Australian podiatrist by trade Desi Deravi started her womenswear label SWF Boutique after finding that the opportunities to create healthy, fashionable shoes was further out of reach than anticipated.
Founding the label a little over four years ago, Deravi decided to build the business on a made-to-order model to reduce waste and environmental impact.
Manufacturing in Indonesia, the brand can create and deliver the piece to consumers in seven to 10 days.
In 2017 US retailer Free People picked up the brand, followed by Bloomingdales in 2018.
Chatting to Ragtrader, Deravi details the process of getting the business started, marketing strategies and recent successes.
Describe the process of getting the business started – what did this involve? What challenges did you face?
My path to creating S/W/F was certainly an unconventional one. I have always had a love for fashion and was creative from a young age, however I am actually a qualified Podiatrist by profession.
Following a trip to Bali where I met the large creative ex-pat community, and realising healthy, comfortable yet fashionable shoes were not really going to happen, my brand vision became clearer and the possibility of starting my own fashion line became a reality.
I went into this journey being naive of what was expected.
I had no fashion experience, and this has been one of my biggest challenges as it meant every aspect of creating a range, sourcing fabrics, the technical terms (sewing terms, patterns, sizing etc), workers, shipping – I have basically taught myself.
This learning process led to making many mistakes which I like to refer to as lessons that have placed me to where I am today.
Choosing to manufacture in Indonesia was, and has continued to be, a constant challenge, not only due to the language barrier, but also understanding cultural differences.
I have found setting up structure a key element to working in a foreign country.
I’ve had to adapt and become more flexible in my approach as well as learning to allow time for things to be done on ‘Bali time,’ which is where I find the structure is so vital, because I can control the output.
Why did you opt for a ‘made-to-order’ model? What are the advantages/challenges of this?
Made to order is firstly a cost-effective way to go when starting a small business.
As we carry no stock, this means we do not need to have unnecessary wastage across the business or warehouses to hold any excess.
Each piece is created as the order is received via our website and wholesale avenues. The made-to-order model allows S/W/F to be as environmentally friendly as we can be.
The challenges of this is obviously time frames, however our focus is always on sustainability.
As the world continues to move at lightning speed and fast-fashion brands deliver within hours, we set our selves apart and don’t consider ourselves fast fashion.
Our pieces are created with quality in mind, which extends the life of the piece and therefore negating the need to continually update the wardrobe with new pieces.
Why did you start the business with a sustainability commitment in mind?
Sustainability was not necessarily the first reason as to ‘why' I wanted to start a fashion label, however when I began sourcing fabrics, I was presented with an option that had a sustainable element to it and that was enough to grab my attention.
It basically stuck with me from this point forward, and ultimately became one of my reasons ‘why’ I started this business.
This has led to every touch point now for the business having a sustainability angle. Our fabrics come from forests and supply chains that are managed responsibly and achieve FSC certification (to gain this, you must adhere to ten rules that cover the essentials of responsible forest management.)
We also have canvas bags that the product is presented in, not plastic, so every detail is thought of. I am currently researching shipping bags that are biodegradable – this is my next goal I am working towards.
Describe the process of sourcing non-toxic dyes – what did this involve? How long did it take?
This process was really important to me.
I spent a good six months researching and visiting local Bali dye-houses that uses non-toxic dyes to ensure I could meet our own expectations.
It was also really important that the dye house was also being environmentally conscious i.e. not throwing contaminated/dye water out into the local creeks, landscapes and community.
When did Bloomingdales and Free People come on board? How did this come about?
The partnership with both brands started in the past two years.
We commenced working with Free People in 2017 and Bloomingdales followed in 2018. Free People contacted us directly, and since then we have an agency in the states that handles all of our sales.
We are seeing some great sell-through with both these channels.
How do you market the brand? Which is the strongest channel?
Most of our marketing is via social media, actually all of it, outside of our website.
Instagram is our number one platform with over 80% of our sales coming directly from the content on our page.
We have used this platform to drive growth of the brand through awareness.
We have also been fortunate enough over the years to have some great influencers and talent wearing our product which also helps the brand to keep expanding.
Describe a recent successful campaign and what made it so successful.
Our current campaign featuring Izi Simundic is something I am really proud of. This campaign perfectly encapsulated my vision of S/W/F.
It captures the aesthetic so well and is exactly how I want my brand to be perceived. It looks amazing on our website and across our social media touch points, and that is so important when attracting consumers.
Recently we were in LA for a pre-NYFW gifting suite and through influencers attending our showroom, we grew the brands awareness by around 1500 followers in a week.
We also recently teamed up with a group of brands to win a $2000 cash prize, this drove our Instagram following up by over 5000 in a few weeks.
These activations all help with tapping into new audiences and growing our brand awareness, which ultimately drives our future sales.
What is the mix of sales from your own website v wholesale?
Currently I would say 50% of sales are direct to consumer via our website and 50% wholesale. But without a doubt, Instagram is what helps us drive our sales.
The US is such a big opportunity for us.
One of my 2019 goals was to appoint a new US agency who could help us with growth in this region, which we have done in the past few months.
We’ve just had a huge goal ticked off by securing Nordstrom online! S/W/F will be available online at Nordstrom from January 2020.
We would also love to see the brand in one of the major Australian retailers next year, so our team is working hard to make this happen.