Deb Hescott, 45, is from Newcastle, Australia. She started her fashion bags and accessories business, J’espere, in 2013. J’espere is an online retail business which supplies bags and accessories that are retro, functional and unique. The concept for J’espere (French meaning of “I hope”) was born out of the desire to align a unique online business with raising awareness of Retina Australia. This worthy charity is committed to raising funds for research into the detection, prevention, treatment and cure of inherited retinal dystrophies, providing hope to those suffering from low vision or blindness. $2 from the sale of every bag is donated to this charity.
Starting the Business
Q: Where did the idea for your business come from? Where were you in your life and career?
A: My dream was to own a business doing something I love, but first and foremost was the idea to support a very worthy charity ‘Retina Australia NSW’ which I am extremely passionate about. The idea to raise awareness and funds for this charity is motivated by my experience through three generations of family being affected by blindness including my grandfather, brother and son. I wanted to provide hope (J’espere) for the future that there will be a cure – and we are getting very close.
A few years ago I purchased a really cool retro bag which was quite different and loved it and decided that there was a real market out there to bring back the old style satchel retro bags. From here my idea evolved into a flourishing business.
Prior to commencing my business in 2013 I had a diverse career in the public sector working for a number of agencies including the Public Works Department, NSW Police force, Ambulance Service of NSW, Local Council, and TAFE NSW with a few other opportunities along the way. I left my full time position as a Business Manager due to family and health reasons and this opened the door for me to fulfil my dream.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting out?
A: Being an online business is dependent on people knowing about you. Like all small businesses the challenge is competing in the market, having a strong online interactive presence, and creating a strong network of supporters and customers. As a startup this is a big challenge.
Q: What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started the business?
A: The one thing that I wish I knew when I first started my business was how to streamline your business activities through technology, this saves a lot of time and effort further down the track.
Q: What would you consider your first big success in the business?
A: I am really proud of what I have achieved in such a short time. I credit this success to developing strong networks, supportive businesses willing to help promote, business advisors who have assisted in providing sound advice and referrals, tapping into social media, and promoting a worthy charity that is very close to my heart. One major achievement has been the official launch for J’espere, this was a fundraiser for Retina Australia and was a huge success.
Q: What is the toughest thing about getting to the top / staying on top in your industry specifically?
A: Business is competitive and the toughest thing is to be constantly evolving, being creative and coming up with new ideas to keep the interest of the market.
Q: Where do you see your industry heading in the next 5 years?
A: Within 5 years I will have an amazing range of J’espere retro bags and accessories with a well recognised brand. I will have new and repeat customers, an increased awareness and support for Retina Australia NSW, and will have my bags stocked in retail outlets.
Q: What do you plan on doing / changing in order to keep growing in this time period?
A: To ensure that I keep growing I will interact with my customers and involve them by getting their opinions for future designs. I will include local talent in design opportunities and create a range of funky, functional and affordable retro bags.
Q: What does ultimate success look like to you? How will you know when you’ve achieved it?
A: I think that success is ongoing and I celebrate every milestone along the way. The journey to continual success is measured through customer feedback, sales and building a brand that has community input. Success for me also includes the raising of awareness and funds to help find a cure for blindness – this is extremely rewarding.
Q: What do you think will be the biggest challenge facing entrepreneurs in the near future?
A: I think that being current and edgy, offering something different and having a point of difference is very important for any business. Small business is competitive and very challenging particularly with many consumers now shopping online and using social media. Keeping up with technology is paramount for success.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in your industry and wanting to make it to the top?
A: My advice to those starting a business would be to draw on the expertise of as many people as you can, have strong business relationships that allow you to help and support each other – this is invaluable. Network… network… and network some more. Amongst all that, put the customer at the centre of your business and stay true to your branding.