AWNY first met Vintage Jewelry Dealer, Hester Fleming, in 2017. More recently Hester relocated back to Australia and launched a book on how to buy vintage jewelry. We caught up with her to find out how she successfully re-established her business in Australia and her recent experience becoming a published author.
What have you been up to since you relocated back to Sydney? How is your business going?
It’s been a busy three years! My family and I are currently settled in Balmain. Grace, my eldest has started school and we recently introduced Amelia, now 9 months’ old, into our world. My husband, James has continued to work in finance. It’s been lovely reconnecting with family and friends after ten years abroad. Five of those years were in New York and we have the best memories of our time there.
I launched my vintage business in Sydney, at the “Frock Up! Randwick”event in July 2017. I had a fantastic response to my collection that weekend. This gave me the confidence to believe, there is a strong market for authentic 20th century jewellery and accessories in Australia.
In between full-time family commitments, I’ve continued trading at vintage events in Sydney. I’ve also grown my online following through email newsletters and Instagram. I’ve found the most powerful marketing tool though, has been participating in vintage fashion events. I love meeting new customers and discovering how they like to accessorize with vintage.
Tell us about your new book: what lead to you writing it, who is this book a MUST-READ for and what do you hope readers will take away?
I wrote “How to Buy Vintage Jewellery and Accessories” during my last summer in New York. The idea came to me because so many people would ask: How do you source your vintage pieces? How do you know whether it’s a real piece or a reproduction? Where do you source your vintage pieces?
In this day and age, I believe transparency in business is essential. Keeping secrets about how I source, doesn’t serve anyone, especially given the current status of landfill globally, and the pitfalls of fast fashion.
My book is a wonderful tool for anyone interested in discovering the world of vintage jewellery and accessories. It also has a directory of vintage shopping locations in New York. It’s not a heavy textbook read about the wonders of vintage costume jewellery. It’s a simple “how to” guide for building a personal collection of vintage jewellery, scarves and bags, that’s especially for you.
We have many aspiring authors within AWNY. What can you tell us about the process of writing and launching a book?
I was really fortunate that by the time I sat down to write my book, the content was all there. I’d spent a few years pottering around the flea markets of New York and participated in several Manhattan Vintage Clothing Shows. The front cover of my book was the result of a photoshoot put together years before, by my friend Jenny, who is a stylist. She loved my idea of vintage and had another good friend, Josh, who is a professional photographer. I had no idea the images from that shoot would end up going into a published book.
Are there any promotional events for your book (either in New York or Australia) that you’d like to tell us about?
I had a wonderful party to launch my book in Sydney. It was a lot of fun. So many friends (from everywhere) and a few members of my family turned up. Since then, Emma Morris, founder of Round She Goes, a preloved fashion market, collaborated with my publisher and organised an online competition to win a copy of my book. The response to my book being published has been amazing.
Where can we find your book, both in Australia and the US?
You can find my book almost everywhere! In the US it’s available online at Barnes & Noble. In Australia, try Booktopia or Dymocks.
What did you learn about relocating back to Australia and adapting/evolving your business under those circumstances? Any challenges that you had to overcome?
It was a big process relocating back to Australia. I’m originally from Melbourne, so I had to start from scratch again in Sydney. It just takes time to make new friends and find your place. I would say to anyone who’s been away for a significant amount of time, give yourself two years to plant those roots properly.
The biggest surprise I had with relocation was the business lessons I learnt in New York, put me in a strong position in Australia. The competition in New York was a lot tougher. I was really happy to discover a bigger, more welcoming space for small business projects here.
What’s next for your business?
Keep growing and embrace every opportunity. I’ve achieved some great milestones with my business, but it’s been the process of learning/personal growth that has kept me going.
What inspiring advice have you received from other women in business?
I went to a fantastic Business Chicks event in Sydney, “Nine to Thrive”, back in 2017. I found the best entrepreneurs speaking, were all saying the same thing. Keep chipping away at your project, every little bit counts. Don’t give up your day job, that’s way too much pressure. Trust in every lesson you learn, no matter how hard, there’s always a reason why.
Are there any special offers you’d like to share with the AWNY community?
There is currently a 20% off promotion for new customers from AWNY community who purchase through my online shop, www.hesterflemingvintage.com. Use the discount code NEW20 during check out.
