How I Left My Tech Studies To Start A Luxury Streetwear Brand
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey, my name is Lachlan Sonter and I’m the owner, designer and everything guy for the Australian Lux Streetwear brand, Deal with Devil. This business started, in 2017, out of a necessity for my own well-being, and has been working creatively through the brand ever since.
I’m a designer first, and a businessman as a close second, always working on the details of the brand and its products, while trying to convey quality through every aspect of purchasing from the store and getting the garment into the new owners’ hands. I design the collections in my home and create mock-ups and first version samples of clothing/accessories on my dining room table. This then will either go to a second or third version of the sample, (or however many it takes to get the perfect measurements and the right fit) and finally to a manufacturer either in-house or sourced externally.
Deal with Devil’s first collection was the refined culmination of 3 designs with two different colorways to each piece. This includes; two long-sleeve crewnecks, two hoodies, and two bandeaus totaling 6 pieces. A small collection to start with but, ensuring the quality of garments remained at a luxurious standard, which our manufacturer upheld, was key to the process. I believe that if you work hard and closely enough with the product and with your team, the results will show.
In saying that the highest-selling garment is currently our black long sleeve crewneck constructed with an 80’s oversized aesthetic featuring heavy cotton jersey, branding down both arms, and an embroidered Deal with Devil signature logo on the back neck. A relatively simple garment with a lot of thought and effort put into the small details and the correct fit. I’m particularly proud of this one.
Customers are always so grateful for the service we provide always trying to reach a luxurious standard whilst at an affordable price for many people. And people are always so connected to the story about dealing with our demons and what that impact is on all our lives. Having that feedback from customers is what makes me want to continue this story and push for more collections and reach more audiences, because we all have these negative moments in our lives, and we can all relate to them. I think that’s what makes the brand so special.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After I had finished High-School in 2016 I found myself applying for university (The University of Queensland) and getting accepted into an ‘Information Technology’ course in 2017, where I learned within the first year how to design and construct a website through basic HTML/CSS/JS scripting languages.
I believe there is a direct correlation between the effort you put into getting the product out there and the number of sales made.
The commute was less than ideal having to commit 3 hours every day to travel and the workload was piling up because I wasn’t passionate about the course anymore. This brought me to the end of 2017 where I transferred to a closer university and started a part-time study of Business. By the end of 2017, I had decided after feeling extremely lost and after having gone through problems with relationships with others and an ex-girlfriend I needed to find some sort of outlet to let the suffering mental state and residual emotion release.
I tried to create video games. I couldn’t ever commit to one project.
I tried to create iPhone apps. They never worked.
I tried to find anything that would make me feel better.
Little did I know that finding my mother’s old sewing machine would spark something great.
I created a t-shirt, I cut up some brown soft-cotton fabric, sewing the pieces together. And that was it. I created a hem-less, seamless brown t-shirt with a shape I liked on my body, giving it a little bit of length. From then on, I knew I wanted to at least try this and see where I could take my ideas and the emotional feedback from my mental state. I had lost all my confidence from those past experiences and this became my outlet to prove myself.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I began by basically looking into the past and finding some styles that were transcendent through the years, and then choosing a variety of inspiration pieces I could improve and manipulate into my own perspective. I began the process of design using Photoshop edits and testing custom made garments by hand sewing those pieces in my dining room. There was nothing glamorous about this part of the story, but it was the most fun I’ve had for a while when creating something, which in turn made it a lot easier to continue making more and more.
I found myself contemplating on how to begin the process of starting a lux clothing type business and sought after a manufacturer that would also help teach me how the process works when mass-producing clothing (even though I managed to do this on a small scale). Thanks to the team over at Bryden I couldn’t have done it without them, and I learned everything about manufacturer relationships from that experience with them.
Once I had designed around 11 pieces and custom labels/packaging the whole essentials line for my first collection I contacted a bunch of manufacturers, ended up settling with the obvious choice quite quickly, and received samples that blew me away.
Nothing will ever beat the feeling of having those products come to life and in-hand.
Support from people can be a big difference when compared to having little to none. I just don’t know if I could get through the trails of starting a business without support from people close to me.
Describe the process of launching the business.
