Sometimes a niche product finds its audience and takes off. That’s exactly what happened for Brisbane-based Kylie Brûlé of Kylie and the Machine (KATM), best known for its playful and tongue-in-cheek woven labels for the home sewer who wants to add a finishing touch to a garment. It was a classic case of Brûlé wanting something for herself, only to realise so many others were after the same thing. “I didn’t want to put my own name on them,” Brûlé says. “I just wanted them to be quirky and say funny things.”
Like the launch of any small business, there was plenty of risk involved. But now Brûlé is rewriting her future with a thriving, internationally minded operation – one she can already envision passing on to a new generation when she eventually decides to retire.
Starting KATM in 2017, Brûlé placed a minimum order for three designs, and gambled that she’d be able to sell the surplus tags to those who already followed her sewing-centric Instagram. It included the phrases “Made with love and swear words” and “Yes I made it”, and a handprint with “Made” written in the middle – all of which remain bestsellers. “I think it was $300 for the first run of labels, or something like that, and I was really nervous about it,” she says. “But I'm glad I did it when I did, because I am where I am now. Because I didn’t overthink it and I just made it happen.”
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Today KATM has almost 60,000 Instagram followers and Brûlé says half the company’s revenue comes from more than 400 stockists worldwide. “It’s pretty cool that our little packs of labels end up in a shop in Norway and someone’s walking in there, taking a pack home and sewing it into their clothes,” she says.
It was amid the 2020 Covid lockdowns when the business really came into its own, thanks to all the seasoned sewers and newbie hobbyists wanting to add extra flare to their DIY projects. Now the dust has settled, Brûlé is streamlining the KATM offering. “We were focused on growing for a while, and now we’re focused on refining,” she says. “We’ve cut out things that take too much time for us [to make], sit on the shelf too long, or don’t have the right margins.”
Labels remain their “bread and butter”, though, made from polyester for longevity and cut using an electrostatic method that makes them soft, unlike the scratchy ones that inevitably get cut off. “I think that’s part of why our labels are so popular,” Brûlé says. “We’ve really found the best quality that we can get in the world.”
They also sell an array of sewing tools, magnetic pin dishes made by Brûlé’s husband Coady of Waffle Pottery, and quality denim hardware “like buttons, rivets and zippers so that people can get a professional finish at home and know that all their hard work is going to hold up,” she says.
Next, they’re homing in on digital patterns to future-proof the business. “We’ve worked really hard and grown really big, but now we’re trying to work smarter,” Brûlé says. “Things like digital patterns are a great [for] our business because, if we have delays in manufacturing, we still have our digital product, and it doesn’t require shipping.”
Brûlé says it’s a constant balancing act between creative direction and savvy business decisions. “I have the creative ideas, but I definitely need the [right] people around me to put on the brakes for things that aren’t going to be worthwhile,” she says. That includes someone sharp with numbers. “I feel like that’s something that a lot of people overlook in the beginning, especially if you’re a sole trader. Wealth is having at least everything you need and then having the capacity to give beyond oneself to others. One of the best things about running Kylie And The Machine, is it supports other women, particularly mothers, to build financial freedom and wealth, offering flexible work schedules and making sure that contributions are made to superannuation.”
While Brûlé admits pouring all her creativity into KATM rather than, say, her own wardrobe, the mum of three young boys relishes the flexibility that can come with starting your own thing – something she sees benefitting her personally for years to come – and extends the same mentality to her small-yet-growing team.
“Having the wealth of community is so important. Being able to offer help to another family that has basic living needs not being met. They might need an afternoon off, or their kids picked up; the school community rallies around those in need. Knowing your neighbours and being able to call on them is wealth! Having an extra ‘pot’ that you can draw from doesn’t always mean money. “
According to an AMP report, the stages in Australian’s lives have shifted since 1950. Whereas someone in their sixties used to be classified as ‘old’, these days they’re still enjoying their chosen lifestyle.
Years down the line, Brûlé pictures KATM’s global distribution channels in full swing and the next generation running the show. But she’ll always want a creative hand in it, even when she inevitably retires. “I see myself being a part of this forever, really,” she says. “I want to make sure that my parents can live in their house forever; and not have to go into a home. I hope for a simple life with safety and security, and good health and wealth for myself and those near and dear to me.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Bank and Wealth Manager, AMP. AMP is committed to sharing Australian stories about redefining wealth.