From a background in graphic design and a family steeped in the wool industry for generations, Georgina Austin took the great commerce leap in 2007 and began her own label. In the nine years since, Cable Melbourne has expanded to five stores, an online business and has become a luxurious wardrobe staple. We ask her how she did it.
It’s a risky business at the best of times, launching a brand – and fashion is a fickle enterprise. Success often springs from a position of experience and for Georgina Austin, a decade in the industry as an apparel graphic designer was the perfect training ground for branching out on her own. Her subsequent label, Cable Melbourne, specialises in Australian merino wool and has a commitment to sustainable manufacturing and supporting the Australian wool industry. We talk to Austin about starting wholesale, the shift to opening her own stores and the subsequent addition of an online store.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your background and the idea for Cable Melbourne?
My background is in graphic design. I studied at RMIT and did a Bachelor of Design in Graphics. I graduated in 2001 and then straight out of uni got a job at Country Road and became their apparel graphic designer, designing graphics and print patterns for their fabrics. Fashion had never been on my radar before then, but I loved seeing my designs translated into 3D, tactile garments.
I then worked for Nicholson and our knitwear was performing well – I was testing the boundaries with things like knitted dresses and Milano coats. The response was good so I thought about doing my own brand.
2. How did you get started?
I started small, just wholesale. I already had manufacturers I’d worked with so continued to use them. I got an agent, which definitely helped, and got us in about 30 stores.
In 2007 an opportunity came up in Armadale to open a pop-up store. It was meant to be a four-month trial project and ended up being four years. We then secured a site two doors up and that store is still our best performing out of our five stores.
3. Was it scary?
It’s a risk – you go season to season, especially in fashion. I was lucky I’d had a training ground with my previous jobs and had already worked with the manufacturers, but it’s still risky – all the manufacturers have to do is wash something for 20 seconds too long and a whole line is ruined. As a knitwear label we’re also at the mercy of things like the weather – winter came so late this year!
4. Do you manufacture offshore or here?
Our summer range is 50 per cent in Australia and 50 per cent offshore. Our winter is around 30 per cent local, but it’s getting harder to sustain because of the costs. I do one trip a year but I have two small kids so manage most of the offshore quality control from here.
5. Tell us about the decision to launch online and implementing the online business.
We launched the online store in 2010. We were aware the industry was going that way so it made sense to use it as an avenue to clear stock as well as create a greater reach. It was a natural progression.
6. Do you find that the website and bricks and mortar store help feed each other?
Definitely. People often get introduced to the label in store, get comfortable with their sizing and then continue buying online. We ship to people who almost live in the same street as the store.
Our demographic is 25 years and up – a lot of mothers and daughters, mothers home with young kids and career women who can’t get to a store. We’ve also seen a huge increase in regional sales, especially in NSW.
Also with the online store we’re lucky that knitwear is a fairly safe thing to buy online as there’s a lot of flexibility in the fabric and sizing.
7. What sort of team manages it now?
We run the online store from our main office and all pitch in. The online store has its own stock – we’re not pulling our stock from other stores, so it’s warehoused separately. As it’s at the office we share the load, but we want to get someone in soon to manage it as it’s growing quite quickly. We do need that extra pair of hands.
In terms of photography, we get each new collection photographed at a studio and I do all the uploading and website design and management.
8. Does the online store bring in as much as the other stores?
It’s on par with one of our stores turnover wise. It represents 15 per cent of our sales, but it’s our fastest growing store.
9. When did you bring SecurePay on-board and have you been happy with it as your payment gateway?
We’ve just launched our third website design. Our second program we used was called Niche, which required SecurePay and our next revamp has been with Magento, which uses SecurePay, too. We’ve been completely happy with SecurePay. Very user-friendly, simple and easy to manage returns.
10. Can you think of three tips for someone launching an e-commerce business?
- I think you need to allocate enough budget to making your website design look good – aesthetics of the site are very important nowadays and it does cost money, but it’s a worthwhile investment.
- Do your research – work out your unique selling point and try to stand out. And keep your niche small – don’t try to be everything.
- Testing your site is crucial – make sure it’s simple, user-friendly and easy to navigate. Look at your Google analytics and understand why people drop off the site.