Despite being only 23-years-old and having no experience in business, Chanel Costabir was so determined to launch her own lingerie retailer that she jumped on a plane to Paris to speak directly with designers.
Eight months into the launch of her retail site, The Lingerie Boutique, Chanel talks to StartupSmart about how she did it.
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What gave you the idea for the business?
I always knew I wanted a lingerie store of some sort. I’d just finished studying and previously worked part-time in a lingerie store, which changed my mind as to what I wanted to start-up.
A single store is confined to that locality, whereas online can have a greater reach. I’ve always been interested in fashion and my family are in business, so I always wanted to launch my own business.
Isn’t there already something out there like this in the marketplace?
Well, I had a look at who was offering luxury lingerie, and there wasn’t a lot out there in Australia. A lot of the stores here get their lingerie from China – the material isn’t great. Lingerie should be comfortable, beautiful and make you feel good, but a lot of the products on the market now are just functional.
No one was really offering this kind of high-end, luxury lingerie, especially online, in Australia. I saw there was a good opportunity for this kind of business.
What did you do next?
I found there was a trade show in Paris, where all the top designers would be there. I needed stock for my store, although all I had was my concept and my knowledge of the sector. So I flew out there in January last year for the show.
To France? Really?
Yes, I could hardly speak any French, I was in a foreign country and I had no experience in business at all. It was crazy, as a lot of people told me, but I just did it.
I was there for a week, it was amazing, but very scary and intimidating. I was speaking to designers and I was literally shaking.
I told them that I wanted to introduce their brands to Australia and focus on lingerie as a lifestyle product. It went well – the designers wanted to enter the Australian market and I think they could see I was passionate about the product.
I also convinced them that I could get them press in magazines. I had nothing to show them to back this up, but I think my determination shone through. They was some concern that it hadn’t been done in Australia before, but I convinced them.
What was the outcome of the trip?
I came back with 12 designers’ products with me. I selected six that I thought would sell best, based on design and the quality of the product.
I had to think about what sizes Australian women are, as well as what was new to the market. I had to be a bit conservative to start with.
All the items are produced in a range every six months. They are one-offs. I got 500 pieces of lingerie through in my first order.
What’s your mark up?
I don’t really want to say, but it’s the standard retail rate. I could’ve inflated the price a lot and matched other luxury labels, charging $250 instead of $164, but I want the lingerie to be available to as many people as possible.
If the price was higher, it would put a lot of people off. Plus, it will prove a point to the other stories that charge through the roof for a product that isn’t good quality.
What are you offering that’s new to the market?
I introduced six labels that were new to Australia, such as Roberto Cavalli and Lisa. I’m not sure why these labels weren’t in Australia before – they seem to take more pride in their lingerie in Europe.
It seems like the attitude here is that women won’t spend $20 more for something nice. But I think when women are introduced to the beauty and comfort of this lingerie, that will chance.
A lot of the women who have tried it on have said that they can’t believe how comfortable it is. It feels like you’re wearing nothing.
With our branding, we want to combat perceptions about lingerie. When you buy a luxury bag, you love it and you expect it to last. We want to do the same for lingerie.
How have you funded this?
I sold a property I had, I got some funding from the bank and my family also helped out.
How was the process of building the site?
My original web developer told me that there were a lot of issues with the site and then he said that he couldn’t do anything else because of family issues.
I signed another developer and built a completely new site. There was a lot of emotional turmoil. I had a launch party with models on a catwalk but I had no site to point people to.
Within two weeks, I got the site up. I changed the images and design – there’s now a lot more relevant information on it, and it looks a lot cleaner.
How have you marketed the business?
The launch, despite the problems, went well and we got coverage in MX and on Fashion TV. I’ve recently started working on our SEO too.
What are your targets for the business?
There’s been a lot of interest from overseas, with brands from the US and Europe contacting me. One brand that initially frowned upon me has contacted me about stocking them online.
I realise that other sites will look to do the same as me. To have exclusive supplier contracts, the brands have to give you agency to supply them elsewhere and my brands don’t want to do that yet.
When they are ready to expand in this market, they have said that they will come to me. I’m giving them the opportunity of going to a new market.
I don’t see myself partnering with anyone, though. I want to be the largest luxury online retailer. There are so many great brands that need to be here in Australia.