“I love the way clothes can empower a woman to be who she is,
to do what she wants and influence how she wants to be perceived.”
Five Minutes with Elise from Fashion Label Duke and Pilot
To be successful in the Australian fashion industry, you must be creative, you must have perseverance, and you must be willing to risk everything. In today’s oversaturated market, beginning your own label is both a giant leap of faith and a nightmare. And with so many well-known Australian brands failing—Oroton, Lover, Marcs—it can be an intimidating industry to crack.
Elise Wilson created her fashion label Duke and Pilot as an outlet for her strong passion for design and creative energy. “I love the way clothes can empower a woman to be who she is, to do what she wants and influence how she wants to be perceived.” But now the former Western Australian label, like so many other small fashion businesses, ceases to exist. “Running a small business brought many hurdles as well as many personal and professional rewards. It allowed me to extend my knowledge of business, marketing, branding and finance, as well as [allowing] me to grow personally…[But] there is always the downside of business—it is really hard work.”
Beginning a small business is difficult for many reasons, but usually the first struggle is money. “Running a small business does cost a lot of money. There are a lot of hidden costs that add up and don’t make it easy for small businesses.” And while this can be enough to deter most, there are many brands that persevere through this only to be faced with new challenges.
In an industry where individual creative expression is the basis to all that you do, it’s the fierce competitive nature of the industry that ultimately prevails. The amount of direct copying of a design is astronomical. And it’s not just big conglomerates ripping off ideas from smaller businesses; it happens from small business to small business as well as from big company to big company. And if the design is the same from brand to brand, then what is it that influences our buying choices? Ultimately, it’s the brand’s reputation, and the price.
Recently, a Cult Gaia’s bag (which has been around since 2016) has taken over as this season’s must-have-bag. The ‘Ark’ bag is a crescent shaped carry-bag made of bamboo and has been particularly popular with influencers. Now, duplicates are popping up in just about every fast fashion boutique and for half the price. “You are a small fish in a big pond trying to compete with some amazing Australian labels as well as large corporations like H&M who can offer consumers cheaper clothing,” Elise says. Consumers have this poisonous mindset of: more for less, and it’s ultimately the reason why the fast fashion industry is booming.
“You need to find a way to get your name out there by putting your clothing on someone well known, or having the connections—otherwise you will struggle to grow your business.”
But the world of online marketing has acted as a beacon of light for small business owners. Now, having a strong business plan to build your brand is just the foundation. “Social media has been a great platform to get my name out there and…it has enabled me to reach a far greater audience than I would have otherwise been able to reach if it were just through paid advertising, or if my clothes were in a boutique,” Elise says. Social media allows labels that are situated in places with no ready access to a fashion market, such as Duke and Pilot in Western Australia, to have the ability to grow. “It does consume a lot of your time especially as a small business trying to grow your following and make a name for yourself. However, I feel that it has enabled brands to be a lot more accessible from all around the world.”
When it comes to fashion, traditional marketing techniques are becoming less and less relied on. Now, labels are gifting their designs to influencers to get ahead and, in the right hands, a label could blow up over night. “You need to find a way to get your name out there by putting your clothing on someone well known, or having the connections—otherwise you will struggle to grow your business.”
So if you’re thinking about running a business, Elise’s advice is to “create a name for yourself first to help build up your connections and followings. Start small, do your research and build your collection when the demand is there. Know what you are good at, and outsource what you are not good at. Or learn to be better.” Building a small business takes time and effort. The stories of failure far outweigh the ones of success but it’s important to chase your dreams and do what you love, even if it is just to see if it will work out. “At the end of the day running and building a small business can be personally rewarding seeing your dreams come to life and seeing people wear your garments,” Elise says.
And what can you do as a consumer? Support local. Find companies that design (and manufacture if possible) in Australia. Help the small businesses out as well as Australian labels and leave the fast fashion world alone.