Q&A: The perfect accessory to export growth

This week we chat with Sonya Michele, founder of bespoke accessory brand dog&boy. With the volatility in the Australian retail market and the country’s small population, Sonya’s strategy from the outset was to build the brand’s export market as quickly as possible. Since launching dog&boy in 2015, Sonya has established strong and trusting relationships with industry experts around the world. Invited as part of the Creative Victoria delegation, Sonya attended the Hong Kong Business of Design Week, connecting with decision makers in the fashion design industry before moving on to business meetings with suppliers in China to discuss new collections as well as discussions with potential new business partners.

ISB: What was the inspiration behind the founding of dog&boy?

SM: I am the accidental entrepreneur. Launching dog&boy was never by design – the initial motivation came from simply not being able to find a gorgeous, unique scarf. I had always worn scarves; they were my “thing” and I sought pieces that were different, pieces that told a story.

The brand, and name, came well after the initial motivation. Sadly, the ethos for the brand was cemented when during launch, my gorgeous mum, Margot, was diagnosed and passed away within a month from brain cancer. Mum loved the simple, beautiful things in life, and this was, and is, the inspiration for each of our scarf designs, and our brand – telling stories of simple moments every day.

ISB: And why did you decide to focus solely on scarves for the business?

SM: At the time, it was as simple as fulfilling a need that I had. But, more so, I didn’t want to simply create stuff and add more noise to what is a very noisy space. What we created had to be special. We have focused on doing one thing, and do it really, really well.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced getting the business off the ground and how did you overcome it?

SM: There have been/are two big challenges really – cashflow and brand awareness. We launched the business three-and-a-half years ago with personal savings of $50,000, and to this day we have no debt. As a result we’ve not been able to scale as quickly as we’d have liked, but we have maintained control of our revenues and minimised our exposures.

ISB: How do you realise your desire to be a sustainable business that doesn’t contribute to the growing problem of landfill in a practical sense?

SM: The spirit of our children’s future is a strong motivator for dog&boy, so ethical sourcing and sustainable processes are a priority.

As I said earlier, we aren’t about making stuff – dog&boy is not a trend or fashion-driven brand. Our designs are timeless and sophisticated and manufactured in pure natural fabrics, which are biodegradable. Like any conscionable business, sustainability is a standard we try to apply to all our processes, and are as transparent as possible about what we do and how we do it.

ISB: You’re currently promoting dog&boy overseas; what is your vision for the business in the overseas market?

SM: The export market was a key part of our plan from the outset over investing in traditional bricks-and-mortar. As a result, we have been able to support our overseas expansion early in our business journey.

Most recently we had the opportunity to exhibit at the premium tradeshow NY NOW in New York. As a result, our export sales have gone from 10 per cent to 30 per cent this season and independent showrooms in LA and Dallas now represent us.

Whilst this is an exciting time for us, to get there was over 12 months of research and understanding before we launched into the market. We are also currently developing export channels into China, Hong Kong and Indonesia. However, these too take time to develop; it really is a case of slow, steady and strategic when moving into international markets.

ISB: Finally, What is the #1 piece of advice you’d share with those thinking of starting their own business?

SM: Only one…?! Be patient, be passionate and persevere. Don’t ever start a business to “make money”. Even in this age of “instant”, authenticity will always win out and people recognise when your business lacks soul. Great success comes from doing good business.

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