In today’s episode you’ll learn:
- Why Emily made the switch to ethically made and what she learnt along the way
- The challenges with rebranding and the price increase
- Her favourite marketing strategies that she used to hit multiple six figures in the first year after relaunching
- How to find ethical stockists and what to be wary of
- The importance of outsourcing and not trying to do it all
Dahna Borg: Hi and welcome to the Bright Minds of eCommerce Podcast. I’m Dahna, founder of Bright Red Marketing, your eCommerce advertising specialists. Today, we are here with Emily from Isle of Summer Label. Emily started her business journey into the fashion world when she was eight months pregnant with her second baby. After a big learning curve and uncovering the dirty secrets of the fashion industry, she pivoted her business to ensure all production’s produced in a transparent and ethical way and has a big dream to create flexible working opportunities for women with no marketing or eCommerce experience. Emily is all self taught and has created a multiple six figure business within only one year of rebranding to ‘ethically made’. As someone who is passionate about sustainable fashion, I’m really excited about this episode and Emily shares some amazing info into how and why she made the switch, so let’s get into it! Welcome to episode 11.
Dahna Borg: Hi, and welcome to the Bright Minds of eCommerce Podcast. Today we are here with Emily from Isle of Summer Label. Welcome!
Emily Wishaw: Hi Dahna! Thank you for having me.
Dahna Borg: It’s so good to have you! So can you please give us a little bit of a background for those who don’t know you’ve actually had two fashion brands, is that correct?
Emily Wishaw: Ah, yes. So I originally started my foray into fashion three years ago and my first business was called Monday Couture and I actually purchased it off Gumtree. It’s a long story: I was eight months pregnant with my second child, I had just moved back to Australia after living in the UK for eight years. I wasn’t able to go back to my corporate accounting job/career, so I wanted to learn a new skill. Marketing and online selling had always really interested me. So I bought this little business and it was jewellery that was targeted at mums, and then everything kind of led from there. I know you’re thinking, how did you go from jewellery to clothing? Yeah, it’s all just a series of fate. The business that I acquired had a contact in Bali who made these beautiful kimonos and other clothing and I discovered that the kimonos made really, really handy breastfeeding coverups. I had my baby finally, and I was just living in these kimonos because I could wear my breastfeeding singlet, but I could also dress up my outfit and feel really comfortable and pretty with minimal effort. And that of course resonated with my audience. It all just kind of went from there, it’s a little bit random. It’s funny how life puts you on the path and the direction that you need to be taking at the time. And of course, you know, fast forward a couple of years later, my son is no longer breastfeeding and I’m starting to get snippets of my life back and some more time and I wanted to expand my business beyond breastfeeding kimonos, and I wanted to be able to design dresses and skirts and pants and tops and all the things you’re craving to get back into when you move out of that young baby stage as a mum. So my business is very much reflection of where I am in my journey through motherhood being a woman. So 12 months ago, I rebranded and I’ve become Isle of Summer Label and I wanted to do better, be better, build a brand to be very proud of and wanting to expand my business beyond just the kimonos and reach a wider audience. It led me down the various slippery slope of learning about fast fashion and the huge amount of negatives that the industry has in the treatment of women and slave labour and all these awful things. So it really spurred me on to do better, be better and look for better. So I set out on a journey, looking for ethically made factories in Bali, I very much wanted transparency, making sure I knew where the clothing was made and by who and under what conditions. That was kind of the catalyst for relaunching as Isle of Summer Label.
Dahna Borg: Amazing. When you say ethical, cause I know there’s so many different definitions, what were the big things that were really important to you? I think you’ve touched on them, but was there like a list that you were like, it needs to have these things?
Emily Wishaw: Yeah, definitely. I am very hands on in my business and I really want to know who is making my clothing. Where is the clothing being made because that’s one of the dirty secrets of fast fashion. A lot of things are outsourced, and then as a brand you have no visibility around how the clothes are being made. I wanted my factory to feel like an extension of me, to be part of the family basically, and really get to know everyone, and have a consistent and clear dialogue all the time. And of course, being able to go over to Bali, meet the factories, meet the workers and see for myself exactly what was going on behind the scenes. Part of being ethically made is also ensuring staff are paid well. Fashion, the industry, is very well known for paying workers nothing or very, very little, you know; not even enough to buy food every day for their families. And I think 85% of workers in the fashion industry are female. So that’s a huge knock-on effect to women, women in business and workers. So that’s definitely really important to me.
Dahna Borg: Amazing. Because you obviously already had a fashion brand making those kimonos, what was that process like? Obviously you’ve gone and done a lot of research, and found out that’s not what you want to be involved in. What was that process like of going from that to obviously the relaunch, the rebrand and finding those ethical suppliers? What was that like?
Emily Wishaw: Yeah, I didn’t go with the factory that was supplying the kimonos in the first place. And that was for two reasons: there was no transparency around their production, and also, whenever I suggested new ideas on new styles, they basically kept saying, “no, we can’t do that, we can’t do that”. So they weren’t going to be a partner that I could easily work with or building a brand to be proud of. That kind of triggered the search for a new factory. It was actually quite challenging because when you live in Australia and you’re looking at overseas factories, it’s really hard because you can’t be there. You can’t go and meet them every week; you have to have a plan and quite often it’s all about who you know, and being referred to factories because you can’t just Google them – they’re not on Google. So it was very much a referral process. And I was quite lucky that I had made some connections over the last few years through my fabric print designers, cause I use all Australian artists here to design my unique fabric prints and they of course have connections because they’re in the fashion industry. So it was just this trail of referrals and connections through people that I’d been working with over the years.
Dahna Borg: I think it’s amazing! So obviously you’ve gone, this is important in finding new suppliers. What was the rebrand like and how did your customers take it at the time?
Emily Wishaw: It was a really big decision because switching to a fully transparent and ethical business increased the costing significantly. My costs basically doubled, and you obviously have to reflect that in your retail price because a business needs to be profitable! Because you’re not helping anyone and you’re certainly not paying people’s wages if you’re not making profits. So of course the prices needed to go up. And I just took the view of being transparent and honest with my followers. I took them along the journey with me. Basically, I shared what I was doing, I did a lot of videos and posts over a six month period about the changes that were coming and they basically all understood. They all got on board and have continued to be customers. So it’s been a very positive experience from a business point of view. It was challenging from an administration point of view, organising all the moving parts because it’s a new logo, it’s new branding, it’s new colours, it’s a new website – you’ve got to articulate your vision, your ethics, what your business stands for. So it was a great opportunity to redefine all of those important parts of the business and present them in a way that people will also believe in and agree with you and follow you on that journey.
Dahna Borg: Yeah. Wonderful. If you were starting off now with the information that you have, and you were going to start ethically from day one, is there any lessons that you would share to those listening that maybe haven’t started yet but they want to go down that path?
Emily Wishaw: Yeah. Oh gosh, every day I’m still learning and I’m still learning new things and you just have to pivot and take that information and do the best you can and keep improving. But a great starting point is doing your research about factories. Don’t just look at one factory, look at multiple factories. Don’t just look at one country, look at multiple countries because there are some great opportunities for overseas manufacturing. I manufacture in Bali, but I’ve heard that Fiji is fantastic and Korea is an option, and of course China (I’m sure that beast is a bit of a harder one to crack!), but there’s a lot of agencies out there that can help you. I think starting off with an agency, that’s like a sourcing agency that’s focused on ethical manufacturing, is a great starting point and will probably cut out a lot of the hidden stuff that’s harder to uncover when you’re on the other side of the world trying to figure these things out.
Dahna Borg: Yeah. I think it’s just so important, especially the way the world’s going at the moment – the more businesses that can take that path the better.
Emily Wishaw: Yeah, and certainly there’s an opportunity to start off as Australian made when you are producing really small numbers. I certainly did look into that, but the costs were quite expensive. So it was challenging, it’s really challenging. At that stage of my journey, I decided that overseas manufacturing would be a way to provide high quality ethically made clothing at a price point that was a bit more affordable.
