Country Road founder backs new clothing business

Humanitee, a new organic fabric clothing business associated with Country Road founder Stephen Bennett, yesterday won Vic Pitch ’08, a competition to link innovators with development capital.

Humanitee, a new organic fabric clothing business associated with Country Road founder Stephen Bennett, yesterday won Vic Pitch ’08, a competition to link innovators with development capital.

Humanitee, which aims to have $50 million revenue in five years, won $40,000 of prizes including a listing on the Australian Small Scale Offerings Board.

The company is the brain child of Peter Abbott, who worked as marketing manager at Rivers for 14 years as it grew from a $16 million to a $100 million business.

He says the company will produce high quality clothing using organic fibres such as bamboo in modern designs.

Abbott says that most of the data on the organic market comes from organic food because the organic clothing business is still so small.

But the initial products will be aimed at the 30-plus women who have a family or are thinking about it.

Humanitee will be a wholesaler supplying a global market, Abbott says. “Retail stores tie you to fixed costs. I have opened retail stores before and it is a painful business. You have got to have a solid business behind you. Who knows what will happen? But there are no plans for retail at the moment.”

He says he has also learnt that some business structures are more high risk. “I have learnt to make the sales match the size of the business, not the other way around.”

Abbott says he learnt valuable lessons at Rivers that he will apply to Humanitee. The key lessons were when setting up supply chains, quality control will have to be built in at the start. “And you have to do a post analysis of sales which worked or didn’t. A lot of fashion companies don’t analyse their businesses enough to see what colours and shapes are working.”

Will he use the distinctive Rivers advertising that is known for using its employees as models?

“That came about by accident because we couldn’t afford models, and Phil Goodman, who was behind the marketing, has an abiding distrust of advertising agencies,” he says.

“It is amazing how things that come out of necessity get adopted. We couldn’t afford models at Rivers. So I roped anyone in, including staff, my brother-in-law even my children. When we did the first catalogue we got heaps of letters and phone calls from people in advertising telling us how unprofessional we were. But we got 10 times more from customers telling us they were fantastic and how great it was to see real people modelling. I remember Anita Roddick talks about how she couldn’t afford bottles so she asked customers to return them, and that started the recycling.”

However Humanitee will be aimed at a completely different market and have a “sex” appeal, he says. Abbott says he already has celebrities agreeing to supply quotes he can use as endorsements. Bennett has also agreed to be on his board.

The business will also use its fair trade business principles in its marketing. “Every time a consumer comes in touch with one of our products there will be a message telling them about what we are doing. It could be about the organic fabric or the fair trade practices including what we are doing in villages in India.”

He is also setting up an externally audited process called Envirothread which will be licensed out to companies. “This checks that claims are factual. If a company is selling 100% organic cotton there will be an audited paper trail showing this.”

Abbott is seeking to raise $2 million, starting with $250,000 by this December. He wants to have product in store by next winter with first deliveries arriving in stores in March.

Second in the competition was ICT Distribution, Telstra’s largest distributor of business products across their mobility, fixed and data suite.

And third was CounselLink, an online counseling service that will match clients with psychologists.


See more Vic Pitch results here.



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