As two Aussie women working in finance in New York City, both Melinda Robertson and Sarah Blank found that they were always receiving glowing feedback on their work wardrobes. The common thread? They both wore exclusively Scanlan Theodore. Most of us would probably keep our winning fashion secret to ourselves, but not these two. Instead, they decided to bring this iconic Australian label to the northern hemisphere, opening the first Scanlan Theodore store in New York in 2017.
In this edition of AWNY Start Up Stories, Melinda Robertson speaks candidly about the toughest challenges they faced in starting a business in the New York fashion world.
Are you an entrepreneur planning to launch a business in the USA?
Join Belinda Jackson, of Prosell International and Working in the USA on Monday Feb 25, 2019 at The Liberty NYC for “Starting a Business in the USA” workshop. Aussie-born Belinda has been living and working in New York for over a decade and has provided advice to many Aussies who have made the move to the States. Belinda will be joined by a panel of business owners, including Melinda Robertson, who will share their New York stories.
How do you and Sarah know each other?
We both grew up in Melbourne and attended the University of Melbourne for our undergraduate studies. We’ve been friends since we were about 15, and started our very first job together at Peter Rowland Catering – like just about everyone else from Melbourne! After university, we went in separate directions. Sarah entered into consulting which took her to South Africa, Spain and eventually the U.S. in 2007 for business school. I began work in investment banking in Melbourne and Sydney before moving to the U.S. myself in 2012 where we were reunited at last.
Did you really just decide to open Scanlan Theodore in New York because people complimented your work outfits?
Pretty much! We were both devoted Scanlan Theodore clients in Australia, and we frequently discussed the overwhelming feedback we received on our outfits from our American colleagues, and Sarah had the good idea to approach Gary Theodore, who is the owner and founder of the business, to discuss partnering to bring the brand to the Northern Hemisphere. From there, the rest is history.
How has the New York market reacted to your range?
The reaction has been incredible! Sarah and I knew it would be well received, given the great feedback we received prior to launch, but actually seeing the effect the product has on women is so exciting! We have been particularly well received by our corporate clients. Women who work in an office environment are tired of wearing boxy suits that make them look like men. Scanlan Theodore provides beautiful clothing that is office appropriate, but also feminine and comfortable. One of our clients, who regularly appears on television, commented that her Scanlan Theodore crepe knit jackets are her ‘body armor’ because she feels confident and powerful when she puts them on. Hearing that kind of feedback inspires us to keep doing what we are doing!
What have been the hardest challenges you’ve faced in starting a business in New York?
Where do I start? At a high level, I’ve learned that when you are passionate about what you do, going to work does not feel like a ‘job’. The biggest challenge was making the decision to dive in and take the risk. Sarah and I both gave up careers in finance and personally invested to get this business off the ground. We each have two young children, so taking a financial risk at this point in our lives is immense. But everyday we feel greater conviction around what we are doing and our confidence in our decision increases.
The workload involved with getting a business off the ground is immense. For a long time it was just the two of us doing everything, from the smallest piece of admin to running trunk shows at external locations by ourselves. There were many nights spent packing cars in the rain! We now have a wonderful team of 13 people working alongside us, for which we are immensely grateful!
Look at your downside scenario, if all goes wrong and the worst case evolves, can you still survive on your current resources? If you can, and you believe in what you are doing, go for it! Also, seek out as many mentors as you can. For both of us in our previous careers, we were part of large organizations with support networks to guide us. Suddenly all of that is gone, and we are making many decisions every single day, which impact the shape of our business. It is very important to have experienced people in your life who operate in the same market you are in who can guide you and provide feedback on decisions.
There is a lot of noise involved with starting a business and it’s easy to get bogged down in the admin and heavy lifting, but the main thing is to keep focusing on providing incredible customer service and beautiful product to our clients. If we keep doing that we will be ok.
Has being Australian helped or hindered your business efforts in New York?
Definitely helped! Australians and Americans have close cultural ties and there is a real sense of camaraderie between the two countries. So many business owners have been hugely helpful and supportive of us since we launched, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that American’s really embrace the relaxed Australian attitude and approach to life.
We have an incredible team of mostly Australian women, we are constantly receiving feedback from clients around how special how team is, which we already know of course!
What’s next for Scanlan Theodore?
Our focus right now is to grow the business and build our client base in the Northern Hemisphere. We have some exciting news happening this spring, so be sure to check out us.ScanlanTheodore.com to stay in the know!
This story was first published in February 2018.
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