How a little red dress started my first business

Tegan Marshall Blog Post on how a little red dress started her first business

Born out of necessity. Here’s how a little red dress started my first business. As a teenager needing to survive, this was the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey.

Having to support myself from a very young age due to failed parenting and the overcrowded foster care system. (You can read about my personal story in the book Facing Fears - Finding the courage to reveal the real you). I was incredibly brave and creative in finding ways to create income.

Making ends meet

Way underage and yet having never been asked for ID for any of my jobs. I worked in a supermarket on Wednesday nights and weekends. Then at a bar on Friday and Saturday nights to make ends meet. But things were tight.

When I was taken away from "the family" and placed in the foster care system they had no family initially to place me. So, in a caravan park I went and discovered in one of the cupboards a bottle of vodka.

Having tried to consume the entire bottle of liquor in one sitting because I thought that's what grown ups did. Then spending the rest of the weekend vomiting the contents of my stomach. This set me up for many years of happily pouring alcohol for others (which paid well, especially the tips) but never wanting to drink it myself.  (I still can’t drink vodka!)

Little red dress

I had been invited to a special promotion night at the club. Problem was, I had nothing that was adult enough to wear. Nor the money to afford to buy something from a shop.

So I went to my nearest material store and found a gorgeous piece of red material in the discount bucket. I bought the matching cotton, went home and on a borrowed sewing machine, set about creating a unique strapless number. Together with a pair of heels I found in a charity store I was set for the night. Looking well beyond my years!

The little red dress was an absolute knockout! Everywhere I went I was called the lady in red. In the bathroom, a girl approached me and said, “Oh I love your dress, where on earth did you get it?” I proudly announced that I had made it myself.

With eyes widened she asked if I would make one for her and for how much. I quickly did my sums in my head and blurted out a price. By the time I left the bathroom, I had three orders and my first business was born.

Word of mouth

As time went on, word of mouth spread about my little red dress and I expanded to different colours. Completely self-taught, and with lots of mistakes initially, I continued to create unique evening dresses between my study and jobs.

I would search for local events as excuses to wear my latest designs and I always came home with another order. The profit margin was fantastic and it was work I could do around my school assignments so I was keen to do more.

Expanding into wholesale

One day, as I was eyeing off a gorgeous dress in the window of a shop my friend said, “You should design for them, your dresses are way cooler.”

With the confidence that comes from having nothing to lose I went in and suggested the concept to the owner. She asked to see some of my designs. Gulp! I didn’t have designs because I would literally find a piece of material I could afford and then try and make something of it.

So I went home, buying a sketchbook on the way, and quickly sketched up some of the designs I had created already. Including my favourite little red dress. It was enough for her to ask me to make two for her store. I was ecstatic!

Life altering decisions

That was a very long time ago now but I went on to create and supply some truly gorgeous gowns for that store and another. This got me through my high-school years financially and doing something I loved.

At one point, after school had finished, I was offered an opportunity in a proper design house. To start at the bottom of the ladder and work my way up. It was where careers in fashion start out but I didn't know that.

Unfortunately, because I had no 'fall back' and no adult guidance I chose a different path that I thought would be more lucrative. Thus ensuring I had a roof over my head. This was to become one of my few life-altering decision regrets.

I still have an underlining passion for unique fashion and occasionally wonder how different my life might have been had I continued down that path. But this first business and my little red dress is one that will always hold a special place in my heart.

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