A design on success

Written on the 9 September 2009

A design on success

It takes a special motivation to take on the big guns of the fashion industry. But this month’s Emerging Business Excellence Award winner Leah Madden is testimony that creativity pays with her range of ‘sexy, fun, fashionable and savvy’ resort and swimwear line White Sands. With negotiations under way with major multinational retailers, Madden says it won’t be long until the label starts appearing on beaches around the world.

With summer collections now being launched, how is White Sands being received on the fashion circuit?
Very well. We have had great reviews from fashion editors and have already had garments called in from most of the glossy mags, Vogue, Madison, Grazia, Elle, Russh and Frankie. As a start-up business, I anticipated two to three years before seeing profit but we definitely won’t be waiting that long. I hope to see the label double stockists and more than double turnover in the next 12 months.

With escalating manufacturing costs in Australia, how much of the brand is developed overseas?
We currently manufacture most of our garments overseas. I would love to manufacture in Australia, but it really isn’t viable in most cases. I do however have two full time staff, and three part-time/contract staff members locally.

What is appealing about basing a business on the Gold Coast?
The lifestyle. I grew up here having lived here for all but 10 years of my life when I was in Sydney. There are a lot of reasons to be based in a big city, but you can’t beat lunch in the Broadbeach mall, where I hold most of my business meetings.

How many distributors do you have domestically? Are you getting interest from multinational retailers?
White Sands is currently in 15 boutique stores across Australia, plus David Jones. We will be stocked in about the same number, or more, international stores from December this year. We are still in negotiations with Victoria’s Secret, plus one other US department store that I’m keeping quiet about, it is a long process of back and forth with the big guns.

How integral to your success was breaking into David Jones?
David Jones was great for the business in many ways. Obviously they have many stores and place substantial orders, but the credibility of the label has gone a long way too.

People realise that if a store like David Jones is interested, then our quality and designs must be exemplary. Stores like David Jones are stringent about quality control and only take the best, you can’t cheat with quality.

How difficult was it to crack the market and compete with the established major labels?
It took a lot of work, but at the end of the day consumers decide if they like the product or they don’t. I heard someone say that White Sands has done well only because of all the marketing we have done.

Sure, you can do the right things to get the product seen, but you can’t make anyone buy it. Showing at Fashion Week is an expense, but being invited is something you can’t pay for and the credibility that brings means a lot.

It shows that my designs are what people want, or we wouldn’t have the number of orders we do.


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