Carla Zampatti: how to stay in business for more than 50 years

This Italian-born Australian fashion legend started a small business in the 1960s with her life savings of £750 and has now been in business for more than 51 years.

Arriving in Australia in 1950 as a nine-year-old, this self-made designer has since been honoured with A Companion or the Order of Australia in 2009 and has even been featured on a postage stamp.

Carla Zampatti started her small business at home selling clothes to friends and laughs when she says that wasn’t a great idea at all because; “they never paid me!”

Starting out in her small business was “exciting, daunting, terrifying and exhausting. There was one point when I rang a friend and said I can’t do this. And he said yes you can!” From creating her first a capsule clothing collection in Sydney in 1965, her small business eventually grew to a much larger business and she now has 26 boutiques country wide and an ecommerce shop.

Starting a small business: “Be determined and love what you do.” Press play!

Like many who are starting out in a small business, this self-confessed shy businesswoman at first found it difficult to front up to people to ask to be paid for her hard work. “Picking up the cheques from the people who bought my clothes and retailers was the most difficult aspect,” she says. “I would sell product and they would order the next collection.”

However, if she wasn’t paid, particularly in the first couple of years, it made it very difficult for her to have the money to create new clothes to sell. “I would just go along myself and pick up cheques,” she adds. “That was the hardest thing to overcome my natural shyness. But I quickly learnt that it was very necessary. I wish I knew more about business at the time but I was practical enough to learn on the way. I learned very quickly.”

Hiring good staff: “I look for people who are interested and engaged. Press play!

“I didn’t expect it to be so daunting staring out with a small business but the fun element was always there simply because I loved fashion. The determination and passion to stay there was also there for the same reason. When I’m designing that compensates everything because I’m in my own world. I’m always excited to come up with something new and different. There is never a dull moment!”

“I indulge my ideas on paper and the I have a wonderful team of people who actually turn them into garments. The whole process is really beautiful. You can not start or run a business without a wonderful team of staff. They are the people on the front-line.”

Carla Zampatti’s motto for success: “Learn every day.” Press play!

Her advice about keeping a business going successfully for decades? “Be open minded and open to new ideas and learn every day. Even in my old age I still learn things from everyone every day and that is very important.” For those starting out with their own small business in fashion Carla’s advice is to remember that; “product is King, you need talent and to be able to run an efficient business.”

Carla’s top 3 small business tips:
1. Get good advice about finances and make sure you are paid on time.
2 Ensure you are organised and meet deadlines.
3. Remember, good customer service is being able to listen to your client and give them what they need.

Creative legend Carla Zampatti on a postage stamp

Highlights from Carla Zampatti’s latest collection

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Click here to watch Carla Zampatti’s interview on Kochie’s Business Builders

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