’s because I absolutely believe that to be true - hell, you’re telling me more I know myself!
This is my rather delicious problem. What do I do with a business that’s far more successful & fast growing than I’d expected? What am I trying to achieve? Where am I going to? What changes?
The answers are simple, now, having spent time just sitting on a bike/in a car/against a tree, thinking.
The core principles of what FRAHM is are what put us here. They’re what I believe in. It’s what you believe in.
Great product, service, caring about people & mental health.
The next steps are to just keeping making those things better. I’ve been so distracted by all this growth I’ve not been blogging. I need help - it’s here and more is coming. We need to tell more stories, talk about mental health more & better. I’m carefully expanding the range. All these are part of the same strategy since the beginning.
The same, better. We can all always do better.
FRAHM will, I hope, have higher & higher standards, but make greater inroads into helping mental health. I also want us to be more interesting & helpful, with insights into what we do, who we do it with, where it’s used, etc. I look forward to us being more & more creative.
It’s vital I don’t become complacent, or arrogant. To start believing my own hype. I try to deal in facts. Our reviews and the speed that we sell that stock at are facts. The future isn’t - that journey fascinates me.
That journey is now all about my team. My over-riding thoughts as we enter our 4th year are that I’m not, thank god, the engine of everything anymore. Lockdown & juggling homeschooling shone a light on just how dependent the business was on me. Every live chat, email, tweak, blog, photo, etc, went through me. That was BAD for me and for FRAHM.
This time last year Emmalou made a huge decision and came to work with me. She gave up our only income in the hope that she’d help me grow the business to the point we could earn something from it. To our immense relief, it did. That hair-raising moment was the basis for all this growth. Our ability to make that decision was built on the vital decision to reduce our debt in 2019, as I wrote here. That extra bit of freedom meant that choice was possible (but still stressful).
It was a logical choice. FRAHM seemed to be on the cusp of great things, I just couldn’t DO enough to get there. Her job was making her sick. If we hadn’t made the change, maybe she’d have had more (much scarier) heart problems and our business would have petered out under my exhaustion. That single decision is the most pivotal on FRAHM and our family unit since we launched in July 2018. I will forever be grateful to my wife for the huge risk she took. I don’t like risks, nobody does, but every now and then, you have to close your eyes and jump. We landed.
Emmalou’s fundamental influence on FRAHM shows that now I must concentrate on bringing in and nurturing support and expertise. The 15 (not including our friends in the factories & fabric mills) people who help us day to day all add things I don’t have. My job now is to support my team and devolve responsibilities - another thing I was bad at in the past.
As I do that, I want and need to return to being the voice of FRAHM. We know that my story and willingness to talk directly about anything, especially mine and others’ mental health, is so important.
I have very clear aims for our mental health strategy: To save lives, to improve lives and to raise a tonne of money so experts can do more of those things too.
FRAHM is, through you, giving more and more to charity month by month. This is stitched into the fabric of what FRAHM is - I don’t want to do business without doing something good. This is no careful brand building construct, it’s selfish. I can’t look myself in the mirror at night, as I brush my teeth, without thinking “I did something GOOD today”.
That’s it. That’s where FRAHM is going. More of the same, better. Never losing sight of why it came into existence: How rock-bottom I was. How hard it was (and often still is). That we’re here to do the best we can: The best jackets we can. The kindest we can be.
Thank you for getting us here. Thank you for genuinely changing my family’s life. For employing my colleagues. For helping save lives (if you saw the notes and messages I see from some of the chaps who get in touch, this is no exaggeration). For making life better for others.
Now please look after yourself: go outside, exercise and talk to someone. Jackets don’t matter - people do.