Australian Fashion Labels co-founder Melanie Flintoft on what it takes to launch a global fashion empire

Melanie Flintoff

Almost 10 years ago, Melanie Flintoft and her husband decided to invest all their assets into an ambitious, multi-faceted fashion project, starting with the label Finders Keepers.

Despite a challenging economy, the investment – along with years’ of hard work — has paid off significantly.

Now the Flintoft’s Australian Fashion Labels (AFL) operates as a ‘house of brands’ apparel company, offering seven different brands spanning from ‘contemporary casual’ to ‘affordable luxury’. It wholesales to more than 20 countries, has more than 1700 stocklists around the world, and operates 10 company owned retail stores in the USA and Australia.

Melanie Flintoft’s plans are to continue its aggressive, global growth, and she’s recently been named part of the Asia Pacific class of EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women program.

Below she shares her tips for success, as well as how juggles her day to include work, wellbeing and raising her two sons.

1. Who or what inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

Given my upbringing and always being around my parents’ wholesale and retail business – my venture to start my own fashion company was somewhat of a natural progression from a young age. To this day, my Mum has been my biggest inspiration and still is.

I love the business of fashion and I’m passionate about the product.

2. Have you ever worked for anyone else?

In the 80s and 90s I worked for two national vertical chains, Table Eight and Supre.

I was exposed to all levels of their businesses and had direct contact with the directors. Most definitely this drove the entrepreneur in me.

In 2007 my husband Dean and I decided to start Australian Fashion Labels with our office residing in Adelaide South Australia. Dean is the Managing Director and I am the Creative Director.

3. Where did the idea for your current business come from?

We could see a gap in the market for a brand where the quality exceeded the price, delivering collections every month driven by trends. We launched Finders as our first of our now seven brands when the GFC hit. This was actually a very good time to launch as customers were all looking to engage with newness and excitement in store.

Australian Fashion Labels was then built on this commitment to offer fast fashion with a quality over price approach.

4. What three major factors that have led to your businesses’ success?

Hard work and perseverance – yes we are in fashion, but it is definitely not all glamour!  We continue to work exceptionally hard, take risks and do what is needed to reach our goals. We are lucky to have built a team around us that is not scared to do the same. This commitment is what drives our business and personally the passion of those around us is what motivates me each and every day!

Putting ourselves at the front of the fashion market – keeping ahead of trends, knowing what our customers want and implementing resources to ensure that we deliver. This also extends to recruiting resources – our business is only as strong as our team.

Staying true to our ethos – each brand that we have created in house has a unique aesthetic and direction. By staying true to this foundation we have developed a customer base for each label and evolved each brand by getting to know that customer better – as such, our customer base is very loyal.

5. What is the number one trait that makes a successful entrepreneur?

Commitment, strength and engagement – listen to your team/customers.

6. As well as your business, what other priorities do you juggle?

My family and social life. Every day I try to get better and dividing my time between work and my family – I have two young sons who mean the world to us.

My husband and I continue to get better at not talking only about work although we love what we do and respect each others perspectives.

7. Can you describe an ‘average day in the life’?

5:20am Get up for the gym [and] drag our 16yr old son out of bed to come with me!

6:00am Boxing or weights

7:15am Breakfast, get dressed, lunch boxes, check pets etc

8:10am School drop off [and] stay with our 6yr till we get asked to leave!

9:20am Arrive at the office, meet with our EA to discuss events of the day

12noon Lunch at the desk with Dean for a catch up

6:00pm Head home or to a work function

6:30pm Evening meal and quality time with the kids

8:30pm We tag team multiple book reading (my favourite time of the day/night)

9:30pm In bedm check emails

10:30/11pm Pass out

8. What books and online publications do you read to keep up?

Everything fashion related. This is an imperative part of my job so I need to keep across as many publications as I can fit in, mostly online. WGSN news, BOF, WWD are some of my regulars.

9. What needs to change in Australia for us to see more successful female entrepreneurs?

I think inspiring women in Australia is not a matter of a single event, rather women coming together and supporting each other as well as companies supporting the need to achieve gender balance in the workplace – accommodating the need for work and family balance is fundamental.

10. What opportunities are you hoping to gain from the EY program?

Networking, mentorship, capitalising on exposure for our business and brands, and building international business relationships.

11. What are your future ambitions for the business?

Our future ambitions are global! Our expansion goals are very aggressive but we have total faith in what we have built to date and the resources we have around us. We are excited to see just how big we can grow.

12. Which women inspire you?

For me I am inspired by successful and career-focused women who are able to maintain a family balance. My mum, Deb Garland, has always been the most inspirational for me and she makes this balance seems effortless. Her love and support is invaluable, and I often call her “the oracle” as she just has the best, open-minded advice for everything! Locally, Nicole Bonython–Hynes is also an example of this – managing to juggle five children and her internationally renowned styling career, with style and ease! On a more global scale, I admire Stella McCartney. She has built an impeccable career and brand in her own right while staying true to her personal values. Being a vegan in the fashion industry isn’t always easy – but she has not been swayed!

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda. Read more interviews with the women named in the Asia Pacific class of EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women program here


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