“I just didn’t know that ‘ideas girl’ equated to entrepreneurialism.”
For the uninitiated, Spell & The Gypsy Collective is the Australian go-to fashion, accessories and homewares brand for modern bohemians worldwide.
We sat down with Lizzy, one-half of the sisterly duo, to find out how Spell & the Gypsy Collective turned their market stall into a cult fashion label with a social media following of over one million fans.
I remember the buzz I got from being ‘treasurer’ of our childhood cake-stalls.
I’d go home and count the money in my room and start prepping in my mind for the next bake-sale… banana bread or honey joys?! My sister and I have always been creative, and my mum always said I was ‘the ideas girl’ when I was young. I just didn’t know that ‘ideas girl’ equated to entrepreneurialism.
Growing up we were avid scrapbookers, we have always been obsessed with putting imagery together to tell a story.
Once we partnered together in the label it was the only way we knew to tell the story of our designs. In the beginning, we literally shot them ourselves (I had an old DSLR that I used) and we used our friends or girls who worked with us as models.
Often Isabella and I would model ourselves because we had no money. Then slowly we started putting the budget into paying creative like photographers and hair & makeup artists to do it for us. We were always very steadfast in our belief that creatives should be paid for their work.
Right from the start photographers were paid their rate, as were models and hair and makeup artists. I was a freelancer myself so never believed in asking creatives to ‘work for free’ to build up their portfolios.
One night I woke up and saw we’d made a sale during the night while I was sleeping and I was like ‘hell yes!’
Pretty much from that day, I’ve always thought, if you’re not making money while you’re sleeping, then what’s the point? Once Instagram hit we just embraced it with this crazy fervour and started to truly see the potential of our reach on social media.
“I’ve always thought, if you’re not making money while you’re sleeping, then what’s the point?”
Starting a vertical business online wasn’t really a business plan or strategy, it just happened because I found it easier to sell our designs to our retail customers rather than wholesale ones. They were the ones I’d met and fallen in love with at the markets, I mean before I came up to Byron I was one of them, so I related to them.
The point when we knew Spell was going to take off was when a buyer for Sportsgirl ordered 150 of our necklaces.
It was pretty exciting because at that point we didn’t have many wholesalers. We didn’t have time to think about it, though – we just got to work making the necklaces as fast as humanly possible! What we did learn was that it takes a long time, and lots of RSI in your wrists to try to make each piece by hand for a big order. It was then that we started to hire more staff to help us.
Social media IS our business.
Our biggest driver to sales is Instagram and Pinterest and it is where we connect with and inspire our customers, where we connect to influencers who help spread the word about our brand. We simply wouldn’t exist without it.
One interesting case study is that there are a lot of Buy Swap and Sell groups on Facebook now, and there is a Spell one too. They are an incredibly passionate, loyal and feisty community and they exist largely without our input. It’s a new social space for us to watch, and it’s quite unique because it’s the first social space we don’t have control over.
The thought of growing like we were was much scarier than the thought of slowing things down.
Our wheels were about to fall off [in 2015]. We slowed our buys to slow growth, however, we kept on hiring people and skill building so there was a lot of internal evolution during that year.
What we’ve learned about growth is that we need to keep control of it rather than allow demand to control our growth. There have been some huge learning curves!
We love being based in Byron Bay and have seen so many other labels grow with us.
The challenges mainly revolve around logistics of shipping our orders, which we have now moved our warehouse to Sydney and LA.
We struggled at first to recruit some of the skills we needed in a regional area, but now so many people are willing to or have moved here that this doesn’t seem to be a problem! The positives, especially in the beginning with zero cash flow, were low overheads. I think our design studio cost us maybe $250 a week at the start? We would never have found a 200 square metre space in Sydney for that!
We were so overwhelmed by winning the Telstra Business Award and couldn’t believe it.
For us, it was like this little trophy for the regional brands. We had so many local businesses contacting us to congratulate us, which meant a lot – you get so caught up and you never stop to pat yourself on the back! The application process was also incredibly beneficial for the business at large.
I believe when it was created almost 25 years ago they wanted the application process to act like a ‘business best practice’ guidebook and that’s how we experienced it. The networking and learning from peers that we’ve been able to achieve through being a finalist were invaluable to our business.
For a long time, the culture we developed at Spell was not deliberate, it just flowed from the values Isabella and I shared.
Over time we’ve been able to define it a lot more. We have a zero tolerance on bitching or negativity in the workplace. We value our staff and help promote a good work-life balance in all that we do, (like gifting our full-timers bicycles and allowing 3 pm Fridays).
A few years after we started the business we started having kids, so our staff were like our ‘angels’ who allowed us to spend more time with our families, which is why we now call them our angels. We try to reward them and show them our gratitude whenever we can.
We also have a strong attitude toward creating good succession plans within our business, allowing staff to evolve through the company as they grow in experience.
Before growing our team, it was hard.
You feel so guilty leaving your kids to work, but as we have grown the business, and hired staff to take care of other things, you get more and more family time. I had my first family holiday off the back of a shoot mid-last year in Bali, then we went to Sri Lanka and this year to the US, so it feels like we’re getting our groove back and really balancing work and life for the benefit of our kids!
My husband, also a creative, is almost allergic to being indoors so we all live a very adventurous life, between surfing and camping and bush walks and waterfalls. It’s kind of hard to not give your kids a free-spirited life up here.