Before Queer Eye, Tan France was retired. In his 20s, Netflix's breakout fashion maven started a clothing line of his own, Kingdom & State, which he sold at the age of 33 — so it's safe to say he knows a little something about starting a successful business from the ground up. But it wasn't without its challenges. To make ends meet, France took on multiple side jobs while he flew back and forth from his native U.K. to the U.S., where his business was based. In the process, he racked up a lot of travel expenses. Which is why he's now partnering with TransferWise, a debit Mastercard that lets you spend in over 40 currencies and at the actual exchange rate. Below, we spoke to France about his tips for starting a business, how his life has changed since Queer Eye, and which of his fellow cast members spends the most on shoes.
Refinery29: How were you able to retire by 33?
Tan France: I would love to say that I could give you an easy answer, but there’s no easy answer. But what I will say is this: I made, in my opinion, sound business decisions. A lot of it was based on finance and how I managed my money. I spent a fortune travelling to China, India, and England, and I was constantly on the go, and I didn't have the luxury of something like a card from TransferWise that actually meant that I wasn't paying a load of money I had no idea I was paying due to a higher conversion rate. I decided to save money before I started my business, so I could fund my own business. I didn't take out capital. I was able to learn as much as physically possible about every facet of my business, so I could run it myself as the only employee for the first couple of years, while I got it off the ground. And then I decided to take part-time work — a couple of jobs actually, at the same time, so I could pay myself from there as opposed to from my business.
What were your part-time jobs?
So many. I was back and forth between the U.S. and the U.K. A few months in the U.S., a few months in the U.K., and I did that for five or six years. And so I couldn't hold down a full-time permanent job, so every time I'd go back to England, I would take part-time temporary work. I worked at a law firm, as a data inputter at a utilities company, as a triage person at a mental-health institute. I had many, many jobs. Every time I would go back, I would have another one or two jobs.
How have your spending and saving habits changed, if at all, since Queer Eye?
The boys make fun of me because I'm frugal. And that's because I haven't really changed the way I spend. I don’t spend on fancy clothes. For events I've borrowed fancy clothes, which is a normal industry practice. But I don't feel the need to spend a fortune on clothes that I wear in my everyday life. I have plenty already. And otherwise, my life is basically the same. I still have my same home that I lived in before the show, and I go to the same gym and grocery store. I didn't start going to Whole Foods just because I now have the salary that I have. So I save really well. And again, I think the boys think it's ludicrous — they’re like, Why earn all this money if you're not gonna spend it? You never know what's gonna happen. This career might not be here forever, and I want to spend my money very wisely.
Who is the most frugal next to you?
The most frugal next to me is probably Bobby. Bobby and I were business owners before the show, so I think we really learned how to make our money work for us and the value of money like no one else. That's not to denigrate the other boys — it's just when you are a business owner, you really do start to understand where every penny of that dollar is going. And so I think that's why we're still the most frugal of the bunch. And then the one who probably spends the most is Jonathan, but that’s because he loves a shoe. The boy loves his shoes more than anyone I know. And he loves to call it a fashion moment. So yeah, I think that he’s probably the spendiest of us all. But it shows — he always looks fabulous on the red carpet.
Did you stick to a budget?
I used to try when I was younger, before my business. I used to allot a certain amount of money to spend on things other than my rent and bills. And I was never very good at sticking to it, even though I'm very financially responsible. I think it's unrealistic to think that you can stick to a very tight budget, because things always inevitably come up. And so as far as I'm concerned, as long as you put a certain amount of money away in savings, the rest of it should be for you to spend in any way you see fit.
What advice would you give to someone in their 30s who wants to retire early and save a lot?
Learn every aspect of the thing that you want to do. So if you are starting a business, I would say learn every facet of that business that you can, and be able to save as much money on payroll as possible, and choose an industry that you know isn't already massively saturated. And my final bit of advice is to go somewhere where you know it isn't going to cost a fortune to start a business. I chose to start mine in Salt Lake City — I didn't choose New York or L.A. I wanted to keep my costs as low as physically possible, and that's how I managed to get into the position I was in at 33.