At really great article by Alexandra Cain for the sydney Morning Herald (Australia) about a number of well know Designers.brands who started out at market stalls.
Some high-profile businesses reveal how their market beginnings helped them launch into the big time.
It’s a little-known fact that distinctive Australian resin jewellery and homeware business Dinosaur Designs didn’t start out primarily as a jewellery designer. The business began at Sydney’s Paddington Markets as a fashion label, and made jewellery on the side to accessorise its clothes.
Dinosaur Designs is one of an elite group of famous Australian businesses that started their lives working the crowd at a market stall. Other members of the group include high fashion designer Lisa Ho and Samantha Wagner, founder of shoes and bags business Sambag.
And although these businesses had humble beginnings, fashion designers Sass & Bide recently proved that starting at the markets doesn’t mean that’s where you’ll stay. Department store Myer recently paid $42.25 million for a 65 per cent share of the label.
One of Dinosaur Designs’ founders, Stephen Ormandy, says his best piece of advice for other fledgling creative enterprises is to “keep turning up…it took us 10 years to be an overnight success”.
Ormandy got his first big break when Elaine Townsend, the founder of former iconic Sydney fashion retailer Cash Palace, took an interest in his work. He says one of his hardest business decisions was to stop selling at the markets once he established a toehold in the retail market.
“She (Townsend) came to our stall to see what we were doing and with her encouragement we had an exhibition with all these massive pieces at Cash Palace,” he says.
“But as she pointed out, we had to increase our prices to sell at the shop and we couldn’t undercut her at the markets, so we stopped.”
At another exhibition, Ormandy and his fellow designers Louise Olsen and Liane Rossler were given another boost when Christine Dunbar, then-accessories buyer for Melbourne’s famous Georges department store, placed an order.
“Once these two stores started stocking our pieces we were on our way,” he says.
But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Ten years ago Dinosaur Designs had just signed a 10-year lease on its first shop in New York when September 11 hit. “It was a bedsit we were going to convert, but after that all the construction resources were needed downtown,” Ormandy says. The business did eventually open its New York store.
Ormandy’s advice to other businesses seeking longevity in the sometimes fickle fashion game is to reinvest the money you earn back into the business.
“Don’t borrow against the business, although we have borrowed against property. This helps to keep your costs down and keeps your ambition in check,” he says.
“It means if you go through tough times you don’t have debt commitments to meet.”
Over the years, Ormandy has purposely kept the Dinosaur Designs team creative, involving a variety of jewellery designers, some who have their own businesses. “We don’t see them as competitors and if they’re any good they will carve out their own space,” he says.
Ormandy says it’s important to grab opportunities. “We went into the markets making clothes made from hand-painted fabric, then we discovered we’re not fashion designers, we’re jewellery designers. The markets gave us direction and taught us to sell and relate to the customer – it also taught us that lots of small customers are better than a few big ones.”
Lisa Ho agrees that markets are a good training ground.
“Markets are no one’s first choice – they’re tough. You have to get up at five or six and queue for space and take your chances you’ll be able to sell your own product,” she says.
“But you learn what people are prepared to pay and you develop an understanding about what retails and what doesn’t.”
Ho only spent six weeks at Paddington Markets, after the wholesale side of her business took off.
“I got really busy wholesaling and just didn’t need to do the markets any more,” she says. Stores including David Jones, Sportsgirl and Dotti were her first wholesale clients.
“My big break was when I started selling to the department stores, which allowed me to manufacture in good quantities, which makes production a lot easier.”
She agrees with Ormandy that being a successful fashion retailer is all about hard work. “There are no short-cuts – it’s just about being constantly there and being tenacious.”
Sam Wagner, founder of Sambag, which also had its birth at Paddington Markets, says being at the markets “taught me how to market my brand in a cost-effective way to a large audience”.
Like Ormandy, Wagner was able to attract a number of wholesale clients on the back of her market stall, and gradually built the business to a point where she was able to open her first store in Sydney’s Woollahra. She now has eight stores, including a successful online store.
Wagner’s advice to other small fashion labels is to “make sure you get cash on delivery and if you’re going to sell goods on consignment be very careful about who you do that with”.
Wagner is currently in India sourcing material and researching production and printing options for her business. She’s also developing an online children’s clothing label Summer and Buddy.
It’s a far cry from the days when she was fronting up to the markets at dawn to sell her wares and is proof that if you work hard and keep developing your business, it’s more than possible to go from a market stall to a major enterprise.
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