Qld Mum turned daggy household item into $250k in two years
WHEN Simone Taylor had her first baby, she knew something had to give.
She had a successful corporate career (she consulted for PricewaterhouseCoopers then worked for a top advertising agency in London before moving back home to Queensland), but after her child was born, she knew she wanted to start her own business so that she could have the flexibility to work part time - something that just wasn't possible for her in the corporate world.
Her business idea came to her where so many great brainwaves occur: in the shower.
"I've always needed to wear shower caps to prevent frizz from moisture in the shower and like most women I would wear the puffy bonnet shower cap because I didn't have time to wash and style everyday," she explains from her home in Ascot, Queensland.
"I was in the shower and my husband and I were laughing about how ugly and outdated shower caps are and how it's like every woman's embarrassing little secret to wear one.
"Then I had a brainwave ... why isn't there a more fashionable style to protect your hair in the shower that doesn't make you look like an old maid?"
So Taylor, 33, gave an everyday item - one that hasn't ever really been changed design-wise - a makeover. She decided to re-imagine the shower cap as a chic turban, and with that, her new brand Louvelle was born.
"I love vintage glamour, particularly the 1970s and the turban silhouette has always been an enduring trend in fashion," she says.
"I spent one year on design, prototyping and sourcing manufacturers and launched late in 2014," she recalls.
"We tested the prototypes on friends and sourced water resistant, quick drying fabric that was soft and mildew resistant so that it would last longer than regular shower caps.
"My husband is a lawyer so we also knew it was important to invest the time and money to register design patents internationally which took 12 months".
"We started in our basement, with me packing the orders while nursing a newborn and wrangling a toddler which was a challenge," she recalls.
But the early stressful days paid off.
Within two months they broke even, and in just their second year they hit $250,000 revenue.
They started by attending local trade shows where they had huge interest from stockists.
"Sephora was launching in Australia and they wanted new, innovative products so our range is available in all their stores in Australia," she says.
"The US is a bit of a harder market to penetrate with a niche product but once we had developed a full product range of complimentary beauty accessories (the range now includes headbands, robes, eye masks and beauty bags), we were able to secure representation by some of the top sales agencies," she says.
Louvelle is now stocked in over 300 independent stores across six countries and the business is no longer run from their basement - they have an office, two warehouses, three employees and 30 sales representatives. She hopes that number will continue to grow.
"It's my aim to employ women and provide them with the work flexibility that is missing in the business world," she says.
"It's the Louvelle philosophy to create unique and feminine beauty accessories that compliment a woman's lifestyle at home and while travelling," says Taylor.
"The shower turban you can also wear outside, a cosmetics bag that is beautiful enough to double as a clutch, the robe can be worn after dressing or as a cover up by the pool."
"I think [the brand] gained traction quickly because of the unique design, and also because of the pretty packaging, people have been buying it as a gift, we've had people buy for their whole bridal party or their whole family."
The brand also got a huge boost when they were featured in a New York Times article after women in NYC were spotted leaving blow-dry bars wearing the turbans, to ensure their hair didn't go frizzy.
They've also won some celebrity fans.
"We're sworn to secrecy but there have been a few big name models and celebrities who have ordered," says Taylor.
"Celebrity stylists for the Kardashians have requested samples and Heidi Klum's hairdresser Wendy Iles recommends our products."
While Taylor is obviously enjoying the business's success ("I had a real 'pinch myself' moment when I was in the Vogue offices in New York"), it's a far-cry from the part-time lifestyle she was originally trying to create for herself.
"I do have flexibility ... but I am working many more hