How a former teacher started her own fashion brand — and got featured in the fashion pages.
When she was first diagnosed with an auto-immune condition in 2014, Alicia Drabble-Castellano continued working as a primary school teacher for two years. “I’d been a teacher for 15 years,” she says. “It was all I ever knew — afterwards, I was a little bit lost for a while. But then I started to think about things I like to do, the things I’m passionate about — and my dream kind of formed.”
The result was Single Swan, an independent women's clothing label focused on high-quality, long-lasting clothes, made with sustainability in mind. “It took a while because I didn’t have any qualifications in marketing, business, or fashion,” says Alicia. “But eventually I thought, you know, I’m just going to have a go at this, and I launched in February 2020.”
“I had no real idea how to market my products,” says Alicia. “And so sales were pretty much non-existent. I got involved with Google Digital Garage in 2021, doing a course with Wandsworth Borough Council. Then I signed up for Google’s 1-to-1 mentoring, which was brilliant, because when starting a new business, there are things that are like the monster under the bed, you just don’t want to go near them. My mentor taught me how to use search engine optimisation. I started a blog that uses long-tail keywords to improve discovery by search engines. It’s a whole new language — and she explained how to use that in an authentic way. So I was still being myself, but also finding ways to get more website visits.”
In the months after her mentoring, Alicia’s monthly online sales increased more than 300%, while visits to her website more than doubled and she has since appeared twice in the fashion pages of The Times.
“I am so proud of my achievements so far,” says Alicia. “I have just found out I am a finalist for two local awards — Best in The Creative Sector and Sustainable Impact. I have grown in self-belief about what I can achieve. I’m really grateful for Google’s resources and training, which helped teach me what I need to make my business thrive.”
Going forward, she’s fine-tuning her business model. “I’ve spent quite a bit of time on customer research and am now focusing on one ideal customer and being quite specific in my marketing to make sure it targets that customer,” she explains. “I’m working on a rebrand to ensure the website and marketing better reflects the target customers’ needs and pain points.” It’s a lot of work, but Alicia is optimistic.
“What I’d tell anyone considering starting a small business is: if you don't know something, there's always someone that can help you,” she says. “As long as you’re happy to put your hands up and ask, you’ll be able to find people to help.”