Described as an ‘Industry Figurehead’ by Sacha Strebe, editor of Fashion Exposed, Phoebe Garland is a formidable figure in the world of fashion. Working in sales for over 15 years with her husband Robert Garland, the pair have grown sales sections by 400%, through their company Garland & Garland, making them experts on ‘what sells”. Regularly featuring in Fashion Exposed Online and the Ragtrader, Phoebe’s isn’t afraid to speak her mind, which makes her articles a valuable source of information for realtime issues in the fashion industry.
Couturing were lucky enough to interview Phoebe to learn more about her experiences and finding out what are the major issues facing retailers and designers today.
1. You originally worked in advertising for over 17 years before founding Garland & Garland with your husband Robert in 2002. Robert previously worked as a buyer, National Sales Manager, retailer and agent. How did you combine your skills to create such a successful business?
We both have come from commercial backgrounds and have both worked in sales. The fundamental key element to be a successful fashion agent is to have a strong knowledge of what sells and to know what is commercial and of course have an ability to sell. Also you need to have at least one key brand to be a successful agency (preferably more). We are very lucky to have had a ‘key brand’ from the start of our agency and also to have other brands that are tracking very well in terms of sales and sell through.
2. Since starting Garland & Garland in 2002, how has the retail landscape changed, and how have you adapted your business to meet these changes?
Retail is very tough there is no doubt it and it has even changed from 2002, with a lot more online shops and overseas chain stores coming to Australia. We are very fortunate to have an almost recession proof brand in our agency and as well as our brands which have excellent sell through for our retailers which ensures they come back.
3. You are very vocal about expressing your opinions on business fashion topics, regularly contributing to Fashion Exposed and Ragtrader. Why do you think it is important for people in the industry to express their views and opinions on issues affecting them?
I think there needs to be some huge changes in the fashion industry. The fashion industry in some ways has set itself up for a lot of problems by offering credit for example. And I do encourage people to speak out about areas where there is difficulty or not working so hopefully someone can come forward and find solutions to some of the problems. For instance, forward funding is a major problem for fashion designers and labels and I would love to see ways to overcome this. And also the constant debt problem is becoming worse with soft retail conditions, which has an adverse affect from retailers to makers, to fashion agents and to suppliers. I am very passionate about helping and improving areas in the fashion industry ensuring the business of fashion improves not worsens and I urge people with the right skills to come forward. It’s such a hard industry but such a great one. Ensuring survival especially for the smaller people is so important, without a successful wholesale industry we don’t have a job or a business.
4. You have spoken about the importance of colour, particular for smaller designers when presenting their range. What other tips do you have for smaller designers trying to break into such a competitive industry?
Retailers love colour in ranges and sampling in multiple colour ways can ensure more sales for them. It doesn’t necessarily have to be more styles. We have one knitwear label which samples in all colour ways and is only a 15 style range but it makes such a different in presenting ranges. It really gives the impression there is so much more to the range. A garment can look completely different sampled in different colour ways and some fashion buyers buy by elimination, so the more colour options the more options for buyers.
5. You said that the fashion industry has been very slow to adapt to certain technologies such as computers, websites and social media. How do you think designers and retails can better use technology to be better promoting their business?
Social media is imperative these days. Facebook is amazing for building brand awareness and driving sales for retailers and for designers. I think all retailers have to adapt to the online world by having an online store in conjuction to their bricks and mortar store as well. There is a huge misperception that online is only about discounting and it’s simply a smart way to retail without massive overheads. It’s a great way for designers to build brand awareness and understand their customer through feedback on what people like when they post pictures on Facebook and hopefully boost more sales. Understanding your customer is paramount to any success.
In Part 1 of our feature on Phoebe Garland, she spoke about how her background helped her create such a successful business, and informed us as to some of the issues facing the industry today. In Part 2 we find out about some of her career highlights, her tips for standing out in the industry and what she loves about fashion.
Phoebe at Fashion Torque’s First Birthday with Dean Hewitt from Madam Virtue
6. You’ve had interesting and varied career. What have been some of your favourite highlights so far?
Biting the bullet and deciding to join my husband full time was big risk but well worth it. I love the autonomy of working for myself and I really feel all that I have learnt in my career has really paid off in my own business. I implement many sales strategies I used in publishing and have been fortunate to have a really thorough knowledge of marketing, which has been great for some of the labels I represent. I also trust my instinct which I find really pays off. Last year was great for us, we have really picked up a lot more new accounts and the new labels we have on board are looking very promising. I am really pleased the business is growing even during these difficult times.
7. As well as acting as the middlemen between designers and retailers, you said you spend a lot of time mentoring. With the retail economy suffering, what advice and tips can you offer retailers to help make their businesses stand out?
Innovation and adaption are the key things retailers need to have in order for survival. Adapt to the new way of retailing through online, social media and marketing. By innovation, thinking outside the square of coming up with new strategies to produce sales, good margin and turnover. If something isn’t working don’t be stuck in your ways. For designers the key elements to success are producing ranges with a point of difference, knowing your customer, yet commercial with good affordable price points while offering value for money for the consumer. The biggest tip for designers we could give, is the over 50’s market is one of the greatest untouched areas, not glamourous, but boy so little competition and also a very lucrative market. It’s one area a designer could be very successful with the right product.
8. What do you think are the most important issues facing the Australian fashion industry today?
Innovation and adaption are so important, I think the fashion industry must look ways to move forward and ways to become more profitable and think in more business like ways and less about the glamour. You may love fashion but whether or not you are good at the business of fashion is another thing. There is nothing glamourous, about something that doesn’t sell.
9. You said that fashion was always, and has always, been a big part of your life. What do you love most about fashion, and particularly fashion in Australia?
I love colour and I love texture in fashion. And I love wearing beautiful garments. We have some really talented fashion designers in Australia and I would love to see more young emerging designers succeed. Sadly so many want to be in the next ‘Alex Perry” which is all very nice but not realistic. Most designers want to do high-end fashion and as much as I love high-end, from a business point of view I have to separate what I like with where the business of the volume of sales are and they are definitely not in “high-end” in terms of wholesale in Australia.
10. What’s next for you, and Garland & Garland?
We will continue to mentor fashion retailers, emerging labels and our clients. We have taken on a few more labels, which should see keep us very busy. We are also involved with a few other projects in between seasons. My husband has turned 60 last year, so I would like for the business to be less reliant on his hands on input, eventually so hopefully he can sit back a bit.
Thank you to Phoebe for taking the time to share her experience and knowledge with Couturing. All the best for the future!