Creating a sell-out collection and running a successful business concurrently is a daunting prospect for anyone, let alone a young emerging designer. But for many start-up fashion businesses, there is very little industry support which can make it a tricky path to navigate.
In light of this, the Fashion Exposed Business Seminars have enlisted an expert team of industry veterans and professionals to arm you with the knowledge, insight and practical advice to improve and grow your business.
And we’re thrilled to have the skilled sisters, Somer and Liberty Watson behind iconic Australian-made luxury brand, WATSON X WATSON join a dedicated discussion panel for `Supporting emerging and start-up fashion businesses’ on Monday August 18 at 10.15am.
The WATSON X WATSON brand has gone from strength to strength since it launched three years ago thanks in part to their clear vision and what Liberty calls the `DNA of the brand’.
“We found with fashion if you don’t specifically position yourself in the market the market will position you,” she said. “Our ground rules were a clean modern product that was of the highest Australian-made quality. Our girl is effortlessly cool. Those luxurious every day pieces that are the backbone of your wardrobe.”
We took five with Liberty for more insight into how the brand started; what initiatives, education and support is available; why you need an accountant; and advice for emerging designers.
After you came together and conceived the idea for WATSON x WATSON did you write a business plan? If yes, can you explain how you put it together, what was in it and how it helped? If no, why and did you have to write one later on?
The initial idea for the brand had been in the back of our minds for years but when I was in Italy on holidays in Positano I called Somer saying ARE YOU IN? She didn’t even have to ask what I was talking about she just said YES and a few days later we met in Paris and over champagne and macaroons at Lauderee we wrote a very casual business plan.
A few months in we sat down with our business coach and planned exactly what the DNA of the brand would be. We found with fashion if you don’t specifically position yourself in the market the market will position you. Our ground rules were a clean modern product that was of the highest Australian-made quality. Our girl is effortlessly cool. Those luxurious every day pieces that are the backbone of your wardrobe.
Watson x Watson have achieved phenomenal success both nationally and globally, why do you think the brand resonates with women around the world? Why does this brand speak so loudly to your female audience?
The Watson X Watson girl is the international cool girl. She is well travelled, well read and has her very own sense of style. The brand is clean and modern in its styling. It has a timelessness to it and it’s those versatile everyday pieces that you can’t live without. Like stretch leather pants, that flawless wool and cashmere trench coat, that sexy structured dress you always feel a million dollars in.
What support is available to emerging fashion businesses in the industry at the moment? And what kind of support did you receive, if any, at the beginning of your label?
To be honest not enough. For Australian fashion labels when they first start out there is basically no support at all. Somer and I were lucky enough to have a good 10 years each of experience in the fashion industry before starting our own brand. As far as local support, people need to shop local rather than shopping online as there is so much good fashion here locally in Australia.
Did you seek for advice/support? Did you have a mentor?
We had a business coach who was a great support to us when starting a business. Our previous experience running businesses also helped a great deal. We really knew what we wanted our brand to be. A clear unified vision is one of the most important things.
Has it helped that you’re sisters? How do you work together – do you both work together on everything or do you each have very separate roles in the company?
Working together as sisters is really fun. We feel honoured to get so much time together and with pretty different skill sets so we compliment each other. We try and do most things together especially the planning and creation of our signature prints, season colours and shapes. We call ourselves ‘Designer’ and ‘Brand Director’. Somer is more interested in design than I am and she actually designs for all shapes and sizes where as I can only visualise outfits that suit my shape. I happily let her take the lead on coming up with a balanced range, I add in my ideas and structured shapes and take the lead on the business front. Each season we come up with a list of design essentials that are missing in the market and that becomes the hit list of our designs.
Did you access any government grants for start-ups? Do you know of any available for new businesses specific to retail and/or fashion? If so, what and how can they be accessed?
We found ourselves so busy and so time poor in the first few years, even if you do hear of these government grants there is such a lack of time to make them happen. To have an Australian fashion label you pretty much have to be committed to working a 6-day week for the first few years. The main grants we knew about related to being predominantly Australian-made products.
In your opinion what are the top two things emerging fashion businesses should focus on? Ie. Marketing, business plan, branding etc. and in what order?
Marketing is important but good product at the end of the day sells itself. We put a lot of time and money into our product. We want our customers to come back again and again because they’ve worn their last purchase heaps. Happy customers are returning customers.
In retail good product and good service create the strong formula you need to survive in this industry. We invested heavily in our brand doing two Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week shows to launch the brand.
How important is an accountant? Why? And how do you go about finding the right one?
VERY! Especially if you’re more interested in clothes than maths, which we are. Having your own business you have to be aware and watch your bottom line. Ask around get a recommendation. Keeping BAS, super and everything else in order are pretty important.
As a business with a creative mind-set it can be difficult to get your head around the important business side of what you do, cash flow, warehousing, retail etc – who do you need to surround yourself with to get the support you need in these areas? Why?
You have to become interested in it. When it’s your livelihood it’s suddenly pretty crucial to get your head around it. In fashion, cash flow is often as there’s such big outlay for the product before you get paid for it. As well as experience in the industry, I strongly recommend having cash behind you before you start a business. Somer and I poured our entire nest eggs into the business to make it happen.
There will be a number of businesses at Fashion Exposed looking up to you as an example of the success they want to achieve with their own brand – what’s the best piece of advice you can offer them that you wish you knew at the beginning?
Where you think you will be in 2 years, it may take 5 years but if you give it all your talent, energy and time it can be so rewarding. Get as much experience as you can before you start your own label and make sure you have some cash up your sleeves before you go ahead. Do something passionately or not at all.
For more information or to register, visit fashionexposed.com