Like many entrepreneurs, Will Sked developed the idea for his leather accessories brand Status Anxiety after spotting a gap in the market.
The Sydney-sider had a primary school teaching qualification under his belt and was about to finish his studies in property development when he teamed up with his best friend Scott Hawkes to start designing high-quality, fashionable men’s wallets.
It was 2004 and at the time, there was little on offer that “wasn’t either a surf wallet or a wallet you would buy your dad,” Sked tells SmartCompany.
“If you went into a department store, you saw Jag or Oroton, if you went into a surf store you saw Rip Curl or Billabong. There wasn’t many options, if any, that were fashion stores.”
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Hawkes, who is the founder and director of The Horse and no longer involved with Status Anxiety, had experience in the fashion industry with a separate clothing brand and so the pair set about designing their first men’s wallet.
Fourteen years later, Status Anxiety now produces close to 100 different products, including wallets, handbags and watches and travel accessories, which are available from approximately 600 Australian and international stockists, and the brand’s two recently opened retail outlets in Sydney.
The company employs a team of 20 and has an annual turnover of approximately $10 million.
The growth has been consistent — for the first decade of its life, the company was recording 100% revenue growth each year and has been notching up 20% year-on-year in the years since — which Sked puts down to an uncompromising commitment to producing high-quality, simple products that consumers love.
This commitment to quality and simplicity was embedded in the business from day one, says Sked.
When Sked and Hawkes were designing their first wallet, they deliberately chose to start with one style and to work with an agent who could help connect them with manufacturers offshore.
“We paid more for it, but it gave us a level of control and comfort and we had someone to go to,” Sked says.
The first two years of the business was spent developing a range of men’s wallets, working directly with suppliers in China.
“Once we were past the first style, we decided to go visit China ourselves to meet with manufacturers,” says Sked.
And while there were “definitely a few hiccups” as Sked and Hawkes set about finding the right contacts and “people who would take us seriously”, the focus was very much on fine-tuning the designs.
“We both did it at the time, going back and forth with them with sketches and choosing leathers,” says Sked.
Even today, Sked says the business still sees itself as being a “product maker” with a goal of simply putting its products “in front of people’s eyes”.
“That’s why wholesale has been key,” he says. “It’s allowed us to put products in front of customers’ eyes.”
“We love creating good quality products, simply for people to love.”
The same ethos also played a part in selecting the company’s name, Status Anxiety, which came about after Sked was inspired by a newspaper article.
“I was reading an article in The Age back in 2004 about status anxiety — essentially, everyone cares how they’re doing, if they’re measuring up in their life compared to their peers,” says Sked.
“It was a concept I found really interesting, as we all do really care how we are going.”
The business adopted the term, but put its own spin on it.
“The brand, its interpretation of the message is basically saying, ‘let’s not care too much’,” explains Sked.
“We’re about simplicity, living a life less busy and hurried, more simple. Our products are the same — quality, minimalist designs. We rely on quality materials and constructions, rather than big emblazoned logos or marketing campaigns to push our products. The products themselves drive sales.”
How to grow
After three years designing men’s wallets, Sked and his team branched out into designing products for women and it proved to be a game-changer for the business.
Today, more than 70% of Status Anxiety’s sales come from women’s products.
“It was a big change,” says Sked.
“Our first range wasn’t as successful as we hoped — we thought women would buy more than men. Our first range didn’t quite nail it [but] the second range was really successful.”
These days, the Status Anxiety range of products also includes bags, watches and belts, for both men and women, as well as travel and tech accessories.
It makes sense then that the age profile of the brand’s customers is broad, between 18 and 60.
But there’s still plenty of work to do when it comes to continuing to build that brand presence — and that’s one of the reasons why Sked and his team have moved into the world of bricks-and-mortar to become retailers themselves.
The first Status Anxiety retail store opened in Sydney’s Paddington in November 2017 and the brand’s second outlet opened in the Sydney suburb of Newtown this month.
“We wanted to showcase the brand in the way we envisaged it,” says Sked of the decision to open the stores.
“We’d been primarily a wholesale business at the whim of how our retailers presented the brand.”
By curating an in-store experience, the company is hoping to “solidify for people who do follow us and know us, what we’re about and the look we try to obtain”, says Sked.
The leather goods and accessories markets have become increasingly competitive, says Sked, and with that comes higher expectations from customers. Starting out the way Status Anxiety did back in 2004 would be very hard to do today, he says, but at the same time, the business has a much better understanding of what it is that customers want.
This knowledge will be key to executing the brand’s growth plans, which fit into a three-pronged approach.
More physical retail stores are “definitely” on the table, says Sked, but the focus will be on securing the right locations and rolling out the store openings “in a way that’s manageable with all the other things we’re trying to improve and grow at the same time”.
Status Anxiety has also recently begun working with a new sales agent in the US, which means the brand has a team of people working directly for it on the ground in the States.
It’s a “big market to work in”, but with 30 US retailers already on board with stocking the brand’s products, Sked is hoping to build a network of at least 100 US stockists in the next 12 months.
There’s also work underway on a new Status Anxiety website that Sked says will make use of technology “right at the forefront”. The goal is to further build on the brand’s strong online sales, which currently account for 30% of overall sales, but 50% of profitability.
“It will basically be the fastest website you’ll get on,” he says. “It’s not your standard tech”.
Underpinning all of these plans, however, is a desire to stay true to the same down-to-earth, simple philosophy that has provided the brand with its winning formula to date.
“All of those things we’ve done along the way, I’m happy to look back and see they have built the success of the brand,” says Sked.
“We know what to do from the mistakes we made — they weren’t big enough to fatally wound the business. We’re very aware of what to avoid and how best to grow the brand.
“Because of the nature of how we’ve grown, which is very much based on the organic, grassroots growth of the brand, we’ve seen really strong growth out of that, not pumped up by artificial marketing campaigns. We have extremely steady turnover, it varies little month-to-month, except Christmas, and that’s a credit to the brand’s draw and appeal.
“We just want to continue to make beautiful products. If we continue to do that and put them out in the channels we have, we believe we have a strong formula for growth.”