Swole Panda Interview: A side hustle from fruit to fashion

5 min read
Victoria Hoyle

Side hustle is the name for the growing trend of kick-starting a personal enterprise or microbusiness in your spare time or away from the day job. The side hustle trend is rapidly increasing in popularity.

In 2017 Google Trends showed that searches for “side hustle” have increased 138% in the UK and 178% in the USA. 

Starting a side hustle enables the hustler to pursue their interests, hobbies or passions while maintaining the financial security that comes with a full-time job.

GoDaddy research found that 20% of British workers are likely to start a side hustle, and that 46% of those who have started a side hustle are earning up to £500 from it. 

We sat down with Oliver Slacke, founder of Swole Panda, to find out more about his business and why he decided to take his side hustle full time.

From the very beginning, Slacke was a hustler. During his school years he worked multiple jobs doing everything from selling fruit at the side of the road, waitering at local restaurants, to office work. During his gap year before university, Slacke also worked as an accounts manager for a luxury packaging company, a job which he continued with part time when he went on to study Geography at Kings College London.

Slacke’s side hustle was founded during his time at university. Many of his modules focused on the issue of sustainability within the fashion industry and the availability of substitutes which would leave less of an imprint on the planet. Across the UK and EU, clothing is the 8th largest sector when it comes to household spending and it has the 4th largest environmental impact. Slacke was intrigued by the concept of using bamboo within fashion and went on to discover the versatility and sustainability of the resource.

“Species of bamboo equal to the height and width of a common hardwood tree take as little as three years to grow and fully mature. This makes bamboo one of the most sustainable natural resources on the planet”.

Further research by Slacke presented a clear gap in the menswear market for a premium bamboo accessories brand. Driven by the skills founded from his hustling beginning, Slacke went on to develop the first range of bamboo sunglasses which he sold online.

Once the first range of sunglasses had received a great reaction from retailers and consumers alike, Slacke knew that there was a fantastic opportunity for scalability and to develop the Swole Panda range. 18 months later the range has now developed to include polo shirts, t-shirts, scarves and socks.

But the journey from sunglasses to socks has not been a simple one. When Slacke conceived Swole Panda he was a university student and already working in a part-time job. He realised that to make his side hustle a reality he would need to work on it whenever he had a spare moment, including during lunch breaks at work. Consequently, Slacke made the decision to tell his employer, “I ensured that starting Swole Panda didn’t interfere or distract me from the work I was doing. Overall they were supportive of me starting my own thing”.

Finding the time to work on your idea, as well as the motivation needed to launch a concept can be a struggle. Slacke believes that “having a genuine passion and reason for starting your side hustle is important. To be able to perform without a manager breathing down your neck you have to love what you are doing." Although Slacke had this natural drive and motivation, he was still faced with a severe lack of financial resources. Without the safety belt of a fixed income he would have never been able to cover the initial start-up costs.

“The small things can add up quickly; trademarks, logo design, website fees, all had to be taken into consideration. Prioritising and only spending on the essentials was important to minimise any unnecessary costs”.

A website is fundamental for any start-up business in today’s digital age, in the clothing industry over 50% of consumers prefer to research purchases online. A website is an affordable way to market your product offering to a huge audience and, if built well, offers the chance to create and enhance brand credibility. To scale his business, Slacke knew he needed to be online. “The ability to build an eCommerce store from scratch on a small budget was essential in setting up the business. Social media, specifically Instagram, was and still is a key channel that we utilise to advertise our products. We also heavily rely upon instant messaging apps and email to have instant communication with our suppliers and customers”.

It is because of this initial website build that Swole Panda is today a successful full-time hustle. The initial promise that was shown through the early sunglasses sales was enough for Slacke to pursue his passion. Today, he is working towards making his brand truly global, with consumers worldwide wearing and loving his clothing. His only fear: that “people will stop buying sunglasses and socks”.

Has Slacke's side hustle inspired you? Get started with a domain name from GoDaddy.