Building the Fashion Empire She Dreamed of Creating

As a 16-year-old girl, Sabrina van der Donk dreamed about designing clothes with her own label. Not only has her dream come true; now she is far exceeding it by building an online fashion empire.

A regular feature of any fashion-oriented magazine, blog, vlog, Youtube channel or TV show is “must have” style lists: “10 must-have accessories this summer”, “2019’s must-have colors for the beach”, or any such variation that inspires the audience to buy.

Sabrina van der Donk was clever enough to name her own brand, and her online store, based on this “must have” fascination in the fashion market. In five years, her brand TheMusthaves has become the largest online women’s clothing store in the Netherlands.

In her own studio, she and her team of 22 people design new collections and produce her label “TheMusthaves”, releasing new products and collections weekly. Via her own blog, Facebook, Instagram, and newsletters, and via other influencers, she makes sure her audience – modern women from XS to XXL – know exactly what they must have; be it dresses, jackets, vests, sweaters, t-shirts, tops, necklaces, bracelets, scarves, belts, watches or bags.

“I am really living my dream now,” she says. “I still find it very surreal when I see women dressed in designs by TheMusthaves.”

This success is all a result of Sabrina’s dream and her decision to go for it.

From a physical store to an online sensation

Sabrina’s entrepreneurial journey started in the physical world. At only 19 years old she opened her own fashion store. However, after five years she noticed a big shift in the industry – the rush of customers buying fashion online – she didn’t want to miss out.

“I decided to put my full focus on creating and launching my own fashion store online, and to close the doors of my shop. This was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make, because my store felt like my baby.”

Her online business grew extremely fast.

“After only two weeks the distribution centre wasn’t able to handle all the orders coming in. We had to partner up with a larger one, but again, after a few years, they reached the point where they couldn’t keep up either. We had to change again, and now we work with one of the largest distribution centres in our country.”

She has expanded into five countries in Europe, and this is just the start.

Now, let’s see what’s going on behind the scenes, what strategies she uses and what she feels most passionate about today.

Sabrina’s passion & strategy

The part Sabrina van der Donk loves the most is being “the head of the buying department”, as she calls it.

“I always strive to pick out the best pieces for upcoming collections and to be one step ahead of my competition.”

She never stops listening to customers and learning more about them and what they like and prefer. She also tries to be involved with the members of her team as much as she can to know what’s going on.

“It’s a must to be able to quickly adapt to change, discover new styles and trends, and make the right decisions at the right times.”

With previous success as Miss Netherlands and a contestant in Holland’s Next Top Model, it comes naturally for Sabrina to be the face of her own brand. She publishes new photos on social media every day, and so far she has generated 400,000 likes on Facebook, a considerable sum in the Netherlands, and about 53,000 followers on Instagram.

Her top 3 insights about succeeding as an online merchant

We asked Sabrina van der Donk about her most important insights from growing her business. Here’s how she answered:

1. The need to be top of your game

“Customers get used to the services you offer and therefore you always need to be on top of your game. You must offer the best possible service and unique selling points. To distinguish yourself from your competition you have to give something extra. We want our customers to enjoy their purchase quickly after ordering, so we use high-tech robots to pack all the orders. And to complete the shopping experience, every customer receives an exclusive basket picture of their order after purchasing one of our items.”

2. The importance of trust

“Trust is becoming more and more important in e-commerce. We have responded to this key issue quickly. To earn trust from our customers we are now offering Klarna’s post-paying service. We saw our conversion rates increase immediately after introducing this payment option.”

3. The need to let go

“A personal habit of mine is that I strive for perfection and this makes me a bit of a control freak. Throughout the years my team expanded quickly, which forced me to learn the importance of delegating tasks to my team members and letting things go sometimes.”

The biggest myth

Being a mother of small children – aged 1 and 5 – she wants to demolish the biggest myth out there:

“That you can’t be a businesswoman and mother of two kids at the same time. Of course, it’s challenging sometimes, and the right balance is essential, but it’s certainly not impossible. We have a nanny who gives all the love and care they need during my working hours. We plan family time several times a month where the days are dedicated to our children.”

She is happy to see that more and more “girl bosses” are rising up and succeeding in business.

“They show people that as a woman, the sky’s the limit. I have a lot of respect for these power women. It’s not just ‘men in suits’ who can reach the top and grow a thriving business.”

However, after almost ten years in business now, she wants to set expectations straight for anyone – male or female – who is considering building an e-commerce business:

“People think that you can run an online store by snapping your fingers. I never could have imagined that running this business would require so much attention, time and energy. There were times during the first four years that I worked more than 100 hours a week. There were days that I didn’t sleep; I wished my colleagues a nice evening and greeted them the next morning from that same spot in my office.”

The inspiration to grow

What’s next for Sabrina van der Donk? The answer is: further expansion.

“We are active in several European countries already. My dream is to conquer all of Europe and make TheMusthaves a name everyone knows.”

She is very inspired by online fashion magnate Sophia Amoruso, who put her online store on the worldwide map.

“She achieved what she wanted by working extremely hard for her business. I really recognize myself in her life stories, her experiences in growing her business, the choices she was required to make and her vision about selling clothes online. She embodies a real girl boss if you ask me.”

This interview is a part of the series “Behind the Business”. Read more about it here

About

Sabrina van der Donk

CEO & Founder of TheMusthaves

Age: 30

Lives in: Zeewolde, The Netherlands

Family: Husband and two kids: Kay, 5 years, Loeka, 1 year

Future goals: That my daughter will take over the company

Motto in life: Just be the best version of yourself

Number of employees: 22

Selling in countries: The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Sweden.

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