OKAY, we admit it: we do kiss and tell. But, you would too, if you had the chat that we had with Alexandra Smart one half of the Ginger & Smart sister duo.
It goes without saying that we talked about the new spring and resort collections; what’s hitting stores now and the beautiful new boutique at Pacific Fair because that’s our industry and we have an innate love for fashion. But spend any time with Smart and you’re left feeling inspired, encouraged and grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to hear her story, inspired by her intelligence and generosity and encouraged by the fact that in just 30 minutes, Smart confirmed my belief that the fashion industry in Australia had strong, intelligent women at its helm. It’s lead by women who love their industry, know business and who are carving a pathway for success in the Australian and International fashion industry.
From what it’s like to work at Ginger & Smart; to how they stay at the top of their game season after season; to the hat that almost stole the show – enjoy my 30 minutes with Alexandra Smart.
Stylehunter: You have recently celebrated 10 years in Retail with Pacific Fair being your first flagship boutique in QLD Why was it important for you to have a presence here and why did you specifically choose Pacific Fair?
Alexandra Smart: Queensland is a very important part of our market and with print and colour being such an important part of our brand, this plays really nicely into the Queensland aesthetic. We have always had a really good business in Brisbane so Pacific Fair was a good opportunity and we sit amongst some great designers; it felt exciting that the Gold Coast was being rejuvenated in this way and a real opportunity for us to expand our audience as well.
SH:The new boutique design is beautiful, I feel like I want to move in! Tell us a little about the inspiration about the new design and lay-out.
AS: We wanted a new brand expression within our retail environment and what we sought to achieve in this design was a reflection of the Ginger & Smart girl – the polished but playful girl who always has something quirky and interesting around her choices, what she does and feels and how she responds. She is classic and chic and modern with a twist. We wanted to express in store an environment that is calm and reflects the colour palette we work with often in our collection; it’s a cool oasis and the nude and dark teal was our way of introducing nature into the store – those beautiful greens suit everyone and you feel calm. It’s like being in nature.
SH: What’s your favourite piece from the Spring collection?
AS: The clear water jacket. It’s really great styled back with the pant. It’s fierce with beautiful soft tailoring. I love it with stilettos or with trainers, there is such an ease and simplicity about that look that I just love. This collection was inspired by a photographer living in a space station taking beautiful photos of earth; colourful, organic and very abstract images, and we have taken those as inspiration and stripped them back and reworked them in our design studio. The result is a collection of feminine and beautiful prints in pieces that are arriving in beautiful fresh pinks, Himalayan greens and fresh greys; perfect for racing and wedding seasons, which starts now.
SH: The Resort 17 Collections hit stores in October but first, can we talk about that Hat? (I literally gasped when I saw it on the runway!)
AS: The hat received a lot of press, in fact, it received ridiculous coverage, which was great, it kind of ended up being bigger than the show; to have the opening look and the opening runway show of the week … amazing.
SH: What is your favourite piece from the resort collection?
AS: I really love the backpack and weekender bag – when we started 14 years ago we launched with a weekender bag – 100% leather and luxe. It put us on the map because the media picked it up and the editors wanted it! So we have redeveloped and relaunched it for resort – which is perfect because it’s all about travel. We have designed it in a beautiful flush colour and ice grey and I love the way we have moved it forward all these years later.
SH: What do you believe will be the key to continuing success within the Retail footprint and for it to remain competitive against the on-line space?
AS: For us it is important to be competing effectively in several distribution channels. We have a thriving wholesale business and we have built our brand on the back of that so it remains an important part of our strategy and we are not shying away from that.
In a way, being in wholesale keeps us honest; we have so many loyal customers through that channel and it allows us to really keep our finger on the pulse with respect to what is going on out there in the market. It is important strategically and retail is an important part of our business also as it is where we present the world of Ginger & Smart, the breadth of the collection the depth and insight into what we stand for and what the brand is about. Online is a relatively new channel for everyone but obviously very important. We also play in the corporate space and internationally we are growing, so for us we need to be nimble and able to jump in and out of those channels successfully, not by opening and closing but by being active and innovative in each of those channels because from time-to-time one will be up, one will soften and placing all bets into one channel can be dangerous.
