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I Dropped Out of University To Start My Own Brand. I Ended Up Making Ends Meet As A Barista.

I Dropped Out of University To Start My Own Brand. I Ended Up Making Ends Meet As A Barista.

I studied my whole life despite hating it.

As an Asian kid growing up, academic excellence felt like the only thing I had to rightfully focus on. So I studied hard despite struggling and dealing with lots of unhappiness. I did well enough in high school, then Junior College, to eventually be offered a place at a local university in Singapore. But after a year into it, I realized how much I hated where I was. I had spent years studying reluctantly and now I had locked myself into a system that questioned my whole purpose in life. So I dropped out of university.

I dropped out of university to focus on my ‘dreams’

It took a lot of courage but it was my way of fighting back after so many years of doing what everyone else wanted me to do. I spent my time thinking about what my ‘purpose’ could be and I realized I always loved streetwear. So I made the choice to do what every ‘glorified’ dropout did: pursue their dreams and go all in. I was energized, thrilled and so ready to prove people wrong.

I spent my life savings on founding my own streetwear brand

I spent months researching and designing, with countless hours of sketching on my handy iPad before I finally launched my own streetwear brand. I took close to $10,000 in my savings and ran with it. My two best friends and family members were my first customers and I was so sure it was going to be a hit.

But reality hit me like a truck. My sales peaked at about seventy orders, hardly close to breaking even and I was a few thousand dollars in debt. What was supposed to be a break from school to discover myself instead pushed me into debt and I was filled with so much anger and disappointment in myself — I was proving my parents exactly right. That leaving school wasn’t going to be the right call. My brand had simply failed to take off the way I thought it would. I had poured all my savings into this venture, and I was left with nothing to show for it.

I landed in debt and I had no choice but to work part-time to make ends meet

I had to pick myself up and face the truth. I had to survive and it was simply not sustainable to keep the business afloat. So I started working as a barista on the side. It wasn’t easy, and I never envisioned myself in the service industry but I had to make do. At the same time, I tried to push for different channels to promote what was left of the overwhelming stocks that weren’t sold. But it simply didn’t work – people weren’t buying.

My parents tried to get me back into school. Fortunately, being away from university for a year was merely written off as a ‘gap year’ and I could continue with my curriculum. I was more focused this time around, although it definitely wasn’t smooth sailing. I lost count of the number of times I felt overwhelmed, and I questioned myself indefinitely. Stress levels were especially high during examinations: I’ve entered the examination halls only to leave having completed 30% of the written papers. 

I eventually went back to school with an open mind

I’ve also met countless people of unique backgrounds and found that many of them actually start their own businesses amidst their time at the university — like a side hustle. This meant that should the business not push through the way they thought it would, they could still fall back on their degrees as a safety net. They diligently took time between and after classes to schedule calls and meetings. Some even worked full days on the weekends and it worked out for them.

Going back for classes was indeed eye-opening, and in ways that was unexpected. It’s taught me that it’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s important to learn from them. It’s also shown me that success is never guaranteed no matter how much work you put in, and that failure is a part of the journey and your growth.

My advice to other young aspiring entrepreneurs:

As I continue to pursue my studies, I know that my journey is far from over. I wished I had taken a different approach, like pursuing my dreams while still in school like how the rest have, but hindsight is 20/20 and I can’t change the past.

To aspiring business owners like myself, I would like to first wish you the greatest of success in your entrepreneurial goals. But I would also like to advise you on managing your risks, such that you understand the extent of what’s at stake and how much you are willing to give up on down the road. 

Regardless, I am determined to one day relaunch the brand when I have more foresight, experience and capital — meanwhile, do leave some prayers for me in the comments because I really do want to graduate. And it has not been looking good.

Have you ever considered dropping out of school to chase your ‘dreams’?

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