A tidal wave of local and international success is hitting award-winning Byron Bay boho label, Spell and the Gypsy Collective. We chat about the early days, marketing strategies and finding inspiration in deserts and darkrooms with Elizabeth Abegg (above right with sister and co-owner, Isabella Pennefather).
You had a successful career in film before packing up the car and moving to Byron Bay – something so many of us dreamt of doing. Can you tell us about that decision and what those early days were like?
Looking back, it didn’t even feel like a decision. It felt like a big wave just picked me up and landed me in Byron Bay. I remember all my friends saying ‘Wow! You’re so brave!’ but it didn’t feel brave at all; it just felt like a continuation of my path.
In 2009 the collective sea-change was well and truly underway, though Byron was still a world away from the town it is today. Those early days for us were so creatively charged and super fun! It was all photo shoots and hand making jewellery. The markets were so wonderful and full of community! We were making a huge loss at that point but it didn’t matter, I was feeling so driven and life felt so full of potential.
You were savvy and got online early – what were the early days like managing the website, blog and social media by yourselves?
I loved this element of the early days. I was listening to an episode of Sophia Amoruso’s Girlboss Radio the other day and she said she missed the early days where she was doing everything – customer service to shipping each order, you feel like you have both hands firmly in every corner of the business!
Those early days were exciting because it was rapid exploration, rapid growth and so much problem solving! I can’t even remember what platform we started on, but I do remember outgrowing our first and second online store very quickly, as well as our POS and inventory management software. It felt like every six months we outgrew some software. These days we’ve found a few great platforms and reporting/inventory options that have grown with us.
Nowadays you’ve got a beautiful website, largely due to the sumptuous photography. Has imagery always been a big part of the business and how do you come up with ideas for, and carry out, each new campaign?
My sisters and I have always been big on photography and telling a story with images. Our parents turned our bathroom into a make-shift dark room (yes, chemicals and all!) and it was hard to get in to have a shower sometimes because my parents were constantly printing out their black and white photography in there. So yeah, it’s very much in our veins.
The imagery we produce as part of our campaigns has always been the lifeblood of the brand – it’s how we tell the story of the brand but also how we express our creativity. The ideas for the campaigns come from tapping into our alter egos! She (our alter ego) used to live at Festivals a lot, or loved road trips. These days she’s matured a bit, craving exotic travel or relaxing in her luxe pad, wherever in the world it may be.
We’re living our lives here in Byron Bay but if we want to travel the Californian desert – that’s what we shoot! Or if we’re feeling a collection needs to be brought to life against the dusty pink backdrop of Marrakech then that’s where we go.
Spell has built up a great following. How do your customers find you?
Customers find us lots of different ways: Instagram, Facebook, through other influencers, word of mouth! We think because our store is a little bit out of Byron’s main CBD a good percentage of our customers are actually seeking us out rather than stumbling across us so I wouldn’t say it’s our bricks and mortar.
We’ve found digital marketing a great way to tap into likeminded customers who may have never heard of us before. We tend to collaborate with the same influencers because we have a great relationship with them, but I do think it’s important to try new and untapped regions to keep expanding your reach.
I’m sure our entrepreneurial readers would love some tips. What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt over the last decade?
- When it is feasible, grow your team; I always say four hands are better than two, six hands are better than four etc. As a leader you need to forge new ground yourself and then fill that ground with wonderful talented people, who allow you to forge new ground again and so on.
- We have had a huge focus in the last 18 months on running our business sustainably and ethically. If you’re starting up, we suggest trying to make this a priority because it is the way of the future and customers who aren’t shopping consciously today will most likely be shopping consciously tomorrow. Get in on the ground floor, especially with your supply chain, as once you have an established supply chain it’s much harder to change.
- If you don’t LOVE running your social media yourself, find someone who does.We can tell when it’s not authentic and joyful.