Kicking off her career in fashion design, Kate Hurst lived and breathed the industry at its core. Turning her creative nouse towards photography, painting and art history, Kate formed the conceptual background that has now become the invaluable launch pad for her current career in business strategy, communications and strategic planning at her consultancy firm, Hurst & Co.
Kate has a decade’s worth of valuable business experience working within creative industries and her personal experience has proved creative individuals can be equally talented and successful within the sphere of business; all they need is the right support, mentoring and tools to help them get there. She has since worked with well-known Australian designers Romance Was Born, Ellery, Sportsgirl, Limedrop, Arnsdorf, Karla Spetic and Dress Up in the fields of retail, online, e-commerce, environmental sustainability and web development.
We caught up with the enigmatic business entrepreneur on the eve of her Business Seminar, Digital Exposed, during Fashion Exposed this weekend from 12-14 February, at the Sydney Exhibition Centre.
Kate Hurst is the founder and principal consultant at Hurst & Co, a consulting firm which assists emerging brands to build their public profile and grow their business. She provides consulting services in the areas of business strategy, communications and strategic planning, creative and design consultancy, professional development, and partnership and funding.
Before moving into fashion design you were formally trained in fine art, how has this background aided your creative nouse in the fashion arena?
Straight out of high school my plan was to become a practicing artist, so I headed off to COFA to study photography, painting and art history. This initial training helped create a solid conceptual background that would later inform my design practice. For example, developing my skills in colour theory and graphic design became invaluable on a day to day basis when running my label.
Do you still source much of your inspiration from the art world? If so, can you share them with us?
Today I would say that I am equally inspired by the art and design world as I am by the world of business. Peoples initial instinct is to see the two as polar opposites, however I think more and more that the two can only contribute to each other. As a business consultant to creatives, my goal is to create that supportive fusion between art and business, in order for creatives to navigate the world of the entrepreneur.
How did you expand your label from a small grass roots brand into an international sensation? Is it more or less difficult now to build a fashion label in Australia?
I guess I have always had an entrepreneurial streak. I started my fashion label while I was still at art school; designing clothes and accessories and selling them at the weekend markets to pay for my uni fees. Over the next 7 years it took a lot of passion, hard work and dedication to build my business up.
I don’t think that it has ever been easy to build a fashion label! However unfortunately I am noticing an increase in pressure for independent labels to compete against the large vertical retailers, who are offering mass-produced products at super low costs.
When did you realise your journey could be of use to other fashion entrepreneurs? And how did you make that leap from design to consulting?
In 2008 I decided to take a season off to creatively re-charge. My intentions initially were to return to the fashion cycle, but after only a few months I was quickly approached by my first client, a well-known Australian label that needed help with issues that were affecting the business’ profitability.
It was an amazing opportunity to work with a really creative team and I was able to help them turn the business around quite quickly. I really enjoyed the process, realizing I had a vast amount of knowledge from my own experience that I could share with others.
What are some of the key messages you relay to your clients to ensure they achieve business success?
It is important to be innovative, not just in your design and product development but also in the way that you run your business. The world is changing at such a rapid pace and while its impossible to keep ontop of it all, it is important to stay in the loop about trends in technology and design and to implement these new strategies on an ongoing basis.
In addition it is essential that people clearly understand both their brand and its audience – knowing your market and having a strong sales and operational plan in place is imperative for any chance of success.
What are some of the basic business principles people forget to include in their plan when starting up?
Get clear about your goals and make sure you clearly map out (step by step!) how you plan to get there. Many people in creative industries such as fashion really struggle when it comes to refining their strategic plan before they set up their business – especially when it comes to the money side of things. If you are running a small business and numbers aren’t your strong point then seek help! Employ an accounts person or outsource a team of book keepers, accountants and financial advisors to help you. The cost of the extra help will almost certainly save money in the long term.
With the expansion of online retail, is this a growing aspect of the service you now offer your clients? How important is it to include social media and websites into their business plan? And does this need to be there from the beginning? Why?
There’s no doubt that every label now requires an online store simply to remain competitive in this climate. I recommend that my clients move into online retailing as soon as possible. I am also a huge supporter of the concept of ‘omnichannel’ retailing, where online and real world shopping are seamlessly intertwined to create the ultimate shopping experience for consumers.
Between a physical retail experience, social media and e-commerce, the customer needs to be connected and indulged. When a synergy between these channels forms, true satisfaction for the contemporary customer can be achieved.
The implementation of simple integrations onto their websites, where you can ‘like’ a product, check its availability, see when it’s coming into stock etc is the answer. The act of ‘liking’ acts as free marketing, as their friends can see their action; the link to the online store is a link to immediate purchase; and the link to the retail store guides the consumer towards a brand experience. Feeling, touching and moving in the product is something that will never be lost, but it needs to be encouraged through the new available technologies.
You will be speaking at Fashion Exposed next month with your seminar titled ‘Business Exposed’ – discover the key components for fashion business success – what do you hope people will gain from this?
My hopes whenever I give a talk or have a session with a client is that they will walk away feeling like they have a greater understanding of the issues affecting their business’ success. I also aim to provide the practical tools that will enable them to combat these issues head-on. I also want to have fu with it and hopefully meet a whole lots of interesting people.
I have been blessed to work with a number of really exciting Independent Australian labels such as Romance Was Born, Ellery, Dress Up, Secret Squirrel, Ruby Smallbone, Limedrop.
What are you looking forward to in 2012?
I have such a good feeling about this year. I am really looking forward to expanding Hurst & Co’s services and being able to help more businesses reach their full potential.
Kate will present her seminar titled ‘Discover the key components for fashion business success’ at the Business Seminar during Fashion Exposed on Sunday Feb 12 from 1 – 1.45pm. To book, visitwww.fashionexposed.com
For more information on Kate and her company Hurst & Co. visit their website; www.hurstandco.com.au
Images: Kate Hurst archive; Romance was Born; Meadowlark