Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, guys we are Ryan and Alex Hutchinson from the Fashion Accessories label Mahiya. A husband and wife team from the Gold coast in Australia. Mahiya means ‘My Love’ and we specialize in bohemian leather products including women's purses, handbags, footwear, and clothing.
We are currently in our 6th year of business and are averaging $75,000 of sales a month via our website, showroom and worldwide boutique wholesalers. Ryan runs the ins and outs of the business and I am the creative director. I do all the designing, run our social media, run and update or website, produce photoshoot content and marketing material for EDMs and marketing.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
When we started the business in 2013 Ryan was running his own small roofing business and I had a start-up label with a friend of mine selling at the local markets on the Gold Coast and also singing in bands and shows and also working as a disability carer. When I left my other business partner I asked Ryan if he would be interested in helping me with a new concept I had. We had only been together for 6 months at the time but Ryan thought why not give it a go and helped me get the business set up. In the beginning, we ran the business out of our spare bedroom until we outgrew that and moved to our garage where we built shelves and small office space.
Ryan had some limited experience in running a business but was very good with numbers. Ryan invested 20k as a start-up cost for the business, we allocated 15k of this into stock and the other 5k was spent on setting up our first website, our market stall setup and some marketing material.
You start a business to make money right so you want to know exactly what you are making and how much it costs. Remember your hours are worth something too.
Growing up I had a collection of vintage hand tool bags and wallets I bought online that I was obsessed with but always found the designs very basic and impractical so I started hand drawing designs of my own and found some leather tailors who could produce our first samples. Every woman carries a wallet and a handbag so we thought we couldn’t go wrong and there was nothing like what we were doing in the market.
When we started the business we had some savings so we never had to borrow any money or take out loans to finance Mahiya.
Once our first delivery of stock had arrived we had been growing our Instagram page and we already had a lot of interest in the products so sales started coming in straight away. We also launched the brand at our local fashion Market to help get the word out. At this stage, Ryan took 6 months off and I continued to work part-time for another 6 months before leaving to work full-time on Mahiya.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
In the beginning, we were frequently traveling to where our leather tailors are based overseas where I would gather inspiration, hand-draw my ideas and get them to create samples for me.
We also traveled to South America where we collected exotic handwoven fabrics to incorporate into my designs.
Our leather design process really is quite simple. Everything is hand-drawn first and samples are created. Once happy with the design they will go into production. Clothing is different. We found an amazing textile designer to create our exclusive prints for us who we have worked with for 6 years now. I either hand draw the designs or pull sections from other styles I love and combine to create something unique. Sampling is done and then the orders are manufactured.
Over the years we have changed our packaging to better suit the brand and have also designed our own unique lining. We have definitely had our challenges over the years with tailors running off with our deposits and worst of all my designs being copied.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Before launching, we organized a few small photoshoots, our funds were limited but luckily I’m a self-taught photographer and Photoshop savvy so I created all our own look books and marketing material. I still do the majority of our shoots today and run our Instagram page.
When doing collaborations with influencers, I think it is important to have some kind of contract in place as we have found that some of them offer you the world but then don’t come through. Be clear with what your expectations are.
Our launch was a mixture of social media platforms being Instagram and Facebook, the website which we built with Big Cartel and stall which we set up at our local fashion market. We didn’t know much about Facebook advertising at this stage but would boost posts to reach new customers. It was around this time that Instagram was being increasingly popular so we reached out to some fashion bloggers with contra deals which really helped us gain some traction.
We received a great reaction from customers across all channels quite quickly and saw sales coming in on the website and had some great days at the markets. In the first few years we really were just winging it and we're super lucky with the response we received. One of the best things to happen as we started selling products to a store in Japan, (the owner was kind of famous). This put us on the radar of the Japanese market and they are now one of our best markets.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In the beginning, we didn’t really do any advertising apart from boosting Facebook posts and handing out flyers at the markets. We started when Instagram was just taking off and the algorithms weren’t a thing so our reach was endless. Everyone who followed saw our posts and people were sharing our photos so the word was spreading. We were really lucky that wholesalers started approaching us via social media so we never had to go out and look for stores to stock our brand.
After a year or two we realized how powerful Facebook advertising was so we employed a marketing girl to do our Facebook advertising and also our EDMs. Our mailing list was growing fast and we found this a great way to sell more especially to customers who had already made purchases with us, our returning customer rate has always been about 45% .
Touching on Instagram again we also have worked with influencers over the years and run giveaways to boost followers. When doing collaborations with influencers we have only ever gifted products and never paid. I think it is important to have some kind of contract in place as we have found that some of them offer you the world but then don’t come through with what you were wanting. Be clear with what your expectations are. We found the collaborations to work really well at the start of the business but as Instagram grew it got harder and harder as they changed algorithms and reach was no longer what it used to be. Now some influencers want to be paid upwards of $2000-$5000 for a post. I just don’t think it’s worthwhile unless they are creating incredible images that will sell your products. We also started creating blogs to reach more people and to let people know more about what we were all about.
When it comes to our customers we think it’s really important to look after them, especially your biggest spenders, so every Christmas we send our best clients a gift to say thank you. I think things like this can really make a difference.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are currently in our 6th year of business and still going strong. We have been super lucky that we have had profits year after year and business continues to grow and change. 3 years ago we moved the business to a warehouse where we also have a showroom where people can come and shop.
We have a large Japanese following and 80% of our visitors to the showroom are Japanese, we are looking to either do a trade show or some festivals in Japan in the coming year to expand into this market even more. I am continually creating new designs and styles.
In the beginning, we always talked about wholesaling so we built our prices around that. I think this is very important to have this set up before launch so you don’t have to change prices along the way. Business running costs and overheads have definitely increased as the business has grown over the years which obviously cuts into our overall profits but we keep our team small (only one staff member) so we can keep our overheads down.
We are currently working with a Marketing team from Sydney (3 months in) who are in charge of running our FB ads, SEO, Adroll and PPC campaigns. It is our first time doing SEO so we are excited for what the future brings, so far it’s working well and we are currently sitting at number 1 for leather purses and top page for a lot of our keywords.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We have always kept our team small and luckily it has been manageable for us. We have had opportunities to work with distributors overseas but found it to be more work than it was worth. The whole reason for starting the business was so that we could have a great lifestyle. Our goal was to not have to work 9-5 and have the balance so even though there have been opportunities to make more money we have chosen to keep it simple and have the balance.
We do have a sales agent that we work within the Netherlands who is amazing and we have one of our biggest wholesale clients there. I think with any business if you are really passionate about what you are doing you can make it work. We have always been open to trying new things with marketing etc but not all will work for you so you just have to try and move on until you find the right fit.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We are currently using Shopify and have had a custom-built WS section built-in so wholesalers can order directly from our website. We offer Afterpay and Zippay and all the regular payment gateways. We are currently using a translation app as we have many Japanese customers, we ship via Australia Post and DHL. We offer free shipping to orders over $150 in Australia and every order over $50 receives a free gift (car scent). Our abandoned cart emails work really well and we offer 10% off your first order if you sign up to our mailing list.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
A label we look up to is Spell and the Gypsy Collective from Byron Bay who started really small and has gone on to be one of the biggest labels in the world. They have had a few good podcasts on how they started and the things they have done with their business along the way.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Our top tips would be:
Do your research. Check out who your competition would be, how you can do things better and if there really is a place for you in the market.
Know your costs. You start a business to make money right so you want to know exactly what you are making and how much it costs. Remember your hours are worth something too.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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