Penny Brown loves seeing people wear her clothes.
“I get almost as much joy out of seeing someone wear something from six seasons ago than I do when I see them in something from the current collection,” says Brown, creative director and co-owner of Melbourne-based fashion label Ryder. “You know that your clothes last.”
Brown and her sister Georgie established Ryder in 2012, initially as an online-only venture. It was a change of direction for Brown, who studied nutrition and dietetics. Until that point she’d always loved being creative but hadn't worked out how to turn that into a career. “I was always finding pieces of vintage clothing in markets and recreating them into something new,” she says. “That led me into fashion.”
Ryder’s first significant win came in 2013 when the sisters organised a meeting with a new buyer who immediately signed the label to Myer. It was “serendipitous” says Brown. “Ryder was a brand that filled a gap in what they were offering. It was great to partner with a really strong retailer early. That helped us get a solid wholesale base at the start.”
Soon after they opened Ryder’s first retail store, in Armadale in Melbourne’s south-east. It was a big step, says Brown. “[But] you need confidence you're going to be able to sell enough.”
The small business’s confidence was well founded. It soon snagged the attention of high-profile international retailers such as Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and ASOS. Securing partnerships with the offshore retailers was another major milestone for the brand.
It has “opened us up to a new customer and given us a global reach,” says Brown, who has now made numerous trips to trade shows in New York, London and Tokyo, where the label’s “Australian heritage” style is always well received.
In 2018, Ryder moved its concept store to a new location in Cremorne. “It's a nice little creative hub to be in,” Brown says of the neighbourhood. They threw a party in March to celebrate the move. “We turned the space into a little launch parade and had a hundred people come down.”
It was a very Ryder affair: Glasshaus, its new neighbour, used eucalypt leaves and banksias in the space to transform it into an outback garden. Models walked among the foliage wearing items from Ryder’s Home Grown autumn 2018 collection as guests grazed at tables laden with antipasti; there were wheels of cheese, bowls stuffed with olives and cured meats, nuts, berries and fresh figs.
That glamorous soirée highlighted how far the brand has come from its modest online beginnings – but Ryder is not an overnight success story. The label’s growth has been gradual, built with each new collection. “We haven't tried to grow too fast, which has been really beneficial to keeping us going,” says Brown.
That perspective on the business comes with accounting. “A lot of it is automated,” says Brown. “It reduces a lot of the time I have to spend accounting. I use MYOB Essentials. I can manage it myself and I don’t have an accounting background. The level of reporting is great – you can tap into how your business is tracking and pull out any things there might be issues with early.”
For all its wins, Ryder has encountered setbacks along the way, too. “We've changed suppliers a few times,” says Brown. If a supplier’s quality starts to slip, then a switch has to be made, however difficult that process is. “It’s pretty common in the fashion industry. But when you change to a new supplier it's almost like starting from scratch.”
Positive feedback from customers also keeps her motivated, as does working with family. It’s “amazing”, she says. “You get to hang out all the time, do the good and the bad together.”
Her advice for others starting their own business? Be passionate about what you do. “You have to love the product you're working on,” she says. “And be open to things changing – be flexible.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with MYOB.