In her words, Australian entrepreneur Zoe Kratzmann reveals how she established a global brand with eight staff. Today, her eponymous label is sold in over 250 independent boutiques across Australia and New Zealand, with plans to go global.
It’s no secret that I grew up in my mum’s sewing room. I was a kid who sewed her own clothes and made things for friends. I was into fashion from the get-go and maybe it was just meant to be.
I thought the brands I worked for early on were the pinnacle of ‘cool’. As I climbed somewhat of a corporate ladder, I found myself yearning for some magic; the creativity of that little girl in her sewing room.
With an early midlife career crisis, I knew I needed to create something of my own.
A stint in Hong Kong, many leather markets, trade fairs, and countless business coaches later, I knew what the market was missing.
After developing my first line of footwear samples, I travelled to the Sunshine Coast to visit family. I drove around from boutique to boutique. That day I opened 4 wholesale accounts. It was like Christmas. My younger self relished in how easy this was going to be, how incredibly naive I was.
But, that way of working has never really stopped. I’ve never been afraid of hard work and have never been one to sit back and watch.
I ran the business entirely on my own from 2005 - 2011. I attended every trade show, tried many business angles and the learning curve was steep.
When I finally moved home to the Sunshine Coast in 2011, I hired my first employee.
Team philosophy: hiring people smarter than me
People are always in disbelief when I tell them that our design team is made up of two people. Myself and one other very talented woman.
The philosophy I’ve adopted over the years is to have a very dedicated and single-discipline external partner for every part of the business equation.
We have one factory that is dedicated to denim, and one agency whose sole purpose is email marketing. I think my team has heard me say many times, “let’s find the very best that we can afford.”
Internally? It gives us the space to do it all. Maybe it’s in my nature. I have always had space in my mind. Creativity, production, operations, warehouse design, the future. I care deeply about every detail.
I love the idea of people growing and being challenged. I believe the best in people comes out when they’re part of the big plan. I’m fascinated by motivation, and finding that sweet spot between feeling pressed, stretched, supported and excited.
Our team is part of everything. It’s common for our customer experience and dispatch team to be part of our annual strategy days and photoshoots. People want to belong. That’s my experience anyway; that people feel fulfilled by a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.
The lean model of our business is exciting. We are by nature, very ambitious and nimble. If someone has an idea we are able to get it off the ground today. I really love that there are no barriers to decision-making. And I think that breeds innovation and curiosity into the team.
I don’t try to have all the answers. I rely on some incredibly smart women for everything that is not my domain.
Talk to me about fabric, finishes, constructions, buttons and detailing. The romance of creating a garment that is beautiful, cohesive and timeless. How to create something aspirational, luxurious yet affordable.
Talk to my team about the fine details in almost everything else. The important thing is that we share a view on excellence; how we wrap an order, how fast our response times are, and that just doing ‘okay ’is not enough.
Where we are now (and the dream)
The zoe kratzmann team is focused and dynamic. The office is a vibrant and high-energy place to be. We are an all-female operation of 8 people, apart from one clever, witty finance gentleman.
These 8 clever individuals have got everything covered: dispatch, customer experience, marketing and e-comm. We are serious about what we do but we don't take ourselves too seriously.
The Sunshine Coast has been home for a long time. We are slightly removed from traditional fashion which allows us to run our own race.
Growth for a period of time was consistent and steady. Now it’s like wildfire. We service 300 wholesale accounts across ANZ and have grown online by 4000% in four years.
New premises, new technology, and a whole pile of automation. It’s like a line in the sand that allows us to ask, “what next?”.
The next phase is expansion into the Northern Hemisphere. There’s a bit of magic and authenticity that comes from being present in independent retailers across communities; like building an organic groundswell of love for the brand.
We tend to solve problems through the lens of the long-game. A domino effect, and quiet success in building from the ground up. Where innovation exists in the details, and the experience of every person who is connected to the brand.
Everyday, I feel a balance of total gratitude and ambition. Of admiration for the women around me, and building the belief that we are worthy of success.