A new series in the lifestyle section is highlighting small businesses owned by University of Manchester (UoM) students. For the first spotlighted business, we interviewed Sophie Walsh, a second-year civil engineering student who creates and sells her own clothing through Planet Soph on Depop.
So, tell us a bit about your business.
I sell screen print tops and jeans that I design myself. I produce the prints with an app where I layer images. These images are then used as the print design for my clothes! Planet Soph is also aimed at people like me I guess as I initially made the tops for myself. As a 19-year-old I’m making tops for people who like similar styles as me – which is quite a broad market!
Where did the name Planet Soph come from?
Well, I started my Depop years and years ago, probably when I was in year nine or ten. I remember that when I first made my Depop account, the boys in my year at school found it and used to call me Planet Soph to make fun of me. I have no idea where Planet Soph came from, but it eventually became my brand name.
So, you had Depop way before you started your business. What inspired you to get started?
There was this one brand on Depop called Wreckit which sold really cool screenprint tops before the big screenprint boom on Depop. Nowadays so many people make different designs so you can find anything you want. Before, I saw Wreckit making them.
I liked her designs, so I bought a few of her tops, but I wanted a specific top for me. So, I started making tops for myself, later thinking ‘If I want them, then maybe others will want them too’.
So, I watched a YouTube tutorial on how to make screenprint tops, sold some of my old clothes to buy the equipment and just started making them. It took me about a week of trial and error before I got the prints how I wanted them and got the hang of it. Even now I’m still perfecting my process.
What was the inspiration behind your first designs?
My print designs are of the actress Devon Aoki. I’m half white and half Chinese and I feel like there’s a huge lack of Asian celebrities/people in the public eye. She’s an Asian icon, especially in the 2000s. The 2000s are an era of trends that I gravitate to, so I decided to incorporate her into my designs!
Are a lot of customers university students?
A really large percentage of my customers are university students. I can see the delivery addresses on Depop and a lot of them are to halls. It’s been so surreal for me when my friends tell me that they saw someone in their halls or flatmates wearing my tops. I sort of forget I’m sending my products to real people who will wear my stuff and it makes me so happy that people are enjoying what I make.
Do you have international customers as well?
Quite a few of my customers are international. I have a few from Iceland – for some reason, Icelanders seem to love my products! I’m not sure how many of my international customers are university students, but I think they are probably school students at least.
Is it difficult to balance everything – university work, social life and running your business?
As much as I say I can’t handle it all, I’m an organisation freak. I love to organise things, to-do lists, calendars, etc. Because of this, I allocate my time efficiently which helps me manage it all. My notes app honestly runs my life. Every week I have a Monday to Sunday of to-do lists, so I know what I’m doing each day and I can spread it evenly across the days. That way, I know when I have free time to produce my tops or when I have a lot of lectures and will be too tired to work afterwards.
What would you say has been the most difficult part of running your own business?
Definitely getting started. That week of trial and error was so disheartening. I just remember thinking, ‘I can’t get this right; it keeps going wrong!’ Every time it went wrong, I had to spend more money to buy new materials. I didn’t even know if it was worth it, or if I was going to be able to make the money back. Keeping up with demand is challenging as well. The pressure to deliver when I’m trying to balance everything else can be stressful. I know people want my product but if I don’t have the time to produce it then I can’t give them what they want. It can feel like a lot of pressure …
What advice would you give to students wanting to start a business?
I’d say pick something that you genuinely enjoy doing because you’ll be doing it over and over again. I find printing the tops therapeutic: I just sit down and use it as a creative outlet. I know this is pretty classic advice but I’d also advise working out how much money you’re spending so you can figure out when you’re going to be breaking even. But most importantly I’d say just do it. A lot of people talk about things they want to do, but then they never get around to starting it. If you keep thinking about something just do it because one day you’ll regret never trying it. Once you start, you can work it out from there. If you don’t try, you won’t get anywhere.
Do you have any long-term goals for your business?
I haven’t really thought about too far in the future, but I do want to improve my production. I just bought some new printing materials that should hopefully make the process quicker and more efficient. I also want to source some more interesting blanks to print on to increase my product range. Eventually, I want to experiment with different colours, styles and sleeve lengths whilst sourcing more vintage jeans as well. Plus creating my own website so people can shop there (Depop takes 10%, PayPal takes 3.4%). It’s a lot of exciting stuff!