While Australian made is often in our consciousness when browsing the aisle of our local supermarket, we often forget about fashion.
For The Cats Meow owners, Karen Bjorenak and Kylie Jane, buying Australian made clothing ensures high quality and ethical working conditions. The creative pair joined forces in 2002 to open a retail store that could stock their own label, Berserk.
Eleven years on, the women of Melbourne have embraced The Cat’s Meow alternative to high end labels and chain store clothing and they now stock over 20 clothing and accessory labels, all of which are designed and made in Australia.
The girls saw a unique gap in the market for well-constructed garments that fit women of all shapes and `embraced the fact that most of us have curves no matter whether you are a size 8 or a size 18′.
The hand crafted and unique detailing on many of their garments also offered women an alternative to purchasing mass-produced, high-end labels and chain store clothing, that offered their customers `something a little different’.
“We support many small independent designers, as well as some of the more established labels,” said Kylie. “When choosing new labels we tend to focus on those that use natural fibres such as cotton, linen and wool that wear well and all of our stock is ethically made – no sweat shops.
“Our customers love to come in and find items which are not mass produced and they know they will be wearing or using for years to come.”
And the name is as savvy as their business nous.
“The name The Cats Meow comes from the 1920’s saying of the same, which used to refer to something being stylish or impressive and appealing to ladies,” said Kylie.
Continuing our Retail Profile series, we caught up with one half of The Cats Meow, Kylie to discuss how social media, online shopping and overseas retailers have impacted their business and the strategies they’ve implemented to combat them.
What have been some of the biggest changes in retail since you first started? And how have they impacted your business?
Some of the biggest changes that have happened since we first opened have been the event of social media which has made it easier to keep in contact with our customers and let them know what is happening in the store and promote our business. There also seems to be a greater awareness for people to try and seek out small boutiques with a point of difference and customers trying to support small local businesses.
Conversely it has become increasingly difficult to source locally made product due to many designers and manufacturers going offshore.
We hear constant media reports of the `doom and gloom’ for Australian retailers, what’s it really like out there? How has online shopping impacted bricks and mortar retail?
It has been a tough couple of years in retail, with many small independent shops like ours going out of business in that time. Negative reports of doom and gloom in retail from the media haven’t helped. Customers are certainly being more careful with their spending, so it is more important than ever to provide fabulous products and great customer service and we have many wonderful customers who have supported us from the start and are more than happy to tell friends about us.
With regards to online shopping, we find that the majority of our customers prefer to try garments on before purchasing so they know they are happy with the fit and style. Most also enjoy the level of service and help received when shopping in a small boutique.
Do you sell online? And do you social media to speak to your customers?
We don’t have an online shop, but people will often contact us to have items posted interstate or to country regions if they have seen something they like from our Facebook posts.
We find Facebook is a great way to keep our customers up-to-date with what is happening in store. Daily posts and photos let customers know of new arrivals, special offers and any upcoming events.
We also have a website – thecatsmeow.com.au – which is linked to our Facebook page and use a mailing list to contact VIP customers.
What experience & insights from your retail career can you pass on to other retailers?
Retail is extremely competitive, so we strive to give our customers a wonderful shopping experience when they visit our store – treat people the way you would like to be treated. It is also important to take customer feedback on board and regularly take stock of where you see your business heading in the future.
What are you doing in-store to attract new customers and establish relationships with existing clientele?
New stock arrives at The Cats Meow weekly and we use regular online posts to promote new stock and change our window displays often to keep our regular customers popping in and entice new customers through the door.
We are always looking for new labels to stock and this keeps our established customer base interested. Word of mouth from satisfied customers about our store is also one of the many ways new customers find out about us.
How do you feel with the influx of overseas retailers (Zara, Topshop etc) setting up in Australia? Has it impacted your business? how?
The Cats Meows policy is to only stock labels that are Australian made, so we are not really in any direct competition with overseas retailers. Our usual customer generally shops at The Cats Meow when they are after something a bit special and unique.
They like knowing that they’re not going to turn up to an event and see someone wearing the same piece, as most of the garments and accessories we stock are made in limited numbers.
How often do you change your store’s visual merchandising? Why? Can you reveal some of your VM tips? What works well for your store?
The mannequins in our window are changed at least once a week and all other displays are changed regularly – particularly when new stock arrives. Our store is tiny, so constant rotation of stock on racks, in the jewellery cabinet and in the window displays is essential to keep things looking fresh and interesting and to keep stock moving. Every spare piece of space is utilised for displaying stock at The Cats Meow.
You have been a regular visitor to Fashion Exposed over the years – why have you chosen this trade event to do your buying? Is it also a key networking opportunity for you?
Fashion Exposed in the past has always been a great event to discover new labels and touch base with many of the designers from interstate that we have been dealing with for years. It is always beneficial to be able see garments and accessories and get a feel for sizing and quality as opposed to viewing lookbooks and catalogues online.
Fashion Exposed is always a great place to get a feel for what trends are coming through for the next season.
Because The Cats Meow only stocks Australian made labels, we often only find one or two new stockists at each show, and this is getting increasingly difficult with so many labels now be manufactured overseas.
In previous years the Preview section was always a great source of exciting new designers that fit The Cats Meows ethic.
For more information on Fashion Exposed or to register, visit fashionexposed.com