Growth

How Richard Branson funded my vintage clothing market without realising it

Eloise Keating /

In 2009, Melbourne publicist Emma Morris won a flight to space from Virgin founder and entrepreneurial superstar Richard Branson.

But instead, Morris opted for one of the other prizes in the competition—a $150,000 travel prize that allowed her to take 12 months off work and was the catalyst for turning her hobby of selling vintage clothing into a fully-fledged business.

“In a way, Richard Branson unofficially gave me funding to kick-start my business,” Morris told SmartCompany this morning.

Morris founded the Round She Goes vintage clothing market, which she has recently expanded from Melbourne to Sydney and Adelaide. And six weeks ago, she launched the business online, taking the individuals sellers who participate in her markets into the world of ecommerce.

Morris started the business, which sells anything from pre-loved clothing to vintage ball gowns and handmade jewellery, in 2008 with her sister and a friend. At the time she was working as a publicist for Melbourne book publisher Scribe and Round She Goes was just a hobby.

“We tried one market in October of that year and people loved it,” says Morris. “It was exciting but also quite a lot of work.”

Morris was holding three or four markets a year when she won a Virgin Blue competition in 2009 without even realising she had entered. The competition was open to anyone who collected loyalty points from the airline during a designated period and Morris was one of those people.

She was given four choices: a flight to space, the $150,000 travel package to go anywhere in the world, two Alfa Romeo sports cars with petrol vouchers and cash, or a $170,000 shopping spree.

While Morris says her friends and family “gave her a hard time” about not choosing the Virgin Galactic space adventure, she says the time spent travelling to the US and Europe was what made her decide to commit to Round She Goes full-time.

“When you go on holidays, you change context and you can think differently,” says Morris.

“Your mind gets this freedom to think about new ideas.”

Morris now operates the business herself, staging five markets a year in Melbourne and three each in Sydney and Adelaide. There’s also the occasional pop-up stores, like the week-long one that will appear in Melbourne’s CBD as part of Melbourne Spring Fashion Week.

She’d like to hold more events in Sydney and hopefully get to Brisbane next year. But in the meantime, her focus is on the challenge of launching an online store.

“Online was a big learning curve for me,” says Morris, who says it took her many months to get her site up and running.

“It’s very different, marketing online compared to promoting an event,” she says.

But she believes Round She Goes stands out against the larger players such as eBay as it is “much more curated”.

“I only let sellers who have sold through my markets use the online store,” says Morris. “I hand pick all the applications so I get to pick who I want.”

“It’s very hard to find vintage on eBay now, unless you are looking for a specific brand or a very specific product. We’re much more curated.”

So far the feedback from the online store has been positive and Morris is thrilled to see more people buying and selling through her business each day.

Morris admits turnover is not much at these early stages but is enough to employ her. 

But her gratitude is reserved for the charismatic Branson.

“I’m very grateful,” she says.

“They flew me to Sydney [when I won the prize] to have dinner with him. I wish I’d told him about Round She Goes. But I was so overwhelmed.”

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.