Local Designers vs International Competition

- August 27, 2012 3 MIN READ

We are Sarina Zammit and Katya Baxter owners of Melbourne based fashion label Mina & Katusha. As your new monthly guest bloggers we would like to give you an idea of our personalities and some of the challenges and opportunities we continue to face while trying to realise our goals within the fashion industry. For this first entry we would like to give you an idea of who we are as people and where we are at as a business.

Mina and Katusha is the result of a connection between two vastly different minds. While my background is very much in fashion design, Katya’s strengths really lie in the business side of things, so when we met in 2012 things just clicked. We’ve found a combination of creativity and shrewdness in business.

In December 2011 we opened Gusto & Élan. A boutique-clothing store in the heart of Fitzroy. Gusto & Élan is essentially a retail services provider to fresh and exciting designer labels, presented in a high-fashion boutique. The aim was to create a stylish yet accessible environment for emerging fashion brands to have low cost brick-n-mortar and online distribution channels, as well as additional marketing and PR services. The costs involved in having your own shop and staff can be prohibitive for emerging brands that operate on near non-existent budgets. The idea for Gusto & Élan was to share the costs amongst a few labels in an effort to compete with the mega brands and provide labels with access to services that help them establish their labels at a fraction of the cost of doing it on their own.

We have faced many challenges when entering a fiercely competitive retail industry. There are so many beautiful shops and inspiring designers out there it can be quite intimidating. But it is important to believe in what you are doing. That you have something that people want and ultimately if you love what you do others will too. It’s also important to have a business that provides a unique service that solves issues that our customers encounter. This is what Gusto & Élan aims to do.

The formation of the business had been made so much easier with the support of a friend; someone with which you can both laugh and cry. You have another brain to tell when something is crazy and never going to work or back that crazy idea 100%. You have someone to enjoy that success with and that is invaluable. We attribute hard work and dedication for all our success. Although there have been some tough times the key is to have a good attitude about things. Not to stress the small stuff and not to take life too seriously, and always reflect on the core values of why you started the project in the first place.

One of the hardest barriers for many retailers is the international competitors and the move to online shopping. It is hard to compete with those brands as they have a lower cost base and are therefore able to charge lower prices. Retail rents are the main thing that’s killing retailers at the moment. But we hope we have created an inspiring space where people get an experience they can’t get anywhere else, with unique customers service and continual customer support.

We want to offer our customers something different, and expose them to the wonderful creativity of brands in the early stages of their development. Unfortunately consumers are prepared to spend large sums on known brand names even if the quality is not there, and the majority is reluctant to spend the same kind of money on brands they are not familiar with, even though they are usually offering a superior quality product at a better price in order to compete. It’s a strange psychology, and we want people to give it thought and be open minded to exploring and supporting new brands, and be proud owners of unique pieces, rather than spending money on items that thousands of others have. We feel terribly passionate about this topic and see it as my mission to change attitudes.

With Mina & Katusha, we have tested different distribution channels, and have adopted a multi-channel approach. The conditions have never been tougher for retailers and fashion labels, especially emerging ones, so you cannot focus on just one distribution channel, because if it doesn’t work for one season, it can just put you out of business. Mina & Katusha is currently selling online, through Gusto & Élan and other retails stores, as well as offering customers and opportunity to pre-order from new collections and purchase at wholesale prices. This especially has been a very successful strategy for us.

Do you think long-term local designers will be able to compete with international online competition? We would love to know what designers and consumers think about this issue.