What brings students to set up their own business? And how do they turn their entrepreneurial ideas into reality? In this series, student entrepreneurs talk about the early years of their business. In this instalment: with her web shop and blog Queer Clothes, Nicole van de Vorst aspires to help people find the right clothes and build an LGBTQ+ platform.

Growing up

For Nicole van de Vorst, a second year IBCoM student, sometimes it was a little awkward going to the men’s section to find clothes. As a part of the LGBTQ+ community, Nicole recounted that she is ‘kind of a tomboy’. “I like wearing a lot of men’s wear. Sometimes people asked if I was shopping for someone else and I would say no.” Nothing extreme ever happened, but some people did give perturbed looks when Nicole said she was buying clothes for herself. For a time, she just ordered clothes online to avoid uncomfortable scenarios, but eventually she stopped paying attention to the occasional judgmental looks and went back to shopping at physical stores.

“Growing up it was more judgy”, according to Nicole. “Now I don’t feel judged as much as before.” With the world taking a step forwards towards acceptance, Nicole realized that there’s now a question of how to fill previously unknown needs. Just like herself, other people in the LGBTQ+ community might want to wear clothing styles that aren’t traditionally available for them. Thinking about this was where the seeds of Nicole’s web shop were born.

Nicole van der Vorst van Queer Clothes
Image credit: Sanne van der Most

From drawing to designing clothes

In the summer of 2018, Nicole first thought about beginning a project that could put her talents from design to use. “I haven’t designed clothes in the past. I used to draw characters from TV series I liked. I also made comics on my own – I didn’t publish anything but it was just for fun.”

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Queer Clothes was how she decided to combine her desire for something artistic with a business idea that could help people in the LGBTQ+ community. At the moment, Nicole’s store primarily features unisex clothing to suit anyone looking to dress with an androgynous style. In the future, the online store is meant to help people who want to wear traditionally masculine or feminine clothes but don’t have the traditional body to fit it.

This is the first project Nicole has really been passionate about, with her motivation to keep working on the web shop coming in large part from enjoying the process of developing Queer Clothes. “While studying and working on university projects, I’m usually not so excited. Now, sometimes I’m in a lecture and I think about what I can do for the store and I’m excited to leave class and go do it.”

Simultaneously removing and adding stress

Art and creative work in general have been Nicole’s outlets for relieving stress. The web shop combines art and business, so it’s an outlet for stress that also brings in more stress. Working on designs is relaxing, with her inspiration coming mostly from things that she likes personally. The little Saturn logo, for example, is featured on a lot of her beanies, sweaters and shirts. Nicole created it because she wanted to be an astronaut as a kid. When she describes her ideas on design, Nicole said: “I’m a bit more subtle. Clothes that are less flashy look a little more wearable for me.” Also, while the clothes are technically geared towards the LGBTQ+ community, she stresses that anyone can buy and wear the products on Queer Clothes.

The difficult part about running a startup for Nicole is that you have to do everything on your own. She has received help from others, like a photographer friend who helped snap pictures of her products to help her cut costs. However, a lot of other parts in running the business, like editing those product photos, developing and maintaining the technical part of the web shop and managing advertising efforts, are all activities that Nicole has to make decisions on and complete.

She spent a couple hours every day for weeks just editing product photos, which is time consuming and ‘kind of a drag’. Nicole also constantly has to find creative solutions to problems like budgeting (or lack thereof) and issues with WordPress, which she hasn’t had prior experience with. Nicole had a simple approach to tackling the latter problem: “The solution was get some books and learn about it. Lots of things are solvable once you put your head to it.”

Clothes and conversations

Being on her own comes with its advantages as well. “I can choose if I want to spend an hour or a whole day on the site. I can see my work translate into results.” Queer Clothes is an ongoing work in progress. Some weeks she’ll see a large spike in sales and then in the next it will be completely silent. Because of this, one of her priorities is to get more consistent traffic to the site.

Her main goal isn’t really to make a huge profit on the site. In fact, she is hoping that in the future, Queer Clothes will function more like a platform with a 50/50 split between the web shop and the blog. The platform currently also includes a section where Nicole writes about her experiences running the online shop as well as LGBTQ+ topics. “I want the blog to be about having a conversation, rather than just one person speaking.” To begin doing so, she asked people on social media if they’re interested in writing blog posts for Queer Clothes. Four people are already going to work on topics for the blog and have their writing published on the site.

As a parting piece of advice for students with entrepreneurial ambitions, Nicole says: “Remember that you will have to make sacrifices. Having an idea is just the fun part. It takes time to get to the end result.”

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