After designing and creating something of a brand, my to do list went something like this: (Simplified version)
- Find Manufacturer ✔
- Create Samples ✔
- Hard-code website from scratch
- Mass produced and market
I had decided early on that due to the knowledge of creating unique websites I should code it from scratch to have a market advantage against other copy-cat sites using the same Shopify templates. I found that it was a lot of hard work but in the end, I’m proud of the result and I am super flexible now on what I want to do when it comes to presentation. Now I’m continuing to strive for a better experience that outweighs other competitors and hopefully gives users the best experience possible. But there were a few downsides to this method.
Launching felt like mayhem.
I had gone into this venture alone and had refused any assistance to launch with any help, even when it was offered for free. This was a massive mistake because I had every aspect of the business weigh in on me at such a pivotal time. Although thankfully, I pushed through it, realized my mistakes and have at least learned from that launch that I could have made it a lot easier on myself.
After the launch of the website, I had a large boost in sales which helped give me back the energy I needed to continue and begin pushing the product again to new customers.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I found that within the last few months, retaining customers has been easy but attracting new customers hasn’t been as effective. I have got a lot to learn when it comes to the marketing of Deal with Devil but utilizing all aspects of social marketing seems to be a driving force within business growth. I’m also very passionate about AdWords and Google SEO due to having a background in web design and development and am continuing to explore that side of marketing.
I have also led to believe that in many ways, you need to create suitable content which can be used as advertising with as big a budget as possible. Spend to make more money and then spend again. Even if that isn’t possible for everyone, posting consistently on social media (something I am trying to be better at) will mean a world of difference if you can end up converting sales.
As an example, Deal with Devil hit the ground running at launch, due to the campaign that was created in order to show off what was painstakingly created over the past year.
I could have done more in the way of creating behind the scenes content and blog posting etc. but I did what I could, balancing as much as I could, without losing any quality in the content I was creating. For most people, I believe there is a direct correlation between the effort you put into getting the product out there for people to see and the amount of sales made.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The future is looking great so far. We currently aren’t profitable, but it’s only been a few months and I’ve got a lot of tricks left to ensure the businesses future profitability. I also know the biggest challenge I have to face within the fashion industry is oversaturation and the pace of the industry. I see how quickly brands are trying to adapt to trends but end up losing their image. It’s something I find to be the most important goal moving forward, staying true to the brand's identity, and continuing that through all forms of social media.
I am extremely proud of how far I’ve come. I’ve learned so much from this experience, my initial goals had been achieved and now I’m ready to move forward and continue the story.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Support from people can be a big difference when compared to having little to none. The number of times someone has lifted me up by just saying how inspiring Deal with Devil and the concept behind the brand is. I just don’t know if I could get through the trail of starting a business without support from people close to me.
Another is, taking opportunities and worthwhile risks for growth. Anything that will help honestly will be worthwhile, even if it just teaches you a valuable lesson. Trying anything and everything you consider will push you forward and gain momentum is just way too important to not emphasize. Even if that means working way too many hours on what you love or making a ton of mistakes and still loving what you do, as long as you learn from those mistakes. Overall just grow, grow, grow in every way you can.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
There are two main tools I use for the whole business, Shopify and Notepad++. They are the support and construction of the entire website and back-end store.
I design the website and updates to the site using good ol’ fashion paper, and code using Notepad++. The backend is then handled by Shopify’s ‘Buy Button’ feature and all backend tasks are no longer my problem!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’m a podcast fiend through and through, any time I am working or designing pieces I try to find a podcast to listen to! Most of my favorites though include The Business of Hype or How I Built This. Otherwise, I have only read a couple of books more recently, Shoe Dog and Elon Musk’s Biography. (That man is something else.)
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Although this is my first complete business venture and the brand is still quite young, I have found that consistency matters a lot. (I am trying to get better at that still) I have made a significant first impact with Deal with Devil and now through staying more consistent and following the same procedure of quality and obsession over products, I believe there will only be growth.
Another is to just find the thing you love to do and just find the resources and do whatever it takes to make it a reality because to be completely honest we will all eventually pass away one day and I know that no one will want to be asking, what if?
But this means that you’ve got to search for every opportunity and take as many as you can to get you where you want to be. At times there will be ups where you feel you’re on top of the world! Remember to look back on these moments and see how far you’ve come. The grind is real, and you’ve got to be on top of it with a kind of endless determination.
Nothing will be easy. Just don’t give in!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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