Fund-raising effort leads to designs on a future fashion empire

22 November 2012

When UCL medical student Har-preet ‘Pete’ Ahluwalia wanted to raise funds for the Hindu Society, custom-designed T-shirts was a natural choice. The fashion aficionado had something special in mind: the items would be vinyl-pressed rather than ink-printed, to give a high-quality and longer-lasting finish.

Custom-designed T-shirt

The unusual designs led to orders from the Pakistani Society and Rare FM, among others. So Pete set up three o nine, named for his room number in the halls of residence, and opened a pop-up store in Bluewater Shopping Centre, Kent, achieving a turnover of £28,000 within three months.

Inspired by his initial success, and with a triedand- tested concept, Pete was able to present a business plan with a set of impressive numbers to UCL’s Bright Ideas Awards committee. Tim Barnes, Executive Director of UCL Advances, says: “A lot of the ideas we hear involve social networking websites, the outcomes of which in terms of monetary value is hard to predict. Pete’s stood out as one whose potential success was easy to quantify. And his enthusiasm for his product was infectious.”

Armed with a loan of £10,000, Pete set about building a website, sourcing suppliers and publicising his wares, which have since been featured on Channel 4’s How to Look Good Naked, with Gok Wan. He also received sound advice from Valery Ushakov, a Russian clothing entrepreneur and LBS Sloan Fellows Programme student that the HELO programme, run by UCL Advances, put him in touch with. Pete says: “Valery helped me to see that even without a store, I can still develop a successful brand with clever marketing strategies – and complete my degree.”

Now in his final year at UCL, Pete’s future plans include a premium label, with Swarovski crystals and other special touches, and an interactive website and iPhone app, whereby customers can upload, store and share designs. He says: “As a medical student, I knew I could not do well in my studies and run a business without the help of others. UCL Advances provided finance, mentoring and general all-round moral support which has seen me through some very busy, often overwhelmingly so, times.”