July 15, 2022
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Side Hustles

Side hustle diaries: How I started my own sustainable underwear brand at the age of 24

Want to start your business? Learn how Nergiz did it at 24, without compromising her environmental values.

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Welcome to the first edition of the Side Hustle Diaries – real experiences from real entrepreneurs. Looking to start a side hustle of your own? Need some ideas or some inspiration? This series is for you.

Meet Nergiz.

Age: 26.

Day job: Paid Social Manager

Side hustle: Magi [pronounced May-Jai], the sustainable underwear label.

Nergiz founded Magi in February 2021 at the grand old age of 24.

Completely off her own back.

On top of managing her Instagram page on environmental activism, Chicks for Climate, for its 398k followers.

The brand is manufactured in England and Portugal, and currently ships to the UK, US, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia.

Let’s spill the tea.

Hey Nergiz! Tell us about Magi

Magi is a sustainable hemp underwear brand whose wider mission is to make hemp cool again. Hemp was a fabric we’ve been using as humans for thousands of years - the first-ever US flag was made from hemp.

In the 20th century cannabis (and hemp) was outlawed. Paper and cotton companies had a lot to do with that. Hemp wasn’t legal to grow as fabric in the US until 2018. So, it’s coming back into style and Magi is one of those companies that I hope is part of the magnification of hemp, changing its reputation from this scratchy, like… farm-type of fabric, [editor’s note: lol] to a fabric everyone can wear.

What motivated you to start your own business?

I started my Instagram page, Chicks for Climate, in February 2019. While I was running that page, I was making posts about the climate crisis and how bad the fashion industry is. I learned that cotton is really bad for the planet. It’s the reason the Aral Sea dried up in Uzbekistan.

I also get a lot of yeast infections and I used to buy a lot of cotton underwear, then I realized, oh sh*t, this underwear is not good for the planet! I thought there must be another solution, and I found hemp.

Three models wearing Magi

I tried to look for a hemp underwear brand. There was only one and it was just not at all my style. So I was like oh, okay, there seems to be a gap in the market here: hemp underwear for people like me who are young and want to wear cute stuff, look nice in it, and it feels nice.

The branding reflects all of that. I’m trying to make it as healthy as possible in every aspect; no compromises. Every model has a real body, it’s all ethically made, the packaging is compostable, the fabric is high quality, and it lasts a long time.

You know how anti-capitalist I am, but I totally believe that business can be nurturing. Think about small businesses; they contribute to their communities. Someone just needs to show that you can do it on a massive scale. Patagonia is doing that. I just want to be part of it.

How did you start the business? Where did you get the money and know-how from?

I was 23 when I had the idea, and then 24 by the time it launched. From November 2019 throughout the whole pandemic, it was all about listening to as many business podcasts as I could.

I got almost like a mini-MBA through listening to thousands of business podcasts. I love reading Courier magazine, there are so many business nuggets in there. I learned through listening to other entrepreneurs’ stories and taking the best parts of what they did. And also: Google.

I started Magi as a side hustle, I had a full-time job. Any spare money I had every month I just put aside for funding the initial sampling, figuring out the design, and testing out different fabrics.

For the final production, I took out a loan from British Business Bank, which was a £7000 loan. It took 3 weeks to get it - the reason they gave me it was because I had a full-time job. It was £600 a month I had to pay off and so if I didn’t make the full sales for that month, I would just top it up with my salary.

Did you face any challenges along the way?

Where do I start? To be honest with you, the worst thing was that you feel really vulnerable. You’re putting yourself out there, you have to have no shame promoting your business, you can’t have humility when you’re talking about it. So I had to work on not feeling embarrassed.

For some reason when I got first sales I was like, what the f*ck do I think I’m doing, who do I think I am that I’m like… selling things. [Editor’s note: we both lolled here]

That self-doubt creeps in and it’s really tough. Only now I’ve gone through that personal journey being like: I can do this. If you have that, I know it sounds cringy, but you can make it work.

Now the sales have increased for sure, and I’m getting repeat customers, which feels so nice. People come back 3 or 4 times, and because it’s a small business I have a connection with them.

A model wearing a lilac pair of magi underwear

Where do you see Magi going in the future?

Patagonia is an inspiration. A Patagonia for sustainable everyday basics. And genderless.

I want it to feel like when you’re interacting with this brand you feel hopeful about the future; that this is an example of a brand that is doing things right.

I want to be involved in policy for hemp, getting involved in cannabis justice initiatives. Trying to give back to that community that has been suffocated for so long.

What's your advice to anyone starting a business in their 20s?

I think the business landscape, especially with e-commerce, has been dominated by men.

There’s a stereotype that comes with the word ‘entrepreneur’ that’s very much attached to this guy who got an MBA and started cold-emailing everyone incessantly. And he’s super extroverted and goes to all of these networking events. For me, I’ve actively worked on putting myself in situations where before I would’ve been intimidated. If you do have self-doubt, you have to push through it.

Another thing I’d recommend, which I didn’t do, is to do it with a friend.

I’m patient with myself about the growth because I am doing it on the side. Whatever expectations I have on the business, in terms of how sustainable I want it to be, I apply that to myself.

Nergiz, you’re incredible. You need your own podcast. And a book. Thank you for chatting with us about Magi, we can’t wait to see where it goes. You’re killin’ it.

Well, there you have it. Turns out you don’t have to be an influencer or a nepo baby to start your own clothing line.

Know anyone who’s started their own successful side hustle? Get in touch with us on Instagram at MeetCleo for a chance to be featured in Side Hustle Diaries.

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Big love. Cleo 💙

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