Starting out with an office in her family home to having a flagship store on Brunswick street, to being stocked in one Australia's leading department stores, Bul founder Virginia Martin shares her story.
Tell me about the early foundations of Bul. What prompted you to launch the business and how did you secure your first accounts?
I had a label in my early 20’s for four years where I wholesaled around Australia all made in Melbourne. I went to New York to gain more experience which I interned with Cynthia Rowley, Heatherette and Proenza Schouler, I then went to California where I worked at Trovata. I knew I was going to re-launch the label on my return.
I started with retail instead of wholesale which was different, I opened the first store at the launch of the label in Melbourne’s Curtin House building.
One year later I opened our flagship Brunswick Street store and began wholesale the following year. Doing retail first defeated the struggles of a new wholesale business where I had capacity to produce full collections.
What were the biggest challenges you encountered in growing the business in the early days?
Cashflow – always one of the greatest challenges in business, all of the initial funds went into the retail business. The office started out in a space at the back of my parents house. Brand awareness was also a big one, as we did not have wholesale doors in the beginning and our store was on level three of a rather hidden building it was hard to reach people.
What were some of the major breakthroughs?
Stocking in Myer after being established for only two years. Securing a great store in Brunswick street started progression in retail where I wanted to put focus on rolling out one new store a year. We also had many pop up stores throughout the time also.
What was the steepest learning curve you encountered in growing the business?
Managing staff – something you do not learn beforehand so it is a continual learning experience. It is so important to make sure they are happy and motivated.
The balance between business and creative, managing the running of the business and designing uses different sides of the brain and understanding time management between the two and multitasking. With a small team you are doing so many different jobs at any time.
How is Bul funded, self, investor?
Had an initial loan then self funded.
What was the initial expansion strategy and at what point did the brand expand?
One store a year, plus pop-up stores to test areas. After opening the first store I saw the potential and as that was an off street store it gave me confidence to open a street level store and expand. Having the first store being low impact also gave me time to refine processes before expansion.
How do you approach production?
After doing all my production locally with the first label, I gained a lot of experience working in other companies overseas. I got to see how it all runs on difference scales.
Let's talk online commerce. How do you approach this area? Is it a substantial part of the business?
We put a lot of time and resources in this area. We treat it like our brick and mortar stores. It is not in competition with the other stores, it compliments them – customers will do their research online then come into store and visa versa they will try on instore and buy online – it makes it a complete unit in assisting each other. It is a very important part of the business and it has huge potential as the web it casts is locally and internationally.
What are some of the growth plans ahead?
Our plan is to expand retail in Australia with more stores. Also we are beginning wholesale expansion internationally, where I would eventually hope to open our first international store.