Dahna Borg: Yeah, I have heard that the options to have things manufactured in Australia from a fashion perspective is incredibly difficult. We just don’t have the warehouses and the supply chains here to that kind of extent.
Emily Wishaw: That’s very true. Sadly, the Australian fashion industry has declined significantly compared to what it was 10, 15, 20 years ago. There are options out there, but in my experience, they were really hard to find. And again, it came down to: who do you know? Who can you get referrals? But you know, we have an amazing quality of life here in Australia. The fact is, it’s just more expensive to live in Australia and we have minimum wage requirements that are quite high compared to other countries, so it’s something to weigh up.
Dahna Borg: Definitely, definitely. Now obviously business is booming, it’s doing really well for you. Do you think that it’s because you’ve gone ethical and people are really embracing that?
Emily Wishaw: I definitely feel like our customer base were super supportive of that and I feel that it’s definitely helped. And of course, expanding my product range beyond one product has also been a big factor because if you can sell one product really well, imagine how successful you can be if you sell three products really well! So I feel that it’s a natural extension of growing the product base, but often every day I get customers sending me a message saying, thank you so much, I love my dress, and the fact that it’s ethically made is just the final decision for me and that’s why I ended up purchasing; to give you a brand to go. So a lot of my customers definitely have the ethics at the top of their list.
Dahna Borg: Yeah, wonderful. Cause I know that a lot of businesses, and just a lot of people, are still stuck in that mindset of people won’t pay the prices to buy ethical products, and I suppose you’re kind of proving that wrong.
Emily Wishaw: Well, I am certainly not the most expensive label out there, but of course I’m not the cheapest label. I’m an accountant by trade, so the numbers were really important to me. I chose not to wholesale my range because when you choose to wholesale to retail stores, you have to have a level of margin that allows for the cost of wholesaling. And because I’ve chosen not to do that, I was able to pass on that saving directly to my customers. So Isle of Summer Label is an online-only business at this stage and I’m intending to keep it that way because I really do want women to have more choices to shop in a more conscious way. A lot of fashion brands just don’t share the transparency on how their clothing is made and where their clothing is made, so for me, that was really important.
Dahna Borg: Wonderful. And I think as you, I think you said it before, a lot of factories don’t give you that transparency anyway. Even if the people who were going through those factories wanted it, a lot of the supply aren’t giving that transparency.
Emily Wishaw: Yes, and that’s usually a very big red flag.
Dahna Borg: So obviously you’ve said there were some challenges in terms of sourcing the product. Have you had any other challenges with creating an ethical brand? Like convincing people to pay the higher price point, or anything that you can share that others can learn from.
Emily Wishaw: Yeah. It can be a challenge. I do a lot of Facebook ad marketing and you don’t want to bombard people with all of the facts in a cold ad. You have to take people along on the journey. They get introduced to your brand and you’ll share one bit of information, and then they’ll follow your brand for a bit longer, and then you share another bit of information. You can’t just throw it all at them. It’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall – you can’t just give them 10 facts and tell them why they should purchase from your brand because that’s not good marketing. So I do find some people can be quick to judge and they see a price and they go, “Oh my gosh, that’s so expensive. Why is it so expensive?” So then it opens up an opportunity to start a discussion around our values and what we’re trying to do, how we’re passionate about employing women and creating well paid jobs. Then I often find they will change their point of view or they’ll go, “Oh, Oh, okay. I’m not used to that.” Fashion is really challenging because there is a lot of fast fashion brands out there. They’re everywhere you go; go onto Facebook and you’ll be flooded with fast fashion brands targeting, so you do have to be really careful on how you articulate why you’re different and how you’re trying to be different. That’s probably where I struggled the most. It’s getting that message out without having to list off 10 bullet points on how you’re different.
Dahna Borg: Yeah. With the Facebook ads specifically, do you find that you need to show people the product and get them excited about what you’re selling and then add the ethical backstory and kind of explanation, or do you find you need the ethical first to get them interested? Have tested, what’s working best for you? Is it a little bit of a mix of both?