SH: What is the internal culture at Ginger & Smart like?
AS: Culture is really important in our company. We are supportive and hardworking and there is always an element of ‘give and take’. We are fortunate to have smart intelligent, and mostly women, approaching us to work at Ginger & Smart and that is kind of what we always wanted to be – officially recognised as an employer of choice. There is no doubt (that) the fashion industry is hard and it is a complex business but we hope that people learn a lot and are given opportunities to be empowered and grow their careers whether that be internally or externally, moving on to do the next ‘great’ thing. We want to attract the best people and give them the resources to be able to shine.
SH: Who is the quintessential Ginger & Smart customer & how do you ensure she keeps coming back?
AS: We think of our woman as one of contrasts, so she is at any point in one day many things. She plays numerous roles; a mother, a friend, a daughter, a lover, a businesswoman, a poet – whatever she is, she moves seamlessly and effortlessly through those roles and she inspires us. She is smart, savvy and switched on. She is our muse and so every season, she comes to us because we move her forward in her wardrobe; in her life we are always seeking that transformative moment; she puts on a beautiful dress, we see her shoulders move back and she strides through the world feeling better and confident and she comes back for that emotionally connected feeling that makes her feel amazing and effortless. She is an individual and we don’t dictate to her how she coordinates. In fact, we love it when customers put their own spin on style; it’s about appealing to a sense of distinctiveness, playfulness and individuality.
SH: Fashion is a fiercely competitive space, how do you stay confident in what you do, season after season?
AS: What we have never done is follow trends and while we know what’s going on, whether it’s here or internationally, we tend to beat to the sound of our own drum and that’s not about being head down doing our own thing with irrelevance for the rest of the market it’s just that our customer tends to be in a different space to following trends and what’s hot in pop culture, so that allows us to be a bit more brave. We know our customer well. We know she likes to be moved forward gently and we will give her a new silhouette each season, we give her a reason to come back and buy a colourful print pant, shoe, or dress because she doesn’t have it yet; it’s not about reinventing her but about giving her something new and fresh.
SH: Tell us about the dynamics of working together with your sister Genevieve. Do you believe that your partnership is part of your competitive edge?
AS: Yes I think so. We split the roles and we have a relatively small team for the size of our business, we punch high above our weight in terms of resources and working together is key in achieving that; We wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we have independently but the combination has meant that we could build what we have.
SH: You made the bold move to leave behind a successful editorial/publishing career to begin Ginger & Smart. What have been the most challenging aspects of running your own business, and also the most rewarding? What is your advice for anybody out there chasing his or her own dream?
AS: The biggest challenge is the energy and motivation required to build something. It is a big responsibility and I think if you knew the extent to which that were true prior, you possibly wouldn’t do it but it was always my aspiration to start my own business in the creative industries. Fashion has it’s challenges but on the plus side it affords you certainly flexibility around having children; being able to be somewhat in control of the decisions you make and not so much beholden to working for other people. We both did that for 10 years prior and we know both sides of the coin. I think the satisfaction of building something and seeing it grow and evolve is pretty gratifying.
My advice for people chasing a dream? Be confident and know that you have money to invest into it; plenty of people enter into business not understanding the importance of cash flow and the issues that a lack of it will create. Don’t let it stop you as a creative, but be accurately aware of it. Be really clear on what your point of difference is between you and everyone else. It can be easy to convince yourself that you have something different but this differentiation is critical in a cluttered market. At the end of the day what we do in fashion is innovate all the time whether it’s around product mix, retail stores, moving things along and keeping them relevant all the time. It requires a huge effort but it’s the thing that keeps you moving forward and differentiating yourself from other people.
“Ginger & Smart designs for spirited women whose distinctive style is an expression of their individuality”…. perfect for all our relentless #stylehunters xo