Retail Observation: The rise of the independent lifestyle retailer

Bill Gates didn’t invent the PC – or even the mouse. Steve Jobs didn’t invent portable music – or even portable digital music – and had nothing to do with the invention of the mobile phone. Despite their acolytes’ claims to the contrary, they weren’t inventors; they were ‘observers’. They saw an existing market and saw untapped potential which they could fill.  They found and capitalised on a gap in the market.

Rayna Hooper, owner of Holiday Trading Co, is no different.

Hooper made the astute observation that customers shopped when they were on holiday. Hence her first brand “Holiday” was born. It’s simple when you think about it; but that idea spawned also the birth of her other lifestyle brands Brave & True, Talisman and True North. Now this lifestyle company turns over in excess of $7 million, in the tiny coastal town of Robe SA, with these brands stocking into over 1700 lifestyle boutiques & lifestyle specialists in Australia & New Zealand.


With the rise of social media, the lifestyle genre, perhaps more than any other, has made the most of combining aspiration and accessibility through social media. Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and the rest offer millions of carefully created shots of interiors, travel, homewares, food and fashion, luring suburban designers and fashionistas alike.

You can tell it’s a market on the move when celebrities join the rush. From A-list celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, to locals like Real Housewives of Melbourne’s Chyka Keebaugh and Lydia Schiavello, and cricketer Michael Clarke’s wife Kyly launching her Lyfestyled candle and diffuser collection. Celebrity chefs have also been capturing the lifestyle market category with cooking/travel shows and their own ranges of kitchenware and collaborations.


Consumers love lifestyle, especially when it means buying into a fantasy and inspiration. In a world of hyper-competitive retailing, it’s this category where the independent lifestyle retailers appear to be flourishing in a fierce market occupied by established retailers such as Freedom and now Zara Home, and global behemoths like Ikea. Let’s face it though, no one goes on holiday to buy a memento from a chain store, it’s the ‘unique’ boutique they want to buy from.

If you want to be inspired, or have your individuality satisfied, it’s the independent retailers, which are really capturing this consumer. It’s the wider range of niche customers hunting for gifts, homewares, foodie supplies, travel goods and accessories, and we are seeing a rise of these boutiques becoming formidable in their fashion buying.

While many apparel-only retailers are finding conditions tough, many lifestyle retailers are crossing-over into fashion. Why? If you walk into most apparel businesses they tend to target specific age groups, which a customer can ascertain almost immediately.

This can be polarising.  To put it bluntly, no 20-year-old wants to go in a shop, which is selling her grandma’s clothes. Lifestyle boutiques tend to cater to an ageless customer, where a 20-year-old would be quite comfortable walking in to buy a piece of jewellery. Her mother or even a male customer would be happy to walk in and buy a cushion or something for the home.

Quite often these boutiques have a very specific merchandising theme, which makes it easy for the customer to shop such as colour-coordinated merchandise, which visually inspires and invites the customer to browse. It also is a credit to the buyers for keeping their buying consistent with merchandising in mind.

On analysis it’s easy to see why lifestyle and homewares shops with a side of fashion are working: they’re diversified, which gives them more opportunity to attract a wider group of customers and they are able to provide more avenues to access a desirable lifestyle (through clothing or homewares). Most importantly, they are less beholden to the weather.

If the weather is taking a long time to break to sell knitwear, they have jewellery, homewares and other varied items to fall back on. Diversification is the key factor here. When business is somewhat tough, there’s a chance at least one category will yield a return, especially when diversification extends to price points. It’s not uncommon to see better end brands sitting among lower priced brands, which may not work in a fashion-only boutique, but can work in a less conventional retail environment.

With the rise of fast disposable fashion vertical operators, it’s the lifestyle retailers who are bringing hope to the independent retailer. While some large chain stores attempt to try and emulate this formula, for the most part- they just can’t offer this ‘boutique’ uniqueness which the independent lifestyle retailers offer and which customers love.

It’s important to remember the words attributed to the great US bank robber Willie Sutton. Asked why he robbed banks; he gave the only logical answer: “Because that’s where the money is.” Sutton denies the exchange but the theory is sound. It’s the same with retail: you won’t go broke going where the customers are. Lifestyle is an opportunity.

Sutton didn’t invent bank robbing, but he perfected the concept.

About the Author, Phoebes GarlandIMG_8699

Phoebes Garland is the Co-founder & Co-owner of Garland & Garland Fashion, a boutique leading fashion & consultancy agency based in Sydney and Fashion Initiative. Between the two of them, Phoebes & Robert Garland have over 60 years sales experience in fashion, publishing and advertising. Both are industry mentors to designers with Australian fashion industry body, Australian Fashion Chamber and Phoebes Garland is on the Advisory Board for Fashion Design Studio (TAFE NSW).

Visit: Garlands.com.au

Follow: Phoebes Garland on the following Social Media
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