Emily Wishaw: I talk a lot to my customers, I spend hours every day chatting on DM’s on Instagram and Facebook, and I’ve definitely found the common feedback was that the bright colours and the beautiful prints catch their eye first. Then that leads them down that, “Oh, okay, what’s this brand”. And then they head to the website and hopefully they go to the About Us page and they read a bit more, or maybe they’ve seen me in a story on Instagram. So I found stories and using video where I just talk openly and share our values and what I’m working on, people have really brought into me and the face behind the brand. I’m not going to hide; I’m the owner of the business and I’m proud about what I’m doing and I’m happy to talk about it, and then people start to understand that, you know like, “Oh, okay. Yeah. I hadn’t really thought of that. You know, I hadn’t thought about the women in Cambodia that are sold into sex slavery, just to be able to put food on the table for their children. I hadn’t thought about how some Chinese factories outsource all of their production to North Korea”, but you wouldn’t know that because brands don’t talk about it. I find talking about it to people is raising awareness for topics that affects everyone because we all wear clothes. We all go shopping. Of course, I understand that we all can’t afford to spend $200 on a dress, you know, $110 on a T-shirt. But again, it comes down to the message of why don’t we think about buying less, buying quality, buying a bit more consciously rather than fast fashion shopping where price is the main factor.
Dahna Borg: Yeah. I find that really interesting that even with the really heavy ethical stance that you’ve taken, I mean, it’s still fashion. People still want to see pretty clothes and that’s what’s going to draw them in. And then you’re telling the story behind that, and that really sells them on it.
Emily Wishaw: Well, they have to love the product at the end of the day. You know, they want to look beautiful, they want to feel beautiful in their clothing and if I can achieve that, awesome.
Dahna Borg: Yeah, and your clothing is beautiful!
Emily Wishaw: I do like a rainbow!
Dahna Borg: It is very bright and colourful! I’m a big fan. When you first relaunched, what were some of your more successful marketing strategies and is that different to what you’re finding works best for you now?
Emily Wishaw: When I first started Monday Couture I knew nothing about marketing. I’m an accountant, I’m not a marketing person, so it was a huge, huge learning curve. I honestly thought I could post on Instagram or Facebook and sales would come in and that just does not happen! So in the beginning I was trying to do all the free types of marketing that I could and I feel if you do that you just will never get traction. So I then started learning about email marketing and Facebook ads. Facebook ads have definitely been really important, but taking everything that I learned with Monday Couture and having the opportunity to start again and take all this knowledge and put it straight into a new business, my most important marketing tool was having email automation. So I use Klaviyo for all my email targeting. As soon as people get to a website, you want them to sign up to your email list so that you can continue to market to them from Facebook and on Instagram, and you can send them special offers or share really important information with them and really build a community of people who want to hear about what you’re doing. So email marketing is very important, and it represents about 30% of my revenue every month. And then of course, Facebook ads, so taking all the important messages and then creating a flowing funnel with all different stories and images and visuals to send out to different audiences and target people who I think will be interested in my brand and share the same values. That’s definitely key to growing your business, and I’ve been very slack at using Instagram influencers, but it’s something that I’ve been trying to do a little bit more of lately. I’m getting some great traction by using popular women on Instagram that my audience love to follow.
Dahna Borg: Yeah, I feel like that’d be a really good fit for you.
Emily Wishaw: Yeah, it’s just time!
Dahna Borg: Yes, I think people forget how time intensive using influencers is because it’s not just like running a Facebook ad where you can sit on the couch in your pyjamas at 10 o’clock at night and just make a Facebook ad. You actually have to see it and you have to sit with them and you have to have conversations with people and build relationships and post. And it’s definitely intense relationship building, it’s not just “let me send one parcel to one person then look at my business grow.”
Emily Wishaw: Yes, exactly. And I feel that there aren’t that many influences who do influence. There’s a lot of people who like to share, but are they the kind of people who have an audience who are also looking to buy a new dress or a skirt? So I’ve done a lot of testing and trying new things, and lately I’ve found working with women who have a meaning and a purpose on their page beyond just sharing their life. So that’s women who share styling tips and how to dress for your body shape. I love working with curvy women, curvy influences, where you’re sharing such positive body image messages. They are the best. I love working with them because my range goes up to a size 22 / 24 and their audiences are just so supportive. They really make Instagram fun. So I’m kind of just working on trying to find more women who share style and fashion that also align with my brand values as well.
