Nicolaas Meester • Sale

Start them young

Nicolaas Meester started his first business, NIIMA Clothing, in 2017 at the age of 16. Sale high school student by day, and entrepreneur by night, he’s had to bat out of his comfort zone and lead a double life to pull it off- but he’ll tell you it’s been worth it.

“Running my own business has given me a focus I didn’t have before. I was working long hours at night in a supermarket and the wages weren’t motivating me. So I thought it would be great to get into business early and give it a crack. It’s been a rewarding process. I’m constantly learning and I’m gaining valuable knowledge that I’ll use for the rest of my career, no matter what I do.”

Finding purpose in business

In 2016, Nicolaas spent a week in hospital. During his stay, he had time to reflect on his life and what was next. He wanted to do something to keep busy and motivated and became consumed by the idea of starting his own business. Before he left hospital, he had already conducted research online, recognised a gap in the clothing market for quality, affordable streetwear, and resolved to start NIIMA clothing.

“I wanted to offer a brand that gave people in my demographic (15 to 25 years old) a new option for comfortable clothing. I was disappointed by the level of quality available in the market and I knew I could offer a better product.”

From online learning to business building

After Nicolaas left hospital, his first step was to learn as much as he could about how to start a business. With no business background at home within his family, it was a steep learning curve. Resources in Sale were limited compared to metropolitan Melbourne. Determined to get NIIMA up and running, he took this on as a challenge, not a road block.

Using the internet, Nicolaas taught himself how to register his business, create contracts with manufacturers, work with customs on the entrance of products to the country, create invoices, pay suppliers, obtain a web domain, create a website and secure IP rights for his business.

He also extensively researched and taught himself about clothing manufacturing.

“I had options. I could use local manufacturers or go overseas to countries like China. I started learning about the world of global trade, particularly the clothing market.

I decided to go with an overseas manufacturer that allowed me to customise every part of the product the way my market research suggested I should, to meet the needs of my customers.”

With support from his family, Nicolaas invested his savings into NIIMA while making sure his studies didn’t suffer. The internet became his business partner, teacher and window into the outside world.

Next it would become a key part of NIIMA’s marketing and distribution.

From business building to online selling, NIIMA now has an online presence, including an e-Commerce website, eDMs, Facebook and Instagram channels.

Instagram in particular is a great marketing tool for clothing brands, and that’s where Nicolaas plans to focus a lot of his efforts.

“It’s really exciting to be able to interact with customers online without meeting them. Building an online community through social media channels is allowing me to do that.”

Networking through state government initiatives

While the internet has made it relatively easy to start a business compared to the pre-web era, living in Sale means Nicolaas misses out on opportunities business owners enjoy in metro areas. And being in school for 7 hours a day, where you don’t run into a lot of business owners, hasn’t been conductive for networking either.

So when Nicolaas heard about a local business breakfast co-hosted by Small Business Victoria and the Victorian Small Business Commission, he jumped at the opportunity to attend.

“It was eye-opening. I spoke with local small business owners and realised I was part of a wider, thriving business community in Gippsland. I developed contacts I could call on if I had business related questions, and it gave me insight into business problems and solutions I may be likely to encounter.”

Now Nicolaas attends these Gippsland regional business events whenever he gets a chance (outside of school hours of course!). He recently went to a dinner event held by the Sale Biz Tourism association where Small Business Victoria also presented.

From online to real-life selling

NIIMA clothing continues to grow, and currently Nicolaas is building brand awareness through pop up stalls at local markets. His end goal? To get NIIMA into stores, and someday open a NIIMA store.

“My belief in business is if you can’t find a new product to bring to market, find an existing product and choose an aspect that you know you can do better. With NIIMA, I focused on quality at price point.”

Check out Small Business Victoria Workshops to get your business venture up and running.