Four years ago, Rosie Flynn and two friends, Jo and Katie, were all sewing clothes for their children when Rosie suggested they launch their own label. They each put in $100 to start, and now Hubble + Duke is a hugely successful online business with a full range of kids clothing and footwear looking to turn over $1 million this financial year. We caught up the WA-based entrepreneur, who has been running the business solo since the start of last year.
What were you doing before Hubble + Duke?
Before starting Hubble + Duke, I studied Architecture at UWA then Interior Architecture in Sydney at UNSW. I worked as an Interior Architect in Commercial Interiors, Hospitality, and Residential Design.
How did Hubble + Duke come about?
I was so inspired by the little handmade businesses I was following when I joined Instagram in mid-2013. Entrepreneurial mothers were making stylish, unique and gorgeous products, and selling out time after time. I suggested the idea of starting a business with a couple of friends. We each had young children, and the flexibility appealed to us. And for me, I wanted to explore whether I would be able to contribute financially to my family income without having to go back to work in an office. A few weeks later, I used some leather offcuts from my Interior Design sample boxes and made my daughter Greta a pair of leather baby moccasins similar to some I had bought her from the US. The popular style was not available yet in Australia, so we quickly had people wanting to buy our Baby ‘Moccs,’ and the business snowballed from there.
What was the first thing you sold?
We started the business only selling the leather baby moccasins and then added t-shirts a few months later. We quickly started designing our own children’s clothing, and I realised how much I enjoyed it. It is truly a dream job! Our Vintage Romper has been our bestselling item for a long time, and each season I use new fabric and create new prints.
What’s your fastest moving item now?
This year we launched our natural rubber Gumboots, and they have been such an amazing product. We sold over $44,000 in gumboots on the first day they launched, which was incredible. As we are growing the orders are still getting larger each month, at the moment we get around 500 orders a month so approximately 6,000 orders a year.
How did you first market HUBBLE + DUKE?
From the very beginning, Instagram has always been our main method of marketing. I guess you could say it was a deliberate strategy seeing as I had been keenly following what other small businesses both locally and overseas were doing and we replicated that in our own way. I have always done the majority of the photography myself, and there is a definite style that I use to keep the look and feel of the brand cohesive.
On that, you’ve amassed 138K followers on Instagram. That’s huge! How did you build your following?
Initially, I did a one-day course with a local stylist who had a few thousand followers to teach me mainly about the composition of photos and hashtagging. I have built the following up over the past four years. Early on, I did a lot of giveaways and competitions, and collaborations with other brands. Now we use tag giveaways, but it’s more challenging to predict methods that will work to engage new followers with the change in the algorithm.
Do you do all the social media yourself?
I’ve always done all the social media myself, so it can be time-consuming! However, it is our only real form of marketing, so any time spent on social media is worthwhile. I could definitely spend a lot more time on it if I responded to every comment. I find Instagram an enjoyable method of communicating with our customers. I find the admin side of the business more time consuming, like replying to emails.
How did you first fund the business?
I was able to use my Interior Design contacts in upholstery to source premium leather pieces left over from various furniture projects (which I was able to swap for a carton of beer a few times a month). This allowed us to start with super minimal costs; I think we only put in $100 each to begin. The day we were able to order our first full hide of leather in the colour we loved most was a great day.
Why do you think your business model has worked?
Our products are classic and beautifully made, we take a lot of care with manufacturing, working closely with our suppliers to ensure the items are all ethically produced. By using Instagram, I can really connect with my customer base. Hubble + Duke has so many amazing loyal repeat customers who regularly buy things from the brand and it’s so lovely seeing their gorgeous children in H+D clothes and shoes.
Are you able to share any turnover figures?
I have been working so hard this year on building up the wholesale side of the business, working with an agent in Melbourne for the first time. This has led to a lot of growth in our revenue and much larger production orders. My current goal is to crack the $1 million mark in this current financial year, and I’m on track so far.
What have been your biggest challenges in business? How did you overcome them?
There have been a lot of challenges, from early on months of staying up ‘til 1am night after night sewing moccasins and packing orders on my dining table, (trying not to let it take over my house!) to larger challenges as the business grew such as finding trustworthy manufacturers. Then navigating the dissolution of our business partnership and friendships when my business partners each decided to leave for various reasons.
Since the beginning of 2017, I have been running the business on my own – initially a huge challenge and learning curve, but I have since grown to love having the independence to make all the decisions and the freedom to create the path I want for the business! I now have one full-time staff member who started in July and another two part-time staff (both family members!), so it is still a very small team, which can be really challenging during busy times.
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Learning to trust myself and trust in my abilities; that I can face challenges and grow as a person and business owner even through difficult times. I have the support of my family and friends, which means so much. Two of my sisters each have their own businesses, and my mum and other sister are both lawyers who are brilliant to ask for advice.
It is so important to me to be a strong and positive role model for my three daughters Eva (10) Audrey (8) and Greta (5), they are all enthusiastic, smart and creative and I know they will go on to do amazing things with their lives.
Tell us about your process … how do you determine what stock goes online?
I am now at the point where I am designing our collections a full year in advance – we are currently waiting on our Spring Summer 18/19 samples to be completed for showing in Sydney in February. It has taken a long time to get to this point and now that I have help with packing orders and shipping I can devote more time to design.
Each season I love collaborating with artists or photographers to create unique fabric prints so this is generally where we start, this then determines which colour palette we use. Investing in the full set of Pantone colour books earlier this year was a great moment. I’m also enjoying using new and interesting fabrics, different textures and layering prints.
The new Autumn/Winter ‘18 season sees the launch of our first full Boys range, which is really exciting for me. My sister’s partner Sam has come on board to help me design the boy’s range, and it has been so much fun working with him. As we both have a background in architecture we both find the creative process is rewarding when working in a team – to be able to bounce ideas and get a critique from someone who shares the vision is fantastic!
What are you working towards in 2018?
2018 is going to be huge for Hubble + Duke! I am so excited about our new collections that are soon to be released. We’ll be doing a fun fit-out of our new warehouse with new workstations, packing tables, storage and a beautiful display set up. Working on the design of the fit-out with my friend Zenifa from Rezen Interiors has been a really exciting mix of all the things I love. I feel very lucky to be at this stage in the business and, of course, working towards my $1 million revenue goal.
My other goal for the future is to be able to pay my daughters’ school fees when they reach high school, which is only two years away for Eva. I believe in an outstanding education so this is so important to me and I will be incredibly proud if I can achieve this goal for them.
This interview is in association with our partnership with Australia Post. Find out more about Australia Post Small Business and their solutions to help you manage your social advertising and grow your online business here.