After 80 years, some which were financially stressful, Australian handbag retailer Oroton has entered a new chapter. It has appointed Country Road’s Sophie Holt as creative director, and in doing so the label is sending a clear message: it’s back.
Oroton, known for its leather goods, entered voluntary administration in November last year after years of slumping sales. The label was acquired by fund manager and former director of Oroton Will Vicars this month for $30 million. One of his first strategic decisions was appointing Holt. And it’s not hard to see why; sales surged under her 13-year tenure at Country Road. She was central to the company’s rebound and ushered in a new era.
“[Country Road] had lost control of its brand,” Holt tells Broadsheet. “There were too many suppliers and it maybe had a bit of an unfashionable, dowdy fashion message. And so, by making it more relevant for the customer, we were able to grow sales and take control again.”
Will she be able to do the same for Oroton despite inheriting a $14.2 million sales loss? She’s already pulling out all the stops.
Fresh plans have already been laid to chase younger customers while re-inventing the label’s tarnished image and expanding the product offering beyond leather.
“My approach is [around] the product, the stores, the marketing, the visual merchandising and then there’s the whole digital world,” says Holt.
With a modern customer in mind, she’s introduced a range of wearable designs in non-leather materials, from canvas and linen, to straw and silk. “I’ve done a big push with the scarves,” says Holt of a new collection of accessories made in Lake Como, Italy. “I’ve been to the factory. They’re silk and they add softness to the brand. And colour. And energy. I am making the scarves a big thing.”
In order to succeed, Holt understands Oroton must reassess its social-media and marketing strategy while driving more direct sales back to its e-commerce site. But that’s not to say bricks and mortar will be forgotten.
The label has 50 stores across Australia and New Zealand, and Holt sees physical retail as a key focus. “I am still a big one for stores. I don’t underestimate the importance of online, but I like touching and feeling the product,” she says.
Today, designers realise that they need to readjust in the age of fast fashion and create deeper connections with customers. We’ve seen Kym Ellery open a boutique art gallery above her flagship and Sydney’s Sarah and Sebastian open a store that incorporates elements of its workshop. Both examples challenge the traditional retail model. What will Oroton do?
Holt can’t talk about the details of the shiny new concept for the retail stores yet, but it will be rolled out across the country in the future. “You walk into a store and you want to be immersed in the brand; you want to see it, feel it and understand it,” says Holt. “That only happens in-store.” She’s also poised to roll up her sleeves and help perfect the visual merchandising so that it reflects a clean, unified vision. “I am still passionate about stores spending a lot of time on the windows.”
Looking back, where does Holt believe Oroton lost its way? “The brand, to me, was a little bit serious. And perhaps catered more to a classic, older customer. I think it’s got this fabulous DNA and it could talk to a modern customer as well as to a classic customer,” she says.
“For me it’s about having a little bit more fun while working with beautiful colours and glittering it up.”
And is it a coincidence that her career often involves fixing something that’s broken, or is it something that drives her? “It’s what I know,” she says. “I would definitely not go to just any brand … I have to feel it. I have to feel that I can see what the brand stands for … what its DNA is. And if I can understand the brand and understand what it could be, then I can see a way forward.”