Damian Gray, 22, set up his business in 2012 whilst studying at Lancaster University. His company, The Bizarre, opened their first shop to the public on Saturday Week 10. The clothing store stocks t-shirts, sweatshirts and a variety of other pieces. The Bizarre not only stocks Gray’s own brand, but provides a platform for other independent clothing designers to get their start in the industry. Taking inspiration for the name from Mary Quant OBE’s first shop, ‘Bazaar’, which opening in 1955, The Bizarre features neon lights, backlit white Perspex walls and deep shades of purple throughout. Here, Damian Gray discusses his start on Alex Square, the help he received from the Enterprise team, and his advice on starting a business.
SCAN: What did you study at Lancaster?
Damian: Theatre Studies and Creative Writing. A couple of the Management School staff and LUSU team who had read my business plan made a few comments that I was “doing the wrong degree” but I’m so happy I did Theatre and Crew because it helped with my confidence. I enjoyed running a business as a hobby to begin with so perhaps writing essays about it would have put me off!
SCAN: Whilst you were at university, you were a regular on the Farmer’s Market in Alex Square. How did this experience influence you to take your business and make it more permanent?
Damian: It helped me recognise a whole new platform to sell my goods. What I thought was always going to be an online-confined product suddenly had appeal in a physical store form – this influenced my decision to open a shop. And with other independent labels, like myself when I started out, unable to afford the costs of setting up a shop I am able to offer them space in my shop on a sale or return basis. Giving them a fair trial (on one month rolling contracts) with minimal risk for myself, all the while giving them a chance to expand their business, audience and strategy of their own brand.
SCAN: It’s really great to see somebody who is being proactive with their business plans so soon after they graduate. What is your advice for students who want to set up businesses but do not know where to start?
Damian: My biggest piece of advice is to copy others. I was lucky enough to have many different people around me doing similar things and the University (especially the Enterprise Champion team) were great at putting me in touch with mentors, lawyers, accountants etc. This year I basically copied down all their instructions, and copied others business strategies while noticing their downfalls and improving on them. We all watch The Apprentice and see where they are going wrong, but it is hard to see for yourself the negatives – so watch and learn from other people’s mistakes!
SCAN: Now you are opening your shop with Bizarre t-shirts, how to you plan to expand the business in the future?
Damian: The Bizarre is hopefully the first stepping stone in one big entrepreneurial adventure. My brother and my boyfriend are both chefs so there is already talk of opening a restaurant and bar in the next couple of years, also in Manchester’s Northern Quarter – the Bizarre Bar perhaps!
The Bizarre is located at 10 Hilton Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1JF. More information is available via the company website: www.thisisbizarre.com.