To quote Harriet Muir herself, at the moment she’s not making a living! Harriet’s recently left her full time corporate job to launch her own fashion start up called Alma & Bramble, which aims to connect customers with up and coming fashion labels. After being selected and taking part in the highly competitive 2017 MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, Brisbane based Harriet said going back to her 9-5 job wasn’t an option! She met her Co-founder Mathilde Bach Stougaard at the bootcamp and together they are now part of the QUT Creative Enterprise Australia Collider Accelerator program launching their business. Harriet gives Livelihood an idea of the process of launching a start up business and being involved in an accelerator program…
How do you make a living?
Harriet Muir: At the moment I don’t! I was previously working in a corporate job where I saved up a bit and we also received some investment from the QUT Creative Enterprise Australia Collider Accelerator program that we are part of. That means I can live off the savings and use the investment for the business.
What is your background in business?
HM: After studying Human Resources, History and French I was offered an Internal Communications Role at Spark NZ (then Telecom). Internal Comms was part of HR at the time and I thought that would be a good foot in the door (not that I had any idea what Internal Comms was!). It was fairly fortuitous as I found that it brought all of my skill sets together - languages, writing (which I’d done a lot of for history) and then my love of organisational psychology and building company culture. I then went into PR, Marketing and Brand Communications and back to Internal Comms. All these roles had the same core, understanding your customer (whether that’s employees, actual paying customers, or the media) and influencing them through your communications.
What aspects of your previous roles gave you the confidence to launch a startup?
HM: Working for big corporates, you see how they’re trying to be agile and innovative. But the reality is that decisions get caught up in egos and politics and risk aversion. Seeing this play out again and again gave me the confidence that it’s possible to compete against the big guys, and that I knew enough about the inner workings of these big companies to know how to compete.
How did the idea for Alma & Bramble come about?
HM: Alma & Bramble came about because my Co-founder Mathilde wanted to have a dress made, she went to an established designer who quoted her $480. It was just a casual dress and she didn’t really want to pay this much so she decided to shop around a bit. She hunted for someone less established, couldn’t find anything online and eventually, purely by luck was told about an emerging designer who quoted her $80 for the exact same dress. This experience led to the unearthing of a big gap and a hidden market where emerging designers can’t get the exposure they need, are underpricing their pieces and often can’t make a living. Mathilde had worked on the idea at QUT CEA’s Startup weekend where the team pitched a solution based on bespoke dresses made by emerging designers. Mathilde brought this to MIT Bootcamp. We met at a networking event before the bootcamp started and I was drawn to her unwavering passion and drive and the identification of a real problem - helping emerging designers gain exposure. During the week we figured out we were a pretty solid team - when you haven’t slept for over 24 hours and you’re still managing to have a laugh together, you know you’re onto something. It was those two things, team and problem that gave me the confidence to leave my job and pursue the business.
What gap in the market is Alma & Bramble aiming to fill?
HM: We’ll help emerging designers gain exposure and access to market while at the same time putting the power back in the customer’s hands by helping them to discover emerging brands.
How did the 2017 MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp influence your decision to get into the world of start ups?
HM: There were three things:
- I learnt to believe in myself. The truth is, I almost didn’t apply for the Bootcamp in the first place, thinking there was no way on earth I’d get in. Well, from over 6000 applications, I was one of the 120 selected, but of course that didn’t stop me from having imposter’s syndrome for most of the week! Honestly I can’t pin point the turning point, but at some stage during the bootcamp I told myself to stop being completely absurd, I was clearly there for a reason and my lack of confidence would only ever hold me back, no one else. It's amazing how people start listening when you start having a voice.
- I was inspired. I feel privileged to have been in a room for six days with some of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever come across. I never wanted to lose that feeling. I wanted to continue to satisfy my thirst for knowledge and surround myself with people that are trying to solve the world’s problems through entrepreneurship. Going back to my 9-5 wasn’t really an option!
- We learnt the importance of team. There was a lot of emphasis during the week about how much more success you’d have with a Co-founder or Co-founders. During that week I found a Co-founder and things went from there.
What sort of work environment are you aiming to create with your start up?
HM: I personally want to create a work environment where it’s challenging every day but fun and flexible. We also want to embed a culture of transparency, curiosity and caring. Where caring is about the things that matter - diversity, equality, environmental sustainability...
What do you think traditional businesses need to do to retain millennial talent?
HM: I would say three things:
- Do something that matters, it needs to be about more than just making money. Engage your millennial workforce in that vision.
- Be flexible. Millennials are more likely to integrate their work with their life which means you’ll get more out of them, but you need to be flexible too.
- Embrace digital. Millennials use so much technology in their personal lives, if they feel like they walk through the doors at work and can’t do the same, it just gets frustrating.
Who have been the biggest influences in your career and why?
HM: My parents have been my greatest influencers in life. They instilled in both my brother and I our work ethic, resilience and curiosity from a very early age. They also embody gender equality so much so that I didn’t really realise growing up that gender bias was an issue! Both have had (and still have) successful careers but, from time-to-time, one or the other would take a back seat to let the other one progress. Their role modelling has helped me to be brave as a female in business and at 26 I was the only female on a 9 person management team.
Do you have any advice or tips for people looking to get into a start up?
HM: Find a real problem to solve, not just something you are passionate about. I got a piece of advice recently which I now have written up on a huge piece of paper on the wall - as a business you want to “be an aspirin, not a vitamin.” An aspirin is something that you take when you really need it to get rid of a pain, whereas a vitamin is something you might take if you want to feel good, but you also might forget or not be bothered. The point is, find a real pain that the customer needs to solve and then be their aspirin. If you do that, they will keep coming back to you.
What’s the ultimate goal for Alma & Bramble?
HM: We want to change the way the world consumes fashion. We want consumers to value creativity, slow fashion and sustainability and we want to put the power back in the hands of the consumer.