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What’s the inspiration behind All The Wild Roses?
I went to my home city in the north of Vietnam and met a lot of my family for the first time when I was 19, and was quite shocked at how basic their living conditions were. A lot of my family were actually working as seamstresses, the first thing I felt was a bit of a sliding doors moment. These women kind of looked like me, but they were living in these conditions earning very low pay; partly because that was the industry, partly because they actually didn’t have that many skills, but mostly because they didn’t really have any opportunities.
I came back to Australia, went to university and studied business and finance and worked in corporate for over t10 years, all the while thinking about a business where I could give these women direct business. I lived in Surry Hills where there were lots of vintage shops and I ended up buying some pieces and sending them to Vietnam for the women to remake them then selling them at the shops here. That became opening boutiques in Newtown and Paddington called Barbarella Vintage, but in that time, say 2006 to 2011, there was lots of growth in online shopping and lots of cheaper Chinese products coming in, so we found it quite a challenge because we never really competed on price.
A lot of big brand manufacturing was becoming a bit more transparent in that they weren’t that ethical, so it was a good chance to tell more of the story about why we are doing what we are. So we rebranded to All the Wild Roses because we wanted to tell people more about the story behind the brand.
Now, are you solely online?
Yeah, now we’re selling online, and we are continuing to give back. As part of our business model, we partner with the organisation Opportunity Australia, which is all about giving micro loans to women in underprivileged countries to start their own businesses.
So for every item sold, do you donate a certain percentage?
At the moment our commitment with them is that we will give one loan to one woman each week and at the end of the year what we give will be greater than 10 per cent of our profit. If 10 per cent of our profit is less than what is equivalent to one woman per week that still is our basic commitment. If we earn above that, then we give them more.
Fashion can be quite soulless if you are just in the pursuit of the sale. For us, this is so motivating; for the people in Vietnam, to know that they are actually helping other women as well and it’s a bit of a circle of life with everyone giving back to each other.
You mentioned one of your biggest challenges was competing with China, is that still a challenge?
Absolutely! Its funny you mention that, because today I tried to get some stockists on board, because ultimately at the end of the day you need stockists’ support as well. A lot of the responses we get are: ‘oh we can get this for half the price’. Consumers have been trained to think that way, and so when all of a sudden you introduce something that looks the same, but weaved into the fabric is this whole story, how do you tell them that?
All we’re doing at the moment is trying to help a small group of women in Vietnam, and how we are trying to make an impact elsewhere in the world is through our giving partnership with Opportunity Australia. We’re just trying to educate retailers because ultimately they are facing the consumers everyday and they need to be the ones that tell the story, and re-educate the consumer because unfortunately for a long time now because of fast fashion, people expect cheap clothes because they’ve been trained that way.
What’s your advice for others with a social enterprise idea?
Just get started, because I think I lot of people get lost in the fact that it has to be perfect from day one. If you feel really emotionally connected to it, your heart’s in it, then you need to pursue it and be ready to learn as you go.
A great book that really inspired me was ‘Start Something that Matters’ by the creator of Tom’s Shoes, Blake Mykoskie. He’s really inspiring, because he talks about making ‘giving’ part of your business model, because, you never really know that one person you help, how it could help someone else. I think for me it resonated really personally, obviously my mum comes from Vietnam, people helped her, so now I’m lucky enough to have the life that I have, so there’s a pull you feel to give back.
Every day, KBB’s Dannie Doughan chats with an entrepreneur and features their story on our website. If your business wants a ‘Date with Dannie’, email us a quick bit about your biz!