Representing the creative future

Krystal Paniagua on starting your own e-shop

Puerto Rican designer Krystal Paniagua explains the workings of selling her work directly to customers

With the rise of Instagram Shopping and the boom of small businesses during lockdown, Royal College of Arts graduate Krystal Paniagua has just introduced her e-shop, making her latest knitwear collection Dynamic Essentials available worldwide. The Puerto Rican designer developed this project during the first UK lockdown in March out of a need to manage her sales and connect directly with her customers. Paniagua talks about her designs, the inception of her brand, and the challenge of selling knitwear digitally.

Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
The Krystal Paniagua studio
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Samples and notes
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop

Can you take us through your journey after your graduation?

After graduation, I felt lost but liberated. I had no job opportunity offers, no special partnerships from retailers, little coverage of my work, and had not received any awards. However, I felt so liberated after graduating – it was all up to me to make things happen. It’s amazing how opportunities present themselves when you just do your thing. It’s been very valuable to get the right opportunities at an appropriate time.

How many people are on your team?

For now, it’s me and my assistant Emily working at the studio – she mostly helps me with production. I also work with my friend Emma who contributes with imagery and editing. Overall, my family and friend group have been very supportive in the development of the brand – they have all contributed to the brand in one way or another.

“After graduation, I had no job opportunity offers, no special partnerships from retailers, little coverage of my work, and had not received any awards. However, I felt so liberated after graduating – it was all up to me to make things happen.” – Krystal Paniagua

You have just launched an e-shop for your designs. How did it come to life?

The idea stemmed during the first lockdown in March. At the beginning of 2020, I had made the decision to launch my brand but unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic happened at the same time. Being forced to stay in my room, I was left on my own with no outside distractions and started developing ideas for a new collection. Seeing the shift to e-commerce as the main selling source for retailers helped me grasp the reality of the future of retail.

“I decided to invest in developing my own e-commerce platform where I could have total control and connect with my customers.” – Krystal Paniagua

I decided to invest in developing my own e-commerce platform where I could have total control and connect with my customers. I wanted to have control over what I sold. We make everything in house, and we are a very small team with our budget counted. In the summer, I commenced a trial run of my website where I sold my one of a kind knitted pieces. This helped me understand who was engaging with my work and who my customers were. It was truly insightful but short-lived. I wasn’t truly prepared to offer the service I was striving for.

Not so long after the launch of my brand, I was approached by Lindsay Peoples Wagner from Teen Vogue asking me to be part of their mentorship program. I developed a new collection while keeping in mind the elements I wanted to communicate for my brand and its future. This time, I prepared more for sales, making a limited stock of each look, but enough to test the ground.

Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop

What have been the biggest challenges?

The major challenge for us at this moment is fulfilling our sales expectations and producing trust within our community – how do we engage our followers enough for them to invest in a KP piece?

The rest has been truly organic and quite fun. It’s been a financial risk for me as I am very new to this, and mistakes are part of the process. Nonetheless, I design every garment with love and with hopes for them to find a place to live outside of our studio.

“The notable drawback of running your own e-shop is that I have invested in the brand with my own savings, so there is pressure for me to make the brand grow.” – Krystal Paniagua

What are the main advantages and drawbacks of selling clothes directly to customers through an online shop?

An advantage is that you connect with your customers, you understand who is buying, you get a full retail percentage back that helps the company grow financially.

The notable drawback is that I have invested in the brand with my own savings, so there is pressure for me to make the brand grow. With no safety net nor backup from retailers, there’s a limit of who sees the brand, and that directly affects our sales. However, I am learning a lot from this and I have plans to expand.

What is the most challenging part of running your own brand? 

Running my own brand means that I am responsible for everything – so there’s pressure to perform well. I manage everything from production to marketing, to logistics and other things that I am just learning about! It’s all super fun though, I spend most of my days working at the studio and it’s really fulfilling to see results and to create a community through the brand.

Did you find the stage of production easy? How do you produce your pieces? 

For now, production is in house and with limited stock or made to order basis. We are still developing brand awareness, so we provide garments to a niche customer base. Production at the moment is very exciting, especially when I have an assistant helping me out.

Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop
Krystal Paniagua on the pros and cons of starting your own e-shop

Do you consider knitwear more complicated to sell online than other types of garments? If so, how?

Definitely – I think it’s hard to demonstrate the true versatility and beauty of knitwear through a screen. It’s so important for people to see and feel the garments to really appreciate the pieces. The same goes in terms of sizing and the ways the pieces could be worn – knitwear molds onto different body types so easily so it’s a challenge to truly communicate how flexible and fluid my garments can be.

“I wish I was taught more about business at university – it’s interesting how they train a designer to be creative but don’t mention anything about working in the industry.” – Krystal Paniagua

How are you dealing with stock and orders?

For this first drop, we’ve produced a very limited quantity of each design. So, at this stage, we have worked every day in producing garments before launching the site. Now that the shop is live, we’ve had a few orders and we are understanding how much time it takes to prepare for shipping. After a few trials, we are now dedicating full days to prepare the orders and ship them.

Is there anything you would change in how the industry is run today? 

I wish I was taught more about business at university – it’s interesting how they train a designer to be creative but don’t mention anything about working in the industry. I also believe that there should be more patience given for designers to produce quality work – everything is moving so fast that it’s hard to focus on quality.

What are your plans for the development of Krystal Paniagua? What are the next steps for the brand and its digital expansion?

This year has been very valuable to me as I have dedicated all my time to my brand, and I’ve realized how many things I’ve yet to learn. I am working on acquiring the funds to invest in my team, perfect the quality of the garments, and build trust around the brand. I want my brand to grow at a steady pace and continue evolving for it to be relevant 10 years from now. Everything at this moment is so uncertain though, anything can happen from one day to another. I want to be ready for it, but I also want to enjoy the present.

My next plans are to find the right retailers to sell KP clothing and to build a wider customer base. In terms of digital growth, I want to invest more in customer experience online, marketing, and imagery.

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