Sustainable fashion is in high demand at the moment. As brands fight to future-proof their operations, Ella and Kara are two women who believe musicians might be able to help accelerate the change. As the co-founders of PETRA, an agency partnering up sustainable brands with artists and DJs, they believe in the appetite for this way of growing brands. Early on in their founder journey, we wanted to catch up with them to unpack what it takes to launch your company and the decisions behind how you do that, and when.
As someone who’s founded everything independently, I’m slightly envious you’ve found someone with shared vision, right at the start! Were you friends before business partners? How did the partnership come to exist?
E: Kara and I actually met when we were eleven! We went to Queens Park Community School in North-West London together. Last year, I asked for Kara’s help with a music project that I was working on – I was looking for advice about a client’s online presence and use of social media platforms. I’ve always known her to be hard-working and thoughtful about things, but I was really blown away by how professional she was and it definitely made me want to work with her in the future. When I had the idea for PETRA and I realised I needed to find someone who knew about marketing/fashion, she was my absolute first choice.
What were you previously working on before you founded PETRA?
E: I was working in quite a different field… I did a law conversion course after University, and then a postgraduate diploma called an ‘LPC’, which is basically what you need if you want to qualify as a solicitor. I worked at two law firms, doing environmental and then human rights work as a paralegal, and then took up music management in my spare time. I just realised that although I’m very passionate about human rights and environmentalism, the work environment in legal offices didn’t quite fit. When I had the idea for PETRA, I decided to go for it!
K: After finishing my English and Creative Writing degree, my career path led me to social media marketing. I have a genuine enthusiasm for promoting health, wellness and sustainable brands. We spend hours each day on these online platforms and it’s exciting to work with brands that are motivated to do some good.
When was the moment you decided to commit to the business? Was there a singular moment you can remember?
E: I know it seems a little crazy, but I was genuinely committed to the business as soon as I had the idea for it – although I didn’t have the details ironed out, I knew that creating a shared community for eco-friendly fashion and music just made sense. I was so enthusiastic about it that I knew I needed to be careful and not rush forward with it, so I built in testing phases for my idea and the company.
Testing phases sounds methodical! What was your first step?
E: My first step was to find a team to work with. I contacted Kara and another friend who I thought would fit the project (who unfortunately couldn’t continue due to visa issues). That was my first major test, finding a team, because I needed to know that my idea was compelling enough for other people to want to commit time and energy towards it. Luckily enough, Kara was very excited about it. After that, we did our research over two months or so, and incorporated the company in June 2020.
I actually think having a legal background is a great foundation for starting a business, and something which was called out by Chloe Pierre, in our recent conversation with her. There must have been so much that was new to you though. What do you think have been the biggest challenges since June?
E: The biggest challenge in any start-up is finances, and that’s definitely been the case for us. In terms of our initial costs, we’ve actually done very well and managed to spend under a grand of our own money. That was mostly due to our money saving measures of designing the website ourselves, and incorporating our company without a lawyer. We approached some companies about web design, but it was far too expensive for us, so I’ve designed the website myself using Wix which was a huge challenge in itself! I think that we’ve just had to have faith that the company will start picking up income from the membership and bespoke partnership service once we officially launched at the beginning of October, and luckily enough have.
K: We’re lucky that we’re a very niche company and have a great USP, however, when it comes to deciding what’s right or wrong for the business it can become a challenge because we don’t have a lot of other companies we can use as inspiration. We have to take the risk and run with any ideas we believe in whilst remembering that some will work and some won’t. One of our ideas that didn’t go to plan was our launch party, *cough cough, thanks Covid* but we had to pivot and make it digital like the rest of the world had to. We’re learning that mistakes will make us learn faster.
Yes, I think it’s definitely harder to make a real moment right now, when we’re all spending far more time scrolling through the news and less time at parties :(. Have there been some nice wins experienced though – any moments of encouragement you’d call out?
K: It has to be seeing the fantastic collaborations we have set up so far! After the work and dedication we put in, the excitement we get from seeing the end result of musicians collaborating with sustainable brands together is a massive moment of encouragement.
Another big win was being accepted in We in Social Tech by Nwes and supported by Deutsche Bank. It’s an accelerator programme for female tech founders with a social purpose. This is our first business and we have a lot of burning questions! This will give us an opportunity to access the industry experts, gain valuable support, network with other ambitious women and give us a collaborative workspace to help us grow PETRA.
That sounds fantastic! Outside of maybe looking for an accelerator programme, like that, what have been the most helpful or constructive things which you’d want to pass on to other women thinking about starting out?
K: In the beginning, it was very nerve-racking doing cold-call emailing to established brands, acclaimed musicians and well-known organisations asking them to come join us. We felt so small compared to them! We had to bear in mind that the worst response we’ll get back is a “no”. If that is the case, then it doesn’t hurt to try. Behind these recognised and famous names are genuine people who are willing to collaborate if they believe in your message. We have been blown away by the support we’ve received so far. Without sounding like a tacky Pinterest quote, don’t let being embarrassed stop you – the right people will believe in you.
I think that’s really good advice. I’ve found it can be quite unpredictable how and who will respond to you so you have to just shrug off any concept of being ignored. I remember reading that Estée Lauder was quite the stalker! Speaking of which…
Are there any particular entrepreneurs or founders who inspire you?
K: We’re inspired by Livia Firth and Nicola Giuggioli, the founders of Eco-age. A brand consultancy for supporting sustainable brands to communicate their values in a transparent and effective way. We admire how they have worked with NGOs, world-renowned brands and very public figures across industries. They have developed the fantastic Green Carpet Challenge® (GCC) which fuses ethics and aesthetics whilst raising supply chain knowledge. Their digital channels oozes with innovation and encourages individuals to make a difference. We’re more than inspired by their work, we’re blown away!
And final question for you, if you could plan a dream partnership, which brand and musician would you like to partner up?
K: From the very start, we’ve said that Billie Eilish partnered with a sustainable brand from our platform would be a dream partnership. Not only is her music brilliant, we really admire that she uses her platform and influence to declare environmental issues. The younger generation seem to be very passionate about climate change and willing to commit to sustainability. We appreciate that Eilish doesn’t shy away about the changes industries need to make before it’s too late. Also, her sense of style is bold – she can pull anything off!
Her style is also very Green (ayy).
Thank you both so much for sharing – look forward to seeing some case studies from the work you’ve done!!
To read more about PETRA, you can head to their website: www.petrapartnerships.com
Or find them on social: @petrapartnerships