Verge met with Igor Ivanenko, Co-founder of Total Black, to learn more about his brand, business and entrepreneurship.
1) Before launching Total Black, what was your previous job? And have you always wanted to have your own business?
Prior to the launch of TOTAL BLACK, I had recently finished Cass Business School University in London with a BSc (Hons) Management and went in to the family business, which was Shipping. Having worked for a couple of years in this, although I really enjoyed the industry, it was facing challenging times and from a young age I aspired to run my own business I was always on the search of business ideas that would allow this. Although it is a lot more demanding and stressful than working for a company where you have a set work week schedule Being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 job, 365 days a year, especially starting off when you have very limited numbers of staff and where you are constantly having to deal with different problems at any time of day/night and under stress. At the end of the day, you are the one that is making the ultimate decisions and risks that affect not just the business, but yourself as well. However, if you’re willing to come to terms with this (which for some people this isn’t what they’re looking for out from their careers), the reward of this far outweighs these downsides. Not only is it financially rewarding, but becoming successful in an industry and managing to grow a company in itself is a hugely rewarding feeling. It’s also a great life experience as you get to learn yourself all different aspects of a business and how to run it.
2) How old were you when you Total Black was launched?
I had just turned 25 when we decided to launch the business. The other two partners in the business are of similar age.
3) Total Black’s beginning is very interesting. You state that it came from a group of talented creatives, were you all driven to help launch a clothing brand or did it just start out as a bit of fun?
TOTAL BLACK started as a collective of creatives; dancers, photographers, stylists, choreographers, artists and was led by our Creative Director and Co-Founder Dima. They all had a common love for minimalism, symmetry and of course the colour black which is still in the brand core concept today. However, never had the idea of launching it as a commercial business initially. As their group progressed and started having performances as a dance group, they started developing clothing as a type of uniform for themselves so everyone knew they were the collective TOTAL BLACK. As these designs started evolving and friends and artists started asking for the clothing, Dima noticed a gap in the market of these unique, hiqh-quality pieces and that’s when myself and the third Co-Founder, Alik got involved as being on the business side of the brand to be able to launch a successful commercial brand.
4) Were there entrepreneurs and businessmen / businesswomen who inspired you to start your own business?
I had always noticed that in the fashion industry, there seemed to be a trend of young new brands being launched and becoming hugely successful due to their different approach to marketing and social media, which allowed them to directly target customers on a closer level than well-established brands which the public was getting bored of and wanted something different. Some closer to home young entrepreneurs from the UK included Ben Francis of Gymshark who started from making T-Shirts himself to a grow into a business with a $100m turnover in 6 years and being the UK’s fastest growing company. Another great example is Sean and Jack from Good For Nothing. I went to university with Sean and he started the brand together with Jack around that time and it has been inspirational to see what they have managed to grow the brand in to and how successful it has become over the years.
5) What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the route to becoming an entrepreneur?
Network and be willing to take risks. I would say 75% of our business success to date has been through developing connections in the industry and one thing leading to another. As they say, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. This is incredibly true for our brand as none of us had families or connections to the fashion world prior to the launch of our brand and all of these connections we have developed by attending multiple events, trade shows and LinkedIn – we can’t stress how important this tool is in this day and age, when it allows you direct access to key people in the industry.
With regards to taking risks, I think this is crucial for anyone to be prepared for when wanting to be an entrepreneur. It can lead to huge losses so if you aren’t willing to accept this, being an entrepreneur isn’t for you. Yes, we have taken some risks such as attending international trade shows at a huge cost to us and had almost no result from this, but they always still lead to developing connections which in the long run could outweigh the costs of the show exponentially and we have met some really cool stores through these risks.
6) We live in an era now where with the help of social media and the Internet, young people especially can build their own brand and company, what advice do you have for new aspiring entrepreneurs?
With today’s internet and technologies, you can open a UK registered company for as little as £15-30. All you need to do after is open a bank account which is normally free and buy a domain and hosting for your website and you are ready to start trading. Although we were fully against this idea as our key principle behind the brand is its premium quality and unique designs, you can start a business with drop shipping. For example, with clothing, you upload your designs on your website and then allow customers to purchase those products and they will be manufactured and sent to the customer directly by the drop shipping company and you will make a percent of that sale with no initial outlay required. It’s a great way for individuals tight on financial resources to start their own business or trial products and their ideas before launching their own business. Social media is also very crucial these days to help launch a brand as its one of the key places where customers find out about brands (not only on the brands page, but also on influencers pages with tags of your brand). You should concentrate on growing your social media and having a professional profile from day 1, but also look into different avenues such as paid marketing on Facebook, Instagram, Google etc… as they are great ways and if done correctly relatively cheap methods of promoting the brand.