Laelia the Label founder and designer Leea Menkhorst discusses reduced collection launches, onshore manufacturing and upskilling during COVID-19.
COVID-19 presented particular challenges for Laelia the Label, given we had only launched in October of 2019 and were still a young label when it began to make an impact within Australia.
Although we have felt the negative effects of the virus, in some ways it has also worked to our advantage.
As Laelia was new to the market, and still very much in the learning and testing phase, we were able to use this time to be flexible, adapting our business model where needed to fit customer needs and behaviours.
Young company with flexible business model
Laelia launched as purely an online business, therefore our business model was already well suited to the changes required from businesses as a result of COVID-19 and its restrictions.
Given our team was small, and we didn’t have a lot of overhead costs, we were able to remain nimble.
However, having had so little time to establish the business prior to COVID-19, this meant we did have to make some difficult financial decisions to ensure the businesses long term survival.
Laelia focuses on luxury evening and event wear, and the opportunity to attend events and see our pieces on women was severely impacted by the lockdown restrictions.
This year we have re-evaluated our production chain to minimise financial stress to ensure the business survives into 2021 and beyond.
We have slowed production including only releasing one capsule collection in 2020 and delaying the initial launch by six months.
We are also moving more towards a made-to-order business model, building on experience gained working in the bridal industry prior to starting my own label.
Through this model also we hope to not only save costs, but also play our part by helping to reduce waste in the industry.
Learning new skills and polishing old ones
When launching a business there are so many skills needed, and Laelia outsourced some of these to established specialists.
During COVID-19 however, we have taken on more of these tasks in-house and using this time to learn new skills.
Cutting back on outsourcing has not only reduced our costs but has also improved our confidence and skills.
We learnt website development and brushed up on pattern making, resulting in a return to a focus on draping, going back to the start of our design journey.
Prioritising customer engagement and relationship building
Through COVID we have been connecting with our customers remotely and personalising their shopping experience both over the phone and by email, allowing us to tell our brand story and build relationships in a more personal way.
A key strategy to boost sales during COVID-19 was to launch our first online sale, where we offered our customers 50% off the entire range.
We also combined this with an increase spend in marketing, building on our existing digital presence both online and on social media.
This included investing money into paid social advertisements, with our key priorities on increasing brand awareness and retargeting those customers who had already visited our site.
We found that 70% of purchases during the sale came directly from our paid social media ads and were also from the customers first store session.
We definitely attribute this behaviour to the sale activity.
We have also focused heavily on social media engagement, ensuring constant and direct communication with our customers.
We are very proud of the fact that even given the considered nature of our product, over 30% of our customers return to purchase a second garment.
We also find that keeping our imagery and marketing fresh also directly results in online sales.
Staying true to your brand aesthetic
A short-term downturn is less likely to harm our business as Laelia is not trend driven.
We aim to provide customers with timeless keepsake pieces that they will treasure for many years.
A key focus during COVID-19 has been to maintain the integrity of our brand aesthetic, our authenticity and the high standards Laelia customers expect.
Over the next year we are aiming to redesign our production chain here in Melbourne to enable us to regularly release small limited capsule collections.
This production model aims to maintain our high quality while keeping our stock fresh and able to respond quickly to market changes.
Working with our local community here in Melbourne we have been able to adapt and find suppliers who can work with us towards this goal.
This year has taught me to expect the unexpected as well as the importance of being agile, keeping your eye out for new opportunities and remaining authentic to your brand.
But above all being tenacious and not giving up!