This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
- Why she decided not to go to university
- The inspiration behind her business
- The obstacles she overcame to reach success
Hello Dida! Tell us a bit about you.
Hello! I’m Dida founder of Dida Ritchie. I launched Dida Ritchie just over a year ago in April 2018 following 5 years working in the property industry.
When I left school, I was on the brink of the fee change for university and when faced with the fact that I was going to be paying £9,000 a year on fees, I decided that it was a bit too much to spend on having fun when there wasn’t a course I was particularly interested in, so I decided instead that I wanted to get straight into working life.
I started off working for a lettings agency and then moved on to other roles within the industry but in different positions such as a PA role and then a marketing role. Although at the time, I didn’t really realise it, but moving around positions more regularly than most has been hugely beneficial to me now. I learnt so many skills in the different jobs I have had, and they have all been hugely beneficial in helping me start the business. Whilst in my last property role, which I really wasn’t enjoying, I went on holiday and was looking for a pair of espadrilles but couldn’t find that perfect pair and so that was when the idea began and I haven’t really stopped since…
Tell us about your business.
Dida Ritchie was started as an espadrille business in order to bridge the gap between the high street and prestige designer labels.
The idea came about, as I mentioned before, because I was struggling to find the perfect pair – or I should refine that, the perfect pair at a price I could afford! I therefore started doing some more research and really felt there was a gap which I could fill by creating a contemporary, high quality range of espadrilles at a more attainable price point.
In terms of the design, I wanted to stay fairly inline with the traditional style of the espadrille in both the flats and the wedges and just added a platform in both to give them a slightly more contemporary look and feel. I also designed the first collection in suede as I love the look, we were able to do some really beautiful colours and I just wanted to offer something a bit different to the traditional canvas espadrilles. The other factor which really drew me to espadrilles was how timeless they are. I never wanted to start a trend led business and if women want to invest in the shoes I want them to be able to wear them with a whole range of different outfits and bring them out of the wardrobe year after year.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
I think the moment that really changed things for me was when my funding, through Virgin Start Up Scheme, was approved and then landed in my bank account. I did have pretty much everything in place by this point, including a factory in Spain lined up, however until the funding was approved I felt everything was more hypothetical and when I was able to officially put my order in, that was an amazing feeling and it all became reality.
What were the initial challenges you came up across and how did you overcome them?
Finding my factory was one of the biggest hurdles I came across, having never worked in the industry before and brand’s factories being one of their most kept secrets it was a challenge to work out where and how to find one. Through endless research and asking anyone I could, I managed to find the area I thought would be best to produce espadrilles and then it was a case of finding an agent or factory. I actually ended up finding my agent through LinkedIn and he then introduced me to the factory I have been using.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
I don’t feel there has been one particular win where I have really felt I am onto something however it is definitely the customer feedback I have received over the past year that has really spurred me on. I have had amazing support from family and friends who have always been very positive about the products and I definitely couldn’t do it without them, however when a new customer takes the time to contact you and tell you how much they love the shoes or when they come back and buy another pair in another colour because they loved the first ones so much – that is really what makes the journey so far worth it!
Would love to know more about your fundraising experience. Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
I have a loan through the Virgin Start Up Scheme. Starting a product-based business was quite an outlay to begin with and I didn’t have enough money to fund it myself, therefore, I had to look at other options. Having not gone to university I had no debt, so felt that taking out a loan was a good option for me and the scheme with Virgin is great – I would highly recommend it. When completing their business plan, you are allocated a business advisor who helps you through the process which was invaluable for me having never attempted a business plan before. It really brought up a lot of aspects of setting up the business I hadn’t spent enough time thinking about and also cemented other ideas I had. Had I not had an advisor, and self-funded with my own plan, I do think that I would be in a different position today as it really helped build a solid foundation to the business from the beginning.
Once you have completed the plan, your business advisor has to recommend your business idea to the loans panel who then go through the plan and they get the final say which was quite terrifying but luckily for me it was a yes!
Then one of the biggest benefits of the Virgin Start Up Scheme is you also get allocated a mentor for one year once you have received the funding and again this was a huge bonus for me. It is great to have the opportunity to speak to someone about the business who will give you honest and completely objective advice and guide you in areas that you may not be strong in, or like me, may not have had any experience in whatsoever.
What has been your best investment?
The quality of the shoes. It was very important to me that the quality of the shoes was as good as they can be. I wanted to provide the same quality as the designer labels but at a much more competitive price point.
This did, however, put up the prices of the shoes from the price point I had originally hoped for but the quality was not something I was willing to compromise on and I would say it has been the best decision and investment as it is something my customers really notice and appreciate.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Luckily I haven’t made any big mistakes (touch wood there aren’t any I’m about to find out about either!) however, of course, there are lots of little things that go wrong but I feel that I am constantly learning and hopefully don’t make the same mistake twice!
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
That you have to be super resilient and not to take anything too personally. It’s all a work in progress and there are so many challenges that pop up daily and they all fall on you so you have to find solutions and roll with the punches. Some days are good and some not so good but I am constantly learning, which I love.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
I had a Virgin mentor who I am still in contact with a bit but I would love a mentor who has worked in the e-commerce/retail industry before as I am still trying to navigate it.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change? or mentors along the way?
It can be quite a lonely experience but I think things are moving in the right direction with platforms like Found & Flourish. It helps to open up the conversation between women in similar positions and we can support and inspire each other which I love.
What can we do to support your business?
Send all espadrille lovers our way!
You can also sign up to our mailing list as we release an exclusive offer to our subscribers on the first Friday of each month and also please follow our journey on Instagram @didaritchie .
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
So many! I am trying to read more but at the moment I listen to lots of podcasts and absolutely love them as you can listen whilst doing other things. The ones I am loving at the moment are:
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Just do it! I don’t really believe in failure as I think you are constantly learning and that even if your business ‘fails’ the skills that you would have learnt along the way are invaluable therefore you have succeeded in other ways.
Having said that I would try and set yourself up as best you can and I would highly recommend doing a business plan and cash flow forecast and getting someone to look through it and challenge you on it as you are bound to have some gaps in areas.
If you don’t try, you won’t know….
How can readers get in touch with you?
Thank you Dida! – Lara
About the Author
Indiana Julian is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Co-Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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