We spoke to Premium member Nicola Shimmin, the founder and designer of Melbourne-based fashion label, Flare Street, about how she found her target market outside of Australia – and where she’s targeting next.
Flare Street, an Australian-made clothing label focusing on 1970’s style and bohemian clothing, has reached phenomenon global success.
In 2013, Nicola saw a gap in the market for a flare-based brand focusing on fashionable, retro inspired prints that was available online at a competitive price point. At the time she was working in marketing for one of Australia’s largest tea brands, T2 Tea, but always had that niggling feeling of ‘why aren’t I doing all of this for my own brand?’.
“I’ve worn flares since I was a kid in the 90’s, when my mum would send my sisters and me to school in crushed velvet flares in every colour imaginable. It wasn’t until I started to search for the perfect pair of flares that I realised they didn’t exist, so I decided to make my own.”
At the age of 26, Flare Street became Nicola’s full-time business. She gave herself one year out of full-time employment to give the brand all her energy and attention. She hasn’t looked back since.
“When Flare Street began, the majority of customers were internationally based – mainly from the USA, UK and Sweden,” says Nicola. “We began by selling online through Etsy, at the time it was a great platform to reach customers from all around the globe.”
Social media has also played an integral role in building brand awareness, and determining and reaching a global fan base.
“Instagram also allowed us to communicate and reach flare-lovers worldwide and we quickly found a niche on there,” says Nicola. “In 2016, we opened our own online store and now we’re sending our flares to Australia, USA, UK, Japan, Turkey, Finland, Germany and so many more [places].”
“We focus mainly on organic marketing efforts with our social media platforms. From time-to-time, we’ll sponsor posts on Facebook or Instagram, for example our pop-up shops or when we’re launching a new range of flares.”
One of the most beneficial aspects of Instagram is that Flare Street customers cannot only see what the brand posts, but also what their customers are posting. “We try to encourage flare-lovers to tag us, firstly, because we love seeing their pictures and reposting, but also because our customers can then see how the flares look on a range of people of different shapes, sizes, and styles.”
Building an international presence
Social media platforms like Instagram can be overwhelming for small business owners starting out, but it’s such an important part of building an international presence, reaching new customers and generating leads says Michelle Francis from Australia Post’s Small Business team.
“[To assist small business owners] we’ve partnered with Facebook Marketing specialists, Tiger Pistol, to launch Social AdMate – designed to help small businesses with their social media management,” says Michelle.
According to research from Australia Post, businesses already selling domestically online are much more likely to sell overseas. So it’s a good time to start thinking about your international expansion even before you think you’re ready.
“It’s important to build a strategy for each country you wish to target and set sales goals so overseas sales become an integral, planned part of your revenue,” says Michelle.
Popping-up in New York
Promoting Flare Street outside of Australia is an “ongoing challenge” for Nicola and her team. Her strategy is to focus on marketing efforts such as PR, events and targeted campaigns that connect customers from all across the world.
“In the last year, we’ve taken our brand off-line for a day or two and held launch parties and pop-up shops in New York, Melbourne, and Sydney. We love the idea of our wonderful customers coming along to experience Flare Street in real life – feel the fabrics, see the prints and dance around in a pair. I think the next one might be somewhere in California … there’s a lot of love from over there,” says Nicola.
“In the next few years, we’ll be focusing more on diverse campaign imagery, partnering with brick-and-mortar shops in different countries as well as creating a global affiliate or loyalty program.”
“Our business strategy was never just about the product, but also about what it represented; a throwback to such an era that encompassed a passion for colour, visual art, and music. We focus on unique prints and fabrics, reworking concepts from the 60’s and 70’s with modern colours and structures, and decadent textures.”
One of the business’ steepest learning curves has been finding the right distribution channels that suit their niche brand as well as setting up local manufacturing that upheld their standards and ethics.
“For the first few years, I was making all the garments myself from my mum’s apartment. The process to set up manufacturing on-shore in Australia was always something that I wanted to do, but finding the right factory and makers was a hard task.”
“Flare Street is passionate about sustainability, our supply chain and the treatment of the people making our flares. We’re very fortunate now to work with a talented team that is 10 minutes up the road from our studio who are passionate about this too!”
According to an Insights Paper recently published by Australia Post, there’s more information out there than ever before for small and medium businesses looking to expand overseas – and that’s also part of the problem.
“State and Federal Government bodies and other private sector trade and export organisations are often a great starting point,” says Michelle. “Having said that, we know from our research that the information is often quite fragmented and it can be difficult to understand the complexities of selling overseas.”
“There are so many resources out there but it’s worth investing the time and effort to find information relevant to your industry, product and ambitions.”
As for Nicola and the Flare Street team, they’re planning on growing the brand in Europe and Asia, particularly Spain and Japan, this year.
Nicola offers this advice for anyone thinking of expanding a direct-to-consumer business overseas, “make sure your website provides the relevant information, appropriate currencies and direct customer service to people in non-English speaking markets.”
“We have ensured that the purchase process online is as simple as possible, our sizing chart incorporates a number of countries and we keep our product descriptions as clear and conscience as can be for the most seamless transactions.”
We have no doubt that in we’ll start seeing #Flarestreet bell bottoms popping up all over Europe and Asia.
Nicola Shimmin is a Premium member of Business Chicks, connect with her here, follow Flare Street on Instagram here.
This article is produced in partnership with Australia Post. They deliver to more than 190 countries, process more than 270,000 international parcels daily and reach 328 million delivery points worldwide.
To find out find out how and why, according to Australia Post’s research, 27% of Australian small businesses are now selling overseas1, and the opportunity that exists for others to follow, download their insights paper Taking on the world: meet the Australian small businesses selling overseas.
1 According to two surveys conducted by Australia Post in 2017. Read more about the research in their insights paper.