This year, Sydney label Ginger & Smart celebrates a decade in the business. Sisters Alexandra and Genevieve Smart’s no-nonsense approach to running their company has seen the label grow from a small two-woman show to a thriving retail business. Only two months into 2013, the designers are off to a flying start, having nabbed model-of-the-moment Julia Nobis for their autumn/winter campaign and launching a diffusion line. Oh, and they have also just opened their first Melbourne store.
“We’ve wanted to open a store in Melbourne for years,” says Alexandra. “We’ve got three stores now in Sydney, so it is a pretty exciting time for us because we've got a great customer base down in Melbourne.” In addition to their four stand-alone boutiques, Ginger & Smart is stocked in over 60 stores, including major retailer David Jones.
Prior to launching the label in 2002, the sisters had successful careers in their respective industries. Alexandra was the first editor of Oyster magazine, before going onto a high-profile advertising role at Australian Consolidated Press, learning the ins and out of the fashion world while getting a taste of the marketing side of the industry.
Genevieve, on the other hand, was busily working for top Australian labels, including a role as head designer at Lisa Ho. “It was really good for both of us to refine our skills with other people,” says Alexandra, “so that when we came to our own label we were able to use that experience, which I think it is imperative…when you are starting a fashion business.”
The pair knew better than to expand too quickly. They started with a small range of candles, moved onto accessories, then finally launched a ready-to-wear line, all the while building strong industry relationships along the way. “We really have spent 10 years honing those skills and understanding how our market is,” admits Alexandra. “Now the next thing is about how to grow further. We were doing quite well in the international market before the global financial crisis and we want to go back into the international market in a big way.”
It’s little wonder, then, that the designers sought Julia Nobis (who stars in campaigns for French fashion house Saint Laurent and New York’s Proenza Schouler) to front their latest collection. If you are re-entering the international market, it doesn't hurt to have the model everybody wants to book on board. “We were really lucky,” says Alexandra. “She is such a great muse for this collection. And what we love about her is that she is just so strong.”
Still, the sisters are working to expand their local customer-base and are reaching out to a younger market with their latest, more affordable line, Akin. “We describe our mainline as polished and playful," says Alexandra, “and the diffusion line as playful with a bit of polish.”
With a team of 20, Ginger & Smart is no longer a small label operating out of a lounge room. “In 10 years we have become retailers,” she says. “We distribute to the wholesale market too, but now we have five retail stores (including online), and that is a big focus of ours.”
And for those looking to join the fashion industry, Alexandra has a few words of advice: “Have a very clear point of view and offer something new and exciting,” she says. “But be prepared to work extremely hard and get as much experience as possible before launching your own business.
“It’s a tricky business but, frankly, all businesses are tricky and if you have a passion and a vision for what you want to do then that’s what is important.”