Dahna Borg: Yeah. Amazing. So obviously your brand, I mean you’re called Isle of Summer Label, is a little bit more of a summer-y brand. How do you find, you know, managing the winter / colder seasons? We were talking before about how I’m such a sook because it’s 21 degrees outside and I have the heater on, and obviously Australia has got advantages because it’s still 21 degrees outside, but you know, how do you kind of manage that summer stock in cooler climate?
Emily Wishaw: Yeah, that’s a funny one because I live in Australia and I live in Brisbane, which is one of the warmer places in Australia. So I am used to pretty much summer all year round. And for me personally, I always find it difficult to buy clothing that’s comfortable to wear in summer because it does get so hot and humid in Brisbane. So everything I design is with that heat and humidity in mind, but also being part of a non-fast fashion label is making your pieces trans-seasonal. I knew winter was coming and parts of our country do get cooler, so I really focused on having long maxi skirts and long maxi dresses that you can layer and continue to wear in the cooler months, but, you know, add a denim jacket or wear thermal leggings or a long sleeve top. You can continue to wear your pieces throughout the year with some clever layering. And of course, you do have to do a bit of trying your best to forecast expected sales and the only way to do that is looking back at past history. I don’t have a lot of past history, so I do find that being an accountant I’m quite prudent. I don’t order huge quantities, I like to order small and test and see what the girls like, which often leads to things selling out really quickly, because we haven’t been able to forecast as I’m growing too fast. So my forecast is never right, but I’m working on it! I’m trying my best, so, you know, every month I’m learning more. So, so far I haven’t had too much of a problem with stuff laying around too long because the audience understands I’m a summer-focused brand, but I’m trying to design pieces that you can continue to wear throughout the year.
Dahna Borg: Definitely. Is it something where you kind of get some different imagery and things for winter that’s showed to people, like the skirts and things being layered or is it more of just what people can do and your audience is smart enough to work that out?
Emily Wishaw: No, you definitely have to show images. So I do a lot of videos showing how I layer with cardigans and jumpers and then I use my brand reps or my social media influencers. If we’re coming into winter, I’ll say, can you wear this top with jeans? Or if we’re in summer, can you wear this top and these shorts? And I do try and curate the imaging around the time of year. So I definitely find if you’re showing how people are styling it for winter, then they’re more inclined to understand how they can use it.
Dahna Borg: Yeah. Wonderful. Alrighty. Do you have any other things that you think you can share that others might find useful lessons in? Just before we get to the last few wrapping up questions!
Emily Wishaw: If anyone is out there, who are in business or thinking of starting a business, my biggest tip is don’t feel like you need to be able to do everything. You can’t do everything when you’re raising children and running your business, unless you can afford to outsource, help and hire help. And also don’t be afraid to do that. Don’t be afraid to hire, help and outsource. One thing I haven’t yet mastered is asking for help and I do everything, and I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to feel really tired and I’ve grown my business to the point now where I’m starting to feel comfortable to outsource. I know that a lot of business people will recommend outsourcing way beyond, before you’re ready for it, outsource before you’re ready, before it becomes a problem. And I feel like that’s a really good tip. I should have started outsourcing and getting help probably a couple of months ago so that I could be ready for a period of growth.
Dahna Borg: Yeah. So just for the last few wrapping up questions, we ask everyone, do you have any strategies, routines, or habits that you follow each day to help you stay on track? Emily Wishaw: I wish I had a routine! The kids don’t allow for much of a routine. Every day, it feels like it’s a scramble, but I love to exercise. So for me, I get up early in the morning and I exercise and that is a way of making time for myself, putting myself first, putting my health first. And I find when I exercise, I’m just in a better mental space. I know a lot of people will say block your days, you know, Mondays do XYZ and Tuesdays do this part of your business but I only have three working days a week. They’re the days when both of the kids are in daycare or school. So I jam pack what I can into three days and I often work all weekend as well when my husband’s home. So yeah, I need to get better at batching my work.
