Sian Gabbidon is a British businesswoman, e-commerce brand owner, marketing agency co-founder, and public speaker. She also won series 14 of BBC’s The Apprentice, winning an incredible partnership with mogul Lord Alan Sugar as her prize.
Sian launched SNME through Instagram whilst studying at university, and in partnership with Lord Sugar, it went on to become a global loungewear brand with seven-figure retail partnerships in the likes of Walmart and Frasers.
Though Sian has found huge success with her multiple businesses, she came from humble beginnings. As a working-class young woman from Leeds in the North of England, her journey is an inspiration to all generations, especially the youth whom she regularly does speaking engagements for, and says “I feel like I’m very relatable to them.”
The pandemic was a worrying time for entrepreneurs and many businesses failed, but those who were able to pivot were strengthened. SNME The Label was originally a swimwear brand. Although the conversation had started about how to make the brand a success throughout cooler seasons (the UK is famous for its rain and lack of warm weather), Covid-19 made sure that the conversation gathered pace.
The UK entered into lockdown restrictions in March 2020 and Sian had to make a decision. There was nowhere for swimwear to thrive; international travel stopped and even spas were closed.
The fact of the matter was, “It doesn’t matter who’s behind us and how much cash is in the bank, if we haven’t got sales coming in it doesn’t matter; we will go under. So I very, very quickly moved into loungewear. It was like okay what’s everybody wearing right now? What’s a product we can sell all year round as well?”
The switch to loungewear propelled SNME The Label massively, and was a blessing in disguise “My mum would have never worn our swimwear. It was reversible and aimed at pool party girls. My mum became the biggest ambassador of my loungewear – always wearing my tracksuits. It just opened us up to new audiences and markets, and it made us more attractive to retail as well.”
When nine million people watch the final of a show that you go on to win, it will grow your brand. For Sian, this meant retailers approaching her to stock SNME. Working with retailers like ASOS was a fantastic opportunity for press and credibility, but it didn’t come without challenges.
A plus for being in stores however, is that customers had the chance to see a product in real life, and that helped with building trust. Speaking on this, Sian said, “People being able to go into store and be able to feel the product and the quality really helped us. We’re on par in terms of our weights, with luxury high end brands. But I didn’t want to charge people that price, I wanted people to buy things at a price that’s fair but it will last a long time.”
For entrepreneurs with a goal to get into retail, Sian offers some insight from her journey, bolstered by the fact that for her brand, online has always been a more successful medium for sales.
“It’s amazing to be in retailers to have the recognition and partnership but as a business it’s not always a necessity or an essential to make that business successful. You have to look at your margins. Your margins are key, more than being connected to a retailer – depending on who you are, your product and where you are in the market. Do you want to make money? It’s not essential you have to be in retail, especially as a fashion brand. It depends on who you’re trying to be and how you’re trying to grow. I’m much bigger on direct to consumer than retail.”
After an influencer post featuring clothes from SNME The Label that went viral, Sian realized that Instagram DM (direct message) sales weren’t sustainable any more, and she needed a website. Quotes ranged from £10,000 – £15,000 which was out of budget for what was then a small operation. Sian decided to invest in herself, “I did a £500 course in WordPress and I built a very basic website right at the beginning. It did what it had to do. As I’ve progressed, we’ve moved onto Shopify. Much easier platform to use, great for selling products, and very user-friendly in the backend. If you haven’t got anyone to manage it for you, you can manage it yourself with Shopify.”
Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster and learning from mistakes is just as useful as the big wins. Sian described one of her biggest wastes of money being a contract with an agency, “I had a PR agency for a while who were focused on international outreach, when I think about it now, the business was in no position at the time to have an international PR agency. They should have said you’re not ready for this yet. It was very expensive and I had to sign up for 6 months, so I was trapped. I can look back now and laugh, but at the time it was really frustrating. It builds you as a business person or an entrepreneur.”
Burnt by numerous negative agency experiences and armed with a 1st degree honors in fashion with marketing and production, Sian is on a mission to make digital marketing less sleazy. Anyone can call themselves an expert, pitch a service and lock a client into a long contract. The agency she co-founded, Twenty Twenty Digital provides high quality e-commerce services from paid advertising, web design & build, CRM, social media, SEO, content creation and much more.
As with many business ideas, Sian saw a problem and facilitated the solution, “I’ve always found it frustrating to work with agencies who offer you the absolute world and very rarely fulfill that promise. A very good friend of mine and I teamed up because we had both ran brands and understood the stress of agencies. We joined forces to build one that could do what it said, where we’re employing genuine experts in their field in order to genuinely help businesses reach their potential and succeed.
Leveraging Social Media
SNME The Label got its initial break through Instagram, and we’ve already discussed how influencer marketing propelled the brand from a DM (direct message) sales enterprise to an established online shop. Further along in the brand’s journey, popular British influencer Molly-Mae Hague was seen wearing the clothes.
Let’s explore how that collaboration came about, and how entrepreneurs benefit from influencer marketing as Sian has in recent years, “You have to have a strategy, be consistent, be on-trend and you need to be tracking performance. In my very early days we tried to do gifting where possible. Molly-Mae was a perfect example. We got her collaboration ratecard and I nearly collapsed. But we eventually managed to gift her some of our loungewear and luckily, she eventually wore some items and tagged us on social media.”
The landscape has changed further with the rising popularity of TikTok as another avenue for early stage entrepreneurs to tap into markets without having to spend too much, “Influencers and content creators are everywhere. I talk about TikTok a lot because you can do a lot by utilizing trends and working within the creator marketplace without having to pay for any of it. It’s all commission based, so a win win for all parties – if a post performs well, everyone gets paid so it can be a really beneficial platform if you use it right.”
See below for Sian’s online platforms;