Q&A: From Bondi market to global brand

This week we chat to Katherine Tsakonas, founder of Gingham & Heels, a fashion label that aims to create beautiful experiences for the everyday woman. Katherine started out in Sydney’s bustling markets in 2003, trading every weekend, no matter rain, hail or shine. Today Gingham & Heels has become an established brand that with six stores nationwide and an online store that attracts customers from around the world.

ISB: How did your love for designing clothes come about?

KT: For me it was more so an avenue to allow some of my creativity and imagination run free. A time where I could express my love for romance through beautiful colours, fabrics and textures.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge in making the shift from selling at weekend markets to establishing “bricks and mortar” stores?

KT: The lack of change, sense of stillness and huge increase in risk.

In a market setting the crowds are abundant, dynamic and constantly changing. It was always easy to move, adapt and change quite quickly with the customers’ needs and wants. It was an intimate setting and relied heavily on listening to local customers and connecting with them. Although it had its challenges with weather and logistics, it was most often a rewarding experience.

In a bricks and mortar setting, the challenges were also many however change came slowly. Although it had its rewards too. With stores nationally, our brand gained a lot more exposure and so a lot more people began to know who we were. They now had a place to come to, and were able to enjoy a shopping sensory experience. This built trust and brand recognition. In the market setting they often could recall my stalls but didn’t necessarily know Gingham & Heels. The stores really changed that for us. I am still surprised how in almost any setting I can say Gingham & Heels and at least one person in the room knows us. The stores started that for us.

That being said, stores are an expensive exercise especially in the beginning. When new elements are required to be changed to suit shopping behaviours, shopping trends and to better accommodate your customer’s needs they don’t happen as easily as you like, as compared to my market days.

The business as a result had to change shape and evolve, too. Once we moved into Bricks and Mortar stores I started to decrease the amount of local manufacturing and designing I was doing for the brand. There were categories to fill, an array of styles that were missing from what I use to design for the markets and so I began to buy locally as well as go on buying trips to source pieces that met with the consumers’ demands.

ISB: And how did that move and the introduction of online selling influence the clothes you design and the manufacturing side of the business?

KT: Moving online was inevitable. It was the best decision we made so early on to bring our brand digital, where we had the power once again to influence shopping behaviours instantly by the press of a few buttons. Change was key. Online allowed that easily and progressively.

As I mentioned earlier it did steer us away from local production as I didn’t have the manpower, machinery and outlay to continue manufacturing in Sydney. It relied on many resources and there were just too many moving parts to focus on.

ISB: How do you distinguish yourself from other clothing retailers in the market?

KT: Our customers trust us. We have been around for quite some time, we have an established brand that our customers know and feel confident to shop with. They’ve seen our journey and have been there alongside us, supporting our growth from our tiny market stalls in Bondi, Glebe and Paddington into our Bricks and Mortar stores and then onto online. Our customers acknowledge that we always pride ourselves on delivering the best outcomes for her.

We also shop for her. We have a real clear sense of who she is and we buy for her. She is always front of mind when we choose our products each week.

ISB: What is the next big milestone that you hope to achieve with Gingham & Heels?

KT: We are constantly evolving and always working on how to improve our reach and awareness. So the next big thing would be to increase our brand globally, one country at a time.

ISB: Finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with others looking to start their own business?

KT: When you find great people to work with, stick with them. Make them feel a part of the journey and experience this great adventure with you

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