Jo Mercer launches Matilda Life with a bold vision for Australian-made products

Jo-Mercer

Source: supplied.

Entrepreneur Jo Mercer has a bold vision to revive Australian manufacturing by creating a new, quintessentially Australian brand that celebrates high-quality, locally made products at a fair price. 

That brand, Matilda Life, launched this week, with a curated selection of sustainably made women’s clothing, accessories, shoes and perfumes. 

A stalwart of the Australian footwear industry, Mercer began working on the concept for Matilda Life after 12 years heading up Myer’s footwear, handbags and accessories division and more than a decade after leaving her eponymous shoe label.

Together with former Myer colleague and now business partner Lauren Mastromanno, Mercer had first-hand insight into the challenges faced by small Australian manufacturers, some of which had been forced to close during the pandemic. But at the same time, the duo could see healthy demand among Australian shoppers for buying Australian-made items. 

Matilda Life leather shoes

Matilda Life shoes will be made in Australia. Source: supplied.

Speaking to SmartCompany over Zoom this week, Mercer said this led to the concept for the Matilda Life business, which she says will create local jobs and help small businesses in the industry recover from the effects of the pandemic. 

“It is really sad that no longer do we have manufacturing now in so many categories, but when you talk to consumers, and you read the surveys, Australians really do want to buy Australian made,” she says. 

Mercer says Matilda Life is “100% committed” to manufacturing all its products in Australia and it’s a commitment that won’t waiver. 

The Matilda Life supply chain is made up of small, specialist manufacturers, like leather shoe maker Anna Fiori in Melbourne, which was founded in 1969 and has now reopened its factory for Matilda Life; and Loop Leather Co, which has been making leather accessories for the past 30 years. 

Melbourne denim manufacturer Vince Clothing has also made some of the clothing in the first Matilda Life range, while the brand’s fragrances are being made by Metascent, also in Melbourne. 

Mercer, who is the majority shareholder in the new business, used her contacts from 30 years in the fashion industry to find the right manufacturing partners, some of which she describes as “niche businesses” that have been able to withstand the significant changes in Australia’s manufacturing industry over the past two decades. 

Mercer says she is also committed to, where possible, supporting local businesses up the supply chain too. The brand’s organic cotton jersey is knitted in Melbourne, the leather in its shoes is tanned in Queensland, packaging boxes are made in Melbourne, and its stationery is printed in Sydney.

The support also extends to a partnership between the brand and local marketplace Buy Aussie Now, which was founded in 2020 by Mitch Catlin.

While Mercer acknowledges that making all of Matilda Life products locally may mean the brand’s prices are higher than others, she says the company is committed to offering a “fair price” that values the craftsmanship and skill that goes into producing products like leather shoes. 

“I passionately believe we have great skills in this country … Our labour rates may be a little higher, but we do have the skills.”

It also means that Matilda Life’s margins are “small” on products such as shoes, says Mercer, but again it goes back to her overarching vision of creating high-quality, locally made products that support Australian industries.

Matilda Life clothing

Matilda Life has launched with a range of women’s clothing and accessories, shoes and perfumes. Source: supplied.

With a current team of 10 working on the business, Matilda Life will initially sell direct to consumers but Mercer hopes to develop a wholesale arm to the business over time once the supply chain is fine tuned. 

The first Matilda Life range has been entirely funded by Mercer and her business partners, and they plan to raise additional capital in 2022 to further expand into additional categories, including menswear, a children’s range, and homewares. 

Having “worked in small businesses, launched my own and worked in big businesses”, Mercer says the successful brands are ones that have a clear purpose. 

“What do you want to stand for? Be quite uncompromising about that,” she says when asked her advice for other business owners. 

“Secondly, make sure you’re not frightened to spend some money and take time to become profitable.”

While taking that risk can be daunting, Mercer says having a deep understanding of who your customers are will help. 

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Buy Australian Logo
Buy Australian Logo
1 day ago

Sounds like Matilda Life will be wanting to use an Australian Authenticity Logo like the Buy Australian Logo to clearly indicate the level of Australian Content, Ownership, manufacturing and if the goods are packed in Australia. We are being urged to Buy Australian but in order to do that we need to be informed about our purchasing decisions at the point of sale.