As the driving force behind Halcyon State, Leigh Gibson is mixing technology with fashion.
Halcyon State is an online boutique stocking high-end clothing, accessories and shoes created by Australian and New Zealand designers.
Gibson founded the business in June 2010, and has been operating out of Melbourne suburb Middle Park since January 1 this year.
In March, Halcyon State was named “one to watch” at the 2012 StartupSmart Awards, highlighting its huge potential in what is becoming an increasingly competitive market.
Gibson talks to StartupSmart about how she’s raising the stakes of the fashion industry.
What inspired you to launch Halcyon State? What niche did you identify?
Friends and workmates would comment on my clothes while I was working in London in 2009 – I love wearing Australian designer clothes – and ask where they could buy those labels.
There were some Australian online retailers then, but I hadn’t found one that offered the labels I preferred.
When I moved back to Australia in 2010, I approached the owner of my favourite boutique in Melbourne about collaborating on building an online version of her store.
She was keen to be involved but was already fully committed to her existing business, so helped me find my feet in the fashion world, and is still involved as a mentor and guide for buying new stock.
My 14-plus years of experience as an IT consultant and project manager gave me the confidence to enter a new industry.
How did you fund the business?
Halcyon State is 100% self-funded. I spent 10 months contracting as an IT project manager in order to generate seed funding.
Costs on the IT side were quite low – less than $10,000 including equipment. The lion’s share of the funding has gone towards purchasing stock and generating beautiful images.
New boutiques need to pay for all stock prior to delivery. All new stock is photographed in the office studio using a professional model so customers have consistent, beautiful imagery.
How many staff do you have?
One – a graphic designer who creates beautiful images for the website, social media and advertising purposes.
How do you promote the business?
Halcyon State is advertised in some fashion magazines and is starting to get references in editorial campaigns.
I advertise on some blogs and gave [fashion blog] Lady Melbourne a capsule wardrobe to wear during Mercedes-Benz Australian Fashion Week last month.
I also work hard to provide exceptional customer service through all interactions with customers, and have had a very positive response so far.
How do you stand out in the market? What’s your point/s of difference?
There are many online stores providing a large range of choices and options, but I have decided that Halcyon State will offer a curated selection of pieces for special occasions.
As someone who has worked in the corporate world, I make sure that there are pieces suitable for working women who want to look good while maintaining some individuality.
Also, all new stock is photographed in our studio so that customers can see exactly what it looks like after it has arrived in store.
A lot of stores offer free postage now, but Halcyon State offers free express postage within Australia, plus each purchase is gift-wrapped, enclosed in a drawstring silk bag and comes with a personally signed thank-you note.
I started making the silk bags myself, but as business has picked up and I got too busy to keep up, my mum now makes all of the bags and she is doing a fantastic job.
The bags are relatively expensive and time-consuming but my customers love them and often send me thank-you emails because they love their unwrapping experience.
What are your revenue projections for 2011-12?
It is no secret that the retail environment is quite challenging at the moment. My sales are steadily increasing each month, so I hope to continue that trend.
Retail is indeed undergoing major changes. What makes you confident you can survive?
The benefit of having a small business is that I can be agile and adapt to changing business environments quickly.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
With the benefit of hindsight, there are some expenses that I would avoid but, on the whole, the venture is tracking to plan.
What advice would you give to the owners of other niche retail sites?
Maintain focus on what your customer wants and give it to them.