I do a lot of networking online. That’s how I meet a lot of entrepreneurs I feature on my blog. Recently I met Alice. Her and her partner are university students who are embarking on a startup journey. They are doing it a different way. They are bringing back a classic fashion accessory: the cufflink. Here is the Fashionable Entrepreneur’s interview with Alice and Jan of AJcufflinks.
Where were you born and raised, what was childhood like, and what did you want to become when you grew up?
Alice: I was born in France and Jan was born in the Czech Republic. However, we’ve both spent the majority of our childhood in Brussels, Belgium. Both our childhoods were full of fun and opportunities to learn new things such as languages, try new hobbies and sports. We both grew up with two siblings and in a very international environment, thanks to having attended one of the European Schools of Brussels. As a child, I always wanted to be a doctor but never thought of becoming an entrepreneur. Jan aspired to be football player as he is a great fan of football.
What did your parents do for a living, and was there any entrepreneurship in the family? Is your family supportive?
Alice: Our parents all work for the European Union and studied law or journalism at university. They were never involved with Entrepreneurship and there isn’t any entrepreneurship in our families! Nonetheless, they are very supportive of what we are doing, and often pitch in to give us ideas! It’s really nice to know that they are as excited as we are and that they’ve got a genuine interest in what we do.
What does fashion mean to you?
Alice: We believe that fashion is a way of expressing personality. The way someone is dressed reflects a lot about who they are as a person. It ’s also a way to show what you stand for and what kind of group you are part of. So much can be read from an outfit and we believe that it’s up to every individual to take fashion and interpret it as desired, however close or far from social norms that may be.
Describe your personal style.
Alice: We are both quite prone to being influenced by fashion trends; however, we aren’t scared to wear original and niche clothes and accessories. Both of us have some nice pieces of clothing that are out of the ordinary. We tend to compose our styles from classical, sporty and vintage pieces, but one thing that never changes is that we always pay attention to the details and make sure that our style is clean and neat. We have a mix of expensive clothes and high street fashion clothes but we are both beginning to value quality over quantity when purchasing items.
Who is your favorite designer or what is your favorite brand? Why?
Alice: I would have to say Zara or Naf Naf. Both brands have very classical fashion lines and offer items that are elegant and affordable. The clothes are all made in Europe which is important to me, and I am usually very satisfied with the quality of the fabrics they use.
Jan: That is a tough question! if I take a look at my clothes, it seems that I quite like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. However, there is also a lot of Adidas and Nike items, so it probably depends on what activity I am dressing for. If I had to pick one, it would be Tommy Hilfiger.
How did you get involved and interested in fashion?
Alice: I have always been the more creative one between the two of us, and have designed and created outfits for fashion shows before. I also have an interest in jewelry-making which is something I have been doing as a hobby for a very long time. I don’t think either of us is particularly ‘in love’ with fashion in the sense that we are not shopaholics; however, we both agree that when it comes to fashion, people should be able to choose, and define who they are without any obstacles. We are trying to give that option to people in office environments, which is a quite formal setting, and allow them to add something to reflect their style. I would go as far as saying that we are trying to become trendsetters, by offering cufflinks which are fun & colorful and are not readily available at the moment.
How did you get involved with entrepreneurship?
Jan: We are both studying Business Management and are therefore involved in circles of entrepreneurial minds. Alice initially had the idea to start making cufflinks several years ago. She started designing and making simple, yet unique cufflinks in a small village in France, where they were sold in the local market. She never took it further. This year, we were chosen to take part in a kickstart program, run by Entrepreneurs Durham, which has helped us in some key areas. We are both still quite young and we did lack some experience in starting an actual business.
What do you like most and least about being an entrepreneur?
Alice: An amazing aspect of being an entrepreneur is connecting with like-minded people. We never truly realized how many entrepreneurs were out there, but since we’ve strongly built our presence on Instagram, we have been able to get inspired by business minded people around us. What is really lovely is that everyone is willing to share tips and support each other, and we’re able to learn from and connect with other entrepreneurs. What we like less are the administrative and legal aspects that we need to take care of as they are very time-consuming. However, we know it’s a part of entrepreneurship and starting a business, and we’ve been managing it all very well thus far.
Talk about your business. Is it just you or do other people help you? How did you get started with it? What is your experience in the fashion industry? Do you have any businesses or jobs in other industries?
Alice: We are both full-time students at Durham University in the UK, and AJcufflinks is our first and only business. It is also our first experience in the fashion industry! We got started with it after realizing that the university offered a great deal of support for student entrepreneurs and because we were chosen for a business incubator program, set up by Entrepreneurs Durham. At the moment it is just the two of us working together, but if the business expands to a point that we feel a third person would be beneficial to us, we will be more than happy to take someone onboard. Jan looks after the legal, administrative and financial sides of the business, and I am more focused on the creation of the cufflinks and the social media and marketing aspects. Naturally, our roles tend to overlap and we always help each other out when necessary!
What made you choose to produce cufflinks? Any plans to add different products? Are your cufflinks handmade?
Jan: We decided to produce handcrafted cufflinks because of the previous experience Alice had with designing and making them and because of the gap in the market we identified for alternative cufflinks. Also, we truly believe that in fashion, the details matter more than anything else. We are also striving to change the reputation of cufflinks. Whilst they are often associated with classy men, we have gathered from our research, that they are almost regarded as outdated accessories. Through our brand, we are aiming to change that perception and make this niche accessory appeal to a larger part of the population. Lastly, we want to increase the number of women who wear cufflinks by offering different designs and developing a unisex brand with a strong recognition across several European countries. We do not intend to add any different products to the business, but instead, to keep a strong emphasis on cufflinks.
What is your favorite book right now and why?
Alice: Our Economic Management book is coming in super handy for all the assignments we have so we’ve got to say that one!
Do you have any hobbies? What are they?
Alice: Jan loves to play football and I enjoy fencing. Both of us find that sports are a great way to take time off our studies and to stay healthy! We both play and compete for the university in our respective teams and love the social aspect that comes with being part of a team.
What’s one thing you’re passionate about?
Alice: Our two main passions are our respective sports and our business without a doubt! We’re still learning a lot from everything and everywhere and that keeps us going. I also really like plant keeping and am trying my best to learn about all the plants that decorate my bedroom!
What are your goals for the rest of the year?
Alice: We’re looking to find one or two stockists that we trust and who we will be able to build a relationship with! We want to find a boutique that reflects our brand image to display our beautiful cufflinks. We’re also aiming to enter the wedding industry and participate in several wedding fairs, in order to make some sales in that area. Winning a grant from the University through a competition we have entered is also a top priority. We are practicing our pitch!
What is your favorite quote and why?
Alice: “You never lose in business either you win or you learn”-Scott Belsky
This quote is what we remind ourselves of if things aren’t going as planned. It keeps us going because it reminds us that whatever the outcome is, we are learning in a way that we never have before and gaining experience about something we are passionate about.
I hope you enjoyed my interview with Alice and Jan of AJcufflinks. Right now, their business is so new they don’t have a store yet. They are looking for boutiques to carry their line. You can find them on Instagram though. https://www.instagram.com/ajcufflinks/