Couturing interview the talented Brenda Briand, designer of accessories label Benah to find out the inspiration behind her latest collection, embracing digital marketing and what she has planned for Benah.
1. You launched your accessory label Benah in 2009. Why did you decide to start your own label?
I had been working in production for some time for other labels but I wanted to have more creative direction and have something of my own. I wanted to build something up from scratch. It was always going to be accessories because I wanted my label to be launched into the market fully-formed, and not have to wait around doing markets in order to build my brand up. I found that you could create high-end, luxury accessories like what I wanted from the start, and this was exciting for me.
2. What’s the inspiration behind your latest collection Sun Shadows?
I always design with a philosophical or etymological idea in the back of my mind, and Sun Shadows is no different. This season I became fascinated with the work of Carl Jung. His ‘Shadow Theory’ basically works around the idea that there are two sides to every person – light and dark – and that is an inherent part of being human. He argued that the people with the richest, most full lives were the ones who accepted this and learnt to accept both the light and the darkness in their character. There is plenty of lightness in the collection – parasols, beach scenes, woven jute – but it is contrasted with darker elements, like suedes and dark leathers. Bringing these two aspects together is always something that I like to do in design.
Originally I guess I was inspired by leisure time and what people like to do in their downtime. That’s how I focussed on the beach umbrella printed scarves and the shots of the beach. I wanted to explore this idea of how people escaped from the fatigue of everyday life – and the beach is definitely an important part of that in Australia! This led to the beach prints and the use of spots and stripes as they have become my motif for opposing archetypes. I am always using them in my print designs.
3. Your designs have been seen on trendsetters Susie Bubble, Caroline Issa and Natalie Joos. Who do you think is the Benah girl?
It’s so hard to nail down the Benah girl because there are so many different types of women who wear my products. I think that she is someone who is looking for quality and longevity in her accessories, but also a sense of playfulness and personality. I like that I can see young girls walking down the street wearing my bags at the same time as seeing an older lady with them, too. I’ve always thought that there was a sense of timelessness and a classic style to my label, and it’s exciting to see that resonating with my customer, too.
4. Your label includes bags, jewellery and scarves. Do you have any plans to expand your line?
I’m actually in the process of expanding my jewellery offerings as we speak! Later this year I will be releasing a jewellery collection called Benah Be Mine. The idea was to create small things that would be the perfect present; for a friend, a family member, a lover… There are beautiful necklaces, bracelets, anklets and rings in the collection, using a range of glass beads and plated chains and cast metal. I would love to release apparel at some stage, but the timing would have to be absolutely perfect. I almost did last season but it just wasn’t the right moment. If I could expand to have a denim-only range that would be the dream, mostly because I wear so much denim and all my denim items are my favourite pieces in my wardrobe!
5. Your past collections have taken inspiration from space age fantasies and your nomadic upbringing. Where do you look for inspiration, and what process do you undertake to turn ideas and inspirations into a collection?
Most of the time I look inward and not outward for inspiration. It always comes from an emotional place. I design as an emotional response to what is happening to me at that point in my life and what is happening around me at the time. Sometimes these ideas balloon out of control and I have to diffuse them down, but I kind of like the idea of having small accessories growing naturally out of big, philosophical ideas.
6. You have been gradually expanding Benah overseas. How has the response been, particular as your products are made in Australia?
Building Benah overseas has been such an eye-opener. It seems like it’s obvious, but sometimes we forget that every country has a different market and sometimes something that works in Australia won’t work overseas – and vice versa! I’ve had such an incredible response and I’ve enjoyed working with stockists in Japan and in America. America has been a hard market to crack, but once you do it’s amazing. I was recently in L.A for showings and to meet clients and it’s incredible how differently it works there. Press and brand image is so important, you have to always have your label in the media so that clients and customers can see it constantly. New Zealand is my other international market, and it’s probably my most successful. I am originally from New Zealand and they have always been so supportive of me over there, with certain stockists picking me up from the start and staying for the long haul. To be honest, however, the most important thing is slow growth. I don’t want to overstretch myself or move into too many different markets at once. I am all about timing and at the moment the timing is right for America. I will keep building my brand slowly, but surely!
7. With the increase pressure on companies to have a digital presence, has the Internet effected how you choose to run and market your business?
You have to embrace digital, but that’s fine with me! I love connecting with customers over facebook or twitter, and I am obsessed with Instagram. We recently held an Instagram competition, which was based off the ‘photo-a-day’ scheme, and it was so much fun! We were overwhelmed with the response and it was so difficult to pick a winner. We also have a blog, which is another creative outlet for me. We share all sorts of things on there, from sites that we enjoy or videos that we have been watching to new product images and brand news. We also try and create original content for the blog, whether it be travel guides or our monthly top tens. There are so many different was to market a business through the internet, and I think it is important to find as many ways to connect with customers and fans of your label as possible.
8. Fashion is such a competitive industry. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced since starting Benah?
The biggest thing about building a brand is staying consistent and never wavering from what your original was, this can be quite difficult when you are a small business and you only have yourself as a sounding board. That is challenging, but it can also be a good thing, and staying consistent is probably what has given me such a following. It’s the hardest thing to maintain, especially when you have yourself second guessing yourself every single day. Another challenge would be keeping up with the changing trends in online media and e-commerce and marketing. I love digital and I embrace digital but it has been very hard, mostly because of the environment of a small business and a lack of manpower, and also setting the tone of social media can be a challenge. But learning to deal with that and coping with it can propel your business forward and it creates a close community around you, which I love.
9. You’ve managed to create a brand that has quickly gained a cult following in Australia and amongst overseas fashion lovers. What factors do you think have contributed to the success of your label?
I think that people like my accessories because of the consistent aesthetic. There are some elements that always stay the same across the seasons, I always use canvas and leather mixes, I keep similar shapes and try and reissue popular styles. Every season there is growth, but it’s slow growth, familiar growth. I would think that another reason behind my success is the community that I have gathered through social media. When you use social media well you can create this close-knit environment between you and your customers and I think that people respond well to that.
10. What exciting things do you have planned for Benah over the next year?
The launch of Benah Be Mine is going to be so exciting, I’ve had such a good response on Instagram and through social media and I think people are going to love it. I can’t wait to release it. I’m also going to be maintaining a global presence, which is so important for the growth of my brand. I want to keep working on the e-commerce side of my business and building a better online experience for my customers. And just keep building my brand in the same way I have for the past three years!
Thanks to the amazing Brenda for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish her all the best for the future and look forward to all the exciting things she has planned for Benah!
To celebrate Benah’s latest collection and interview with Couturing, check out Couturing’s Facebook page for a special Benah giveaway!