When we first met Hester Fleming, she had turned a love of Vintage Jewelry into a thriving online business based in New York. Read the original Startup Story with Hester, first published in 2017, about her journey from London to New York and back to Sydney:
Tell us about yourself and your business, particularly what inspired you to begin.
I started buying and selling genuine vintage jewelry and Accessories in 2010, when I was living in London. I loved spending the weekend exploring the markets of Bermondsey, Camden Passage, Spitalfields and the large collector fairs around regional England. To help sharpen my buying eye, I gravitated to reference books to help distinguish particular styles with eras, and back my investment! I knew there was a strong market of clients interested in vintage, however they lacked the time to source pieces at a reasonable cost, so this is where I could come in.
Once I built up a large enough collection, I rented a showcase at Grey’s Antique Market Mews in Mayfair, London. However, it was a challenging time in London to start a business. The economy had gone into shock and people weren’t shopping the way they used to. Lack of foot traffic and sluggish sales in the antique centre, led me to develop my own website. I had been working for a digital publishing company, so I felt I had the skills to experiment with an ecommerce platform, and implement an integrated marketing plan.
To measure interest online, I sold a few test pieces through my Facebook profile. The result was really positive, so I launched my own site with an email newsletter over a few weeks. Towards the end of 18months in business, my husband, James, and I were asked to move to New York at the end of 2011! I was excited to explore what the New York vintage scene was all about but slightly daunted by how my business could work in a city where I knew no one.
What steps did you take to launch your business in a new country?
When I arrived in New York, I spent a lot of time investigating local markets and talking to the traders. Most weekends, I would get up early, coffee in hand and visit markets all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. I quickly realized 20th century signed Vintage Jewelry and Accessories was very accessible at a reasonable cost. I eventually developed a great rapport with a few traders, which enabled me to put together a collection that was far more in tune with the New York customer.
I also worked on upgrading my website, organized a photoshoot for rebranding purposes (I’m still in love with the result), attended a few digital marketing workshops and conferences, continued to collect as many potential client email addresses as possible and had a baby! Once I was back on my feet, I decided for more momentum, I would participate in the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Shows and the Williamsburg Artist and Fleas market. Both were great for expanding my audience and feeling a part of the fashion fabric of New York.
I can now say my customer base in New York includes stylists, fashion bloggers, jewelers, avid collectors of historical costume jewelry and the every day style conscious elite! I also met some wonderful friends in the trade who I will always treasure.
What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / I’ve made it in the USA moment.
As we all know, New York is tough. I was shocked when I observed how quickly customers browsed and purchased at vintage events. I wondered how I would ever make an impact. It was when customers started to email me last year, to check on my attendance at upcoming vintage events, that I knew I’d made an impact.
What have been the hardest lessons in starting a business in New York and how do you think it differs from doing so in Australia?
The key lesson theme for me, has been confidence. New York is so loud. However, I have learnt you can still make a significant impact by being true to yourself and what you’re offering the world. I’m currently in the process of setting up my business in Australia, so it will be interesting to see how the Sydney customer responds to my concept and whether it will need altering, like it did when I moved across from London to New York.
Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?
I’ve found the best way to market my business has been by talking about it (with a constant stream of business cards), participating in events, and being consistent with email newsletters. Over summer last year, I wrote an ebook about vintage buying in New York, which created some buzz. I also had a great Instagram campaign running, which definitely helped with exposure and revenue.
Do you have any mentors, and how have people been sharing information and their networks?
So many wonderful people have helped me along the way. Vintage traders who have been on the scene for decades are fantastic at imparting their knowledge. The organizers of vintage events have been so supportive once I’ve pitched my concept to them. For an extra push, last summer I joined Lucy Shahjahan’s Momentum Circle program. I loved connecting with like minded individuals, in a fun and productive environment. The process helped sharpen my brand, increase revenue and move forward with new ideas.
What advice would give someone thinking about starting a business?
For everything I have invested in my business, there has always been a return one way or another. Don’t have any expectations. Build a business concept that you are genuinely excited about. It’s what you learn and the community you build with it, that adds so much value into your life.
What is next for your business?
My husband, daughter and I have recently relocated to Sydney, so I’m in the process of setting up my business here. Selling to Australians in New York has given me the confidence there is a market ready for me here.
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