Dahna Borg: Well, it sounds like you’re doing very well with the no-routine. I think, I think we can get stuck into the idea that we have to have all these crazy routines and be super regimented. And to be honest, most of the people that I’ve spoken to that are my definition of very successful, most of them just kind of wing it a little bit. They’ve got to follow a list or some use post it notes and everything just kind of ticks along really nicely. So I think it’s just nice to hear the realities and it’s not all “I get up at six and I do this and I do all my work”. I think there’s this idea in business that you have to be super regimented to be successful, and I just don’t think that’s true.
Emily Wishaw: Yeah. Look, everyone’s going to be different. Some people really thrive on structure and routine. Other people thrive on short deadlines and winging it. I’m terrible at planning ahead. I never end up planning anything ahead, but I hustle hard when I come up with an idea, I’ll execute it quickly. But if you ask me to sit down and plan 12 months out in advance, I just can’t do it just doesn’t happen.
Dahna Borg: No I’m with you there. Do you have a favourite business book?
Emily Wishaw: I do, I really loved The E Myth. That really transformed the way I think about small business and running a small business. So I highly recommend everyone read that. Profit First is a great one. I’m an accountant, so reading anything about numbers is interesting to me, but Profit First is a great one. From a personal point of view, I would always recommend people read The Barefoot Investor because what you do in your business can flow on into your personal life and your personal finances. They would be my three favourite business books.
Dahna Borg: Yeah. I would highly recommend the Profit First book as well. It completely changed my business.
Emily Wishaw: Yeah, really great messages in all of those.
Dahna Borg: Yeah, really, really good. Do you have a favourite podcast?
Emily Wishaw: I am a podcast junkie. I love podcasts. I’ve really been enjoying your podcast! And I discovered it when COVID picked up, when I was searching for new inspiration. I found some great tips and I also love How I Built This, which shares some brilliant stories; really, really well curated stories of very famous businesses and how they started from scratch and grew to huge companies. I have discovered a new one, It’s called Minds of eCommerce and it’s an American one and they focus on brands that have reached over a million dollars in turnover, which I’m nowhere near a million dollars in turnover a year, but it’s certainly something I’m working towards. So they share some great tips for eCommerce. And of course, a lady led podcast is Lady Land by the girls from Lady Brains, really love their interviews. They interview women in business and it’s really inspirational.
Dahna Borg: Amazing, wonderful. And if people want to come and check out your shop, see what you’re up to, what’s the best way for people to visit you and get in contact?
Emily Wishaw: Yeah. My website is isleofsummerlabel.com. I’m on Instagram and Facebook under the tag @isleofsummerlabel Send a DM, say hi, let me know if you heard the podcast! I always love to chat with everyone who sends me messages. I love it.
Dahna Borg: Well, thank you very much for joining us. You’ve shared some amazing insights, so really grateful that you shared your time
Dahna Borg: Thank you for listening to the 11th episode of the Bright Minds of eCommerce Podcast. Don’t forget we load all of the links, show notes, full transcripts onto our website. You can find everything at www.brightredmarketing.com.au/shownotes/episode11.
Dahna Borg: And last week I told you we had an exciting announcement to make and this week it’s here! I’m super excited to launch our Bright Minds of eCommerce Membership. It’s a small personal group where you get access to weekly help with me to ask all of your Facebook ads questions, and a weekly group called Ask Your Questions one-on-one, and learn from others in the process. We’re keeping it small to start, so you’ll get all the attention that you need. It’s designed so that those who aren’t ready for our full coaching programs can still get access to the right information, so they aren’t wasting their money and can be better prepared to make that leap into outsourcing, which is always really exciting. We find that people sometimes get a bit stuck, they get some bad advice, they waste lots of money and so we’ve created this to try and help fix that. So if you want someone to run your ideas past, don’t know what kind of audience to do next, those sorts of things, this is the membership for you. So if you want to know more head to our show notes page again, at www.brightredmarketing.com.au/shownotes/episode11. Thank you so much for listening!