Having left school with no qualifications Sissy built a career and got her education the hard way. She now runs a business in the North West of England that uses innovative methods to keep kids on the right track and to inspire them to get the most out of their own educational opportunities.
Why did you start your business?
I started Street Style Surgery because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people. I wanted to offer them the chance to thrive. As a teenager I had fallen into the wrong crowd at school but a textiles teacher in a local college changed my path.
She recognized my potential and literally handed me a ticket to the next stage in my life – a ticket to a fashion show. Attending this show reignited my dream to become a fashion designer. I cleaned up my act and started on a path of 9 years of fashion education.
After working in the fashion industry for many years I was left feeling unsatisfied and disheartened. I began my own fashion design business and pursued my dream of becoming my own boss. Unfortunately, my first business venture was not financially successful and I had to reassess my goals. I realized that I wanted something more fulfilling. After doing a bit of soul searching, I came up with a concept that would combine my passion for fashion and my desire to make a positive impact. By encouraging creativity through design and fashion workshops, I hoped I would influence young people in a constructive way and give them the chance that someone gave me.
Tell us about the business?
Street Style Surgery provides creative workshops for young people all over the UK. We are a “one stop shop” for youth organizations to find a unique program for kids of all ages. With the decreasing national funding for youth clubs, young people are being left without mentors to offer them the support they need at their young age. Many teenagers are left with nowhere to go.
SSS offers a multitude of activities for small groups to entire schools. Our creative workshops are constructed to provide educational knowledge, stimulate the imagination, and build personal growth. I want kids to know they can make any dream a reality. The SSS workshops encourage self-confidence and the ability to gain knowledge in a new exciting field. Our experienced mentors teach entrepreneurship, technical, and group skills in each workshop.
From fashion design to DJing, from beat boxing to painting, they need to know that they have options. Many don’t realize the many exciting career opportunities they can pursue in a creative field that they find exciting. My goal is to show them that it’s possible to make a living doing something you love and feel passionate about.
Street Style Surgery is based in Manchester. When it started in 2008, it was a “one man” operation with just me doing the workshops and the planning but I have recently expanded. We now have 25 qualified associates.
What did you do before you started your business and how has that experience helped your venture?
Prior to Street Style Surgery, I owned another business – Sissy’s Surgery which featured boutique ladies clothing designs. I manufactured and produced all the clothing myself in the UK, which as you can imagine, is not the most cost effective option. Not being able to afford to manufacture abroad, I let the business go. Prior to Sissy’s Surgery, I was worked as a designer for a fashion company. Having the experience of running my own business prior to Street Style Surgery gave me invaluable insight and was great preparation for Street Style Surgery!
Tell us about a typical day or a particularly special or hilarious day in your business?
Now that I’ve expanded the business, my days vary. I spend some days teaching workshops such as fashion design or business enterprise. The rest of the time I’m busy working in the office.
One of my favourite and most entertaining aspects of a Street Style Surgery workshop is the design sessions. After completing a unique t-shirt design, the group gets to model their fine work of wearable art in a mini-fashion show. With a Michael Jackson soundtrack including, “Bad”, we have dozens of nine year olds and ourselves in absolute hysterics. They strut their stuff on the makeshift catwalk with little spins and knee sliding and everyone has a great time. The kids love the fashion shows and so do I!
What are the high points?
I love being my own boss and knowing that my efforts are paying off. After working with over 3000 young people, I can honestly say that I am proud of what SSS and its participants have accomplished. It brings tears to my eyes to hear some of overwhelmingly positive feedback I receive from the kids. It makes me feel so happy to hear them share their stories and tell me that they have benefited from SSS.
I’m involved with many key organisations such as Connexions, Save The Family, Barnardos, young offender services and hundreds of schools. I work with many young people that feel that society has left them behind. Many walk away from SSS inspired and carry on to continued education.
What were the low points and how did you get over them?
Any business experiences highs and lows – it’s a part of the process. The lowest point for SSS was the initial funding. I was initially rejected for a grant by the Unltd awards which was very discouraging. It was already difficult enough trying to break through this segment of the business with all the legalities involved, without a funding problem. I feared defeat as with my first fashion design business and was afraid to become unemployed.
No matter what walls I may encounter in life and with my business I always make it a point to remind myself that any setback is actually a challenge. I accept it and move on with a refreshed outlook. I always remember to believe in my dream. With hard work and determination, I persevered and overcame my challenges.
Money – if you needed funding for start-up or to grow, where did you get it from and how was the process?
Instead of giving up after I’d been rejected for the Unltd award grant, I used credit cards to get my business going. I launched a small pilot program to introduce SSS to youth organisations. I offered free workshops and received positive feedback.
I reapplied for the Unltd awards grant and after reviewing my test pilot program efforts, they provided me funding with a £3000 grant. A challenge won, Street Style Surgery was born.
Marketing – tell us about a marketing tactic that works really well for your business?
I believe that a business is only as great as its marketing. You can have an incredible product or service but it’s nothing if no one knows about it. I have invested money into creating a professional website to inform people about Street Style Surgery. I provide full details and testimonials about each of our creative workshops.
In addition, I also have invested in online marketing through SEO services. With social media and the internet being major marketing vehicles in today’s market, it’s absolutely crucial that you don’t allow your business to get lost in the web. By optimizing the SSS website, I ensure that people are not losing out on our wonderful workshops by allowing our information to be easily accessible and our website to be user friendly.
Where do you get support from?
My mum has always given me support. She has always been there for me and never given up. She always offers me inspiration and encourages me to pursue my dreams. I see what she has accomplished and it makes me want to strive for success.
Who has inspired you and why?
The kids are my inspiration. They make any business struggle worthwhile and remind me why it is I work so hard. Everything I do is for them and to help better their future. The young people that attend the SSS workshops motivate me every day. They remind me of who I am and where I am going. I see myself in many of them and want to give them the opportunity I was given.
What are your future plans or goals?
I have major plans for Street Style Surgery. I hope to continue growing the company and brand to provide engaging and creative workshops throughout the UK. My aim is for Street Style Surgery to be a “one stop shop” for workshops pertaining to young people in a variety of settings.
I would also like to begin an apprenticeship program for young people that attend our workshops. I would like attendees with promise and an interest in learning to have an opportunity to continue to improve their skills.
One of my future goals is to produce a t-shirt line for Street Style Surgery using the kids’ designs and creations. A charitable t-shirt collection sponsored by a retailer such as Tesco, Primark, or Top Shop would be a great opportunity to give back to the community and to support the kids’ programs. I think it’s important to support our communities.
Your best piece of advice?
I cannot stress how important it is to market yourself as a professional business. Invest money into a professional website and marketing collateral. Something as simple as quality card stock business cards can increase your chances of landing a new client.
It does not matter if you’re a start-up company based out of your house; you always have to maintain the outmost professional appearance. Network, carry quality business cards, and get out there. Don’t give up on your dreams. You have nothing to lose!