In 2013, Natalie Knoll and Macayla Chapman set about creating an accessories label that stylish women would love to wear. They succeeded; Bird & Knoll’s printed cashmere scarves are loved and worn by celebrities including Miranda Kerr, Lindy Klim, Emily Blunt, Rachael Hunter and Lisa Wilkinson.
For two years running, Bird & Knoll have collaborated with Qantas to produce scarves for the airline’s “feels like home” collection. We spoke to Premium member, Natalie Knoll about what it takes to start a label and the nitty gritty on brand collaborations.
How did you come up with the idea behind Bird & Knoll? Tell us your brand story.
Bird and Knoll is the meeting of a fashion mind and a creative eye. I worked as a professional photographer, and Macayla (Bird) is an ex-fashion editor. I came up with the idea on my travels with the family, thinking of how to merge my passion for photography and travel with my love of fashion. The idea of translating my photographic travel narratives onto the “canvas” of a luxury scarf was the genesis and the person I wanted to do this with was obvious from the start, friend and fashion aesthete Macayla Chapman. We quickly got to work on our new business and with me behind the camera and Macayla’s creative business background in some of New Zealand’s most successful fashion businesses, including Helen Cherry and Workshop. Our trans-Tasman collaboration focuses on combining tactile, quality textiles and finishes with distinct photographic images to create a beautiful brand of luxe accessories.
How long have you been running your business, and what were you doing before that?
We have recently celebrated our three-year anniversary (I can’t believe it has been three years already!) I worked as a professional photographer for over ten years before that in between starting and raising a family and moving to London and back again. Never a dull moment! Before that, I worked in banking in London and New York, which is where I met my husband.
How did you set up your business? What were the first steps you took?
It takes a lot of planning and research – knowing exactly what it is that you want and need but also being flexible if things need to change or be tweaked a bit. Working with a partner has been crucial. We encourage and support each other and share the ups and the downs together. Aside from the practical first steps of registering the business and mapping out our plan, we reached out to a lot of people who had started their small businesses to pick their brain and ask for advice. Many were also happy to share their resources, and I will always value that generosity. We continue to try and pay that forward when people come to us for advice.
You’re now working on your third brand collaboration with Qantas, what advice would you give to members wanting to collaborate with big brands?
I think first and foremost you need to have a very strong idea of your brand and who you are, who your audience is, your demographic, and brand message. As important as brand alignments are, they still need to remain that – an “alignment” that remains true to you. Once you have that in mind, you then work on identifying the synergy with a targeted brand – it may not always be that obvious, but as long as it is one that has the potential to engage with both of your audiences you can build a pitch to your collab partner that will resonate. Be prepared with your brand bio and use keywords that are relevant to both of you.
You should go into a meeting with a potential partner with a concept in mind. Every time we have met with Qantas, we are the party that goes in with the ideas. They may get tweaked to fit with their vision, but ultimately they like the fresh approach. To be honest, we have never been big on the hard sell – I think it is our passion for our brand that has always worked in our favour. People really buy into that.
How has your business evolved since you first launched?
We have recently launched our resort collection, a capsule of beautiful cotton cover-ups that are designed to be versatile travel pieces. We also have an increasingly strong focus on building the brand through collaborations. We have just finalised an agreement with India Hicks in the US to produce a collection of three scarves for her audience and will be working with Qantas again this year and with Audi.
What has been the most challenging experience you’ve faced in business so far?
The success of any business rests very much with your relationships, with suppliers and third party providers and other consultants. All of these relationships can impact on the quality of your product and your brand. We have for the most part been very lucky and have also worked extremely hard to nurture them, however about 18 months ago we took a real beating with a third party logistics provider who really let us down. Everything that could go wrong did! We treated it as a customer service issue and made sure that we communicated well with our stockists – keeping them in the loop and reassuring them that we were on top of everything. Bottom line – although we had late deliveries, our customers were really pleased with our customer service.
How did you overcome it?
After our logistics issue, we took all of that back in-house so that we could be hands on again and ensure our customers were getting the service they needed. We send all of our online orders out through Australia Post now. It’s easy to track and a great service. If ever we have had an issue with delivery, their customer service has been excellent.
We recently had a customer who had bought a scarf for her future sister-in-law and wanted to give it to her at the wedding. Australia Post tracking showed that it had been delivered, but she had not received it and she was flying out that day. Unfortunately, her building concierge had failed to tell her that they had a parcel for her. We sent another one express to her at the venue, and she then purchased the original scarf for herself (she loved it so much.)
Given online businesses aren’t able to have a direct face-to-face presence with customers, what is the most important thing for your customers to experience when buying Bird & Knoll scarves?
I think what our customers love is the personal touch. The images on our scarves are our personal photographic narratives of a destination. We give our personal suggestions on making the best of that showcased destination on our product pages, and we often put a handwritten note in with online purchases. We are also very quick to respond to any feedback (positive and negative) and help in any way that we can.
Where do you see Bird & Knoll going in five years?
We love working on the resort pieces as well as new scarf designs. I think that the next five years will see us continuing to grow product offerings that work with the scarves. Travel pieces that are stylish and versatile. We will continue to grow our online presence and have a few strategies in place to make more headway in the US and Europe too. Perhaps a brick and mortar store too. You never know. Watch this space!