Alice McCall’s 12-year-old eponymous label is what teens save their pennies for, or beg their mum to buy come formal time. It’s the label girls in their twenties turn to when they’ve got summer parties and cocktail events to attend, or when they need something flirty (but not too flirty) for the clubs.
Girls outside of Australia are hungry for McCall’s feminine and playful pieces, too. Orders from her e-boutique are flying out the door to the US, with China not far behind. The Chinese market in particular is growing at such a rate that McCall recently launched the first Alice McCALL boutique in China, in the north-eastern city of Dalian, with plans to expand into Beijing and Shanghai down the track.
With China’s growing middle class occupying business headlines over the past decade, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that McCall’s is the first Australian designer boutique in the country. Making the foray into a new market is a leap for any brand, and requires both the capital and an understanding of the customer.
“With 200 million affluent people, there’s money to be spent,” McCall says. There was no concerted push from her team to target the Chinese market before the launch of the Dalian store. Chinese customers were finding the brand online organically.
Almost all of the production for the brand is done through China, and McCall travels to Hong Kong three times a year to oversee manufacturing. “We have a strong relationship,” she says. “I love spending time with key factories we produce with. They all have strong ethical blueprints.”
So is there a difference between what Chinese and Australian customers want? McCall says aside from the seasonal differences, bestsellers in Australia are usually bestsellers across China and the US.
“I’d say the only difference is the shades Chinese customers buy – they’ll go for shades that suit Asian skin tones, and so we keep that in mind when we design to strike a balance in the palette and have colours that suit both European and Asian skin tones,” she says. “With the Chinese New Year coming up too, we’re dropping some red occasional wear into the store, as red is a popular colour in China over that period.”
McCall designs only one collection per season, which is released internationally at the same time. That means the bulk of her collections are trans-seasonal. It’s a clever strategy to navigate the seasonal divide between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, especially for a young customer base that doesn’t want to be left behind buying a season-old range.
“I’d say 80 per cent of our range we offer internationally at the same time, and the 20 per cent is the added pieces to suit the season for each hemisphere – for example mohair pieces for the winter, and then swimwear pieces for the summer,” she explains.
McCall’s upcoming AW16 collection riffs on her ongoing obsession with vintage pieces and lace (lace is always a big seller for her), presenting girlish, floaty shapes with delicate trims and embroidery.
There’s also the “dreysuit”, a creation that, like in the way a skort is a combination of a skirt and shorts, combines the best of a dress with a playsuit. “It’s something that feels like a mini-dress, but keeps the wearer covered and still modest,” she says. “The office had a chuckle about [the name], but it’s something that girls are looking for.”
With more than a decade spent tapping into what young girls want to wear, who’s to argue? “I work from my heart, and I feel like that’s a unique thing.”