This article was in Sydney Morning Herald's Online Small Business Section (which I love). It's a great article that I wanted to share with you...
July 21, 2008 - 10:25AM
There's a new class of independent fashion entrepreneur and its young and ambitious members are quietly changing the way Australians shop for fashion. The future of fashion, they'll tell you, can be summed up in one little word: online.
A slew of Australian fashion sites has appeared on the web in the past two years, all vying for a slice of Australia's lucrative online retail market.
It's a dot-com boom inspired by the success of net-a-porter.com, the British-based website established in 2000 by Natalie Massenet, which racked up revenues of $73.9 million in 2006 selling the world's top designers.
Marnie Goss, founder of frockshop.com.au, was one of the first in Australia to test the net-a-porter model of high-end online fashion retailing. She is now one of the most successful, with 50,000 unique visitors a month.
"I started the site two years ago," says Goss, who left her job as a publicist at Louis Vuitton to launch frockshop. The site boasts an impressive roll-call of local and international designers including Camilla & Marc, Zimmermann, Marnie Skillings, Nicola Finetti, 18th Amendment and Paul & Joe.
"I lived in London for a while and, when I was there, I shopped religiously on net-a-porter. When I came back to Australia, no one else was really doing anything like it.
"There were a few sites out there, but none that sold any labels I would buy, so that's how the idea for frockshop was born."
Goss, 32, returned to her native Brisbane to live with her parents to set up the business with some personal savings and a bank loan.
"Designers were apprehensive about selling online when I first approached them to be involved," she says. "It's only in the past 12 months that they've realised the online market is just as important as their bricks-and-mortar boutiques."
Frockshop also sells to international customers keen on Aussie designers: "Thirty per cent of our sales are coming from overseas - the UK and the US mainly - which has been very exciting for us, seeing that we haven't done any promotion in those countries."
Many of the new online boutiques have been launched by women who couldn't afford the high-street rentals and costly fit-outs.
Sisters Rosie and Carmel Gerardis run ilovefashion.com.au at night while working full-time in magazine publishing. Rosie, 24, is fashion editor at OK! and Carmel, 23, is brand manager of Time Out. "We both love fashion," Rosie says.
"We always talked about owning our own business some day." The women spent $10,000 of their savings on developing the website, and their father chipped in to help them buy stock.
Destinationstyle.com.au was launched in May last year by Lara Dall'Alba, 29, a former radiographer. The site stocks smaller, lesser-known labels, with most items priced at less than $150.
"Online shopping lets women try on pieces in their own home, so they can see how they work with the rest of their wardrobe," says Dall'Alba. Turns out that most online shoppers are making the right choices: Dall'Alba says only one in 20 customers returns or exchanges items because of incorrect choice or fit. "Online sales aren't really impulse buys," she says.
"I've found that people will look three or four times before they actually buy."
Borders - or the lack of them - inspired Melinda Webb, 29, to start her site, frockstar.com.au, in December.
Webb runs her site from her home in the South Australian country town of Port Pirie, 2 1/2 hours' drive from Adelaide.
"I started the site because of not being able to find the labels I liked to wear in the stores that were easily accessible to me," she says, "and I knew that there were a lot of other women out in the country who were in the same boat as me."
Webb, a primary-school teacher who still teaches part-time, worked hard to get her site recognised on the web by getting editorial space in magazines and by posting items online. "You're marketing to the whole world," Webb says.
Thirty-three-year-old mother of two Krista Eppelstun spent eight years selling surfwear at bodyboardshop.com before launching her online fashion boutique, australianflavour.com.au, 18 months ago. Eppelstun stocks well-known Australian designers such as One Teaspoon, Shona Joy, Hussy and Camilla Franks.
"We send a lot of orders to big office buildings in Sydney and Melbourne," says Eppelstun. "Our customers don't have the time to get away from their desks, so they love the convenience of shopping from their office."
Marketing student Nikki McMahon, 22, launched beloved.net.au in November simply, she says, out of her own "obsession with online shopping". "When I found I couldn't get the labels I wanted online, I decided to launch my own site so that I could," she says.
McMahon, who still works in health care while studying part-time, runs the site at night and at
weekends. She stocks a mix of labels from Australia and around the world with an average price of $400.
She says that concern over the security of online shopping seems to have diminished. "I don't think people are worried about making online transactions any more.
Like most sites, we take credit cards and direct debit. Occasionally, I have people ask for PayPal, but it's not something we offer routinely because I don't think it looks very professional. It's more something associated with eBay trading."
McMahon's site also has customers from the US and Britain, more testimony to the fact that the internet has created a borderless consumer economy.
"In the online world, I don't think people care where you are based: they don't care where the product is being shipped from.
As long as they receive their order in a beautiful package in the delivery time you promised, they're happy."