Cheap labour and lower costs make manufacturing offshore the reality for many Australian fashion brands. For designer Mela Purdie, however, it’s more efficient to outsource 90 per cent of production for her eponymous label, locally. “It allows us to be quick and flexible and reduces waste which is critical,” she says. “Manufacturing offshore would mean we’d have less control, more waste, longer lead times and minimum order requirements, all of which would cost us more.”
She relies on overseas manufacturers for a small number of items that can’t be made locally but uses a variety of Sydney-based producers for most of her collection. This gives Purdie the ability to react quickly to customer preferences, which she says is a huge advantage in the current market.
“Margins are really difficult and you can’t afford to make many mistakes,” she says. “Things can change quite quickly, it’s so important to be analytical and responsive if something’s not working.” Having close relationships with the 200 boutiques that stock the Mela Purdie range throughout Australia assists in this regard. “We rely on regular dialogue with the retailers for feedback from customers to help us improve,” Purdie says.
In October 2010, customer feedback prompted Purdie to reduce the items in her range by half. “We’d grown and when we re-assessed we realised we had to make it less confusing for shoppers.”
Creating a positive experience for customers in the changeroom is a priority and Purdie says that starts with clever design. “It’s our responsibility to take the confusion away from shoppers and make it easy for them to put a selection of garments together that fit properly and look good,” she says.
“If customers are trying things on that don’t fit properly it is off-putting and won’t be a happy experience.”
In many instances, Purdie keeps customers happy by giving them more of the same thing. When she started the label in 2001 she produced six basic garments for women that more than a decade later remain her biggest sellers.
“Those items are still the core pieces in the range,” Purdie says. “They draw people into the brand and are like building blocks because customers can then add other pieces to develop their own collection.”
It has helped Purdie, who worked as the head designer for Carla Zampatti for six years, achieve double-digit sales growth for the past eight consecutive years. She attributes the popularity of her clothes to the fact she focuses on classic designs rather than the latest fashion trends.
“We tailor parts of the range according to fashion trends by using certain colours for example but we don’t reinvent ourselves every season.”
This, along with the fact her clothes are produced in sizes eight to 22 and are stocked everywhere from Wagga Wagga to Cairns to all the capital cities, means the brand appeals to a wide audience of women aged between 20 and 60.
In July, after receiving feedback that customers they wanted something extra, Purdie began a second label called Me I Am. “It is pitched as a beach to after 5pm range,” she says.
“Customers were saying they wanted something else to embellish their wardrobes, that is slightly more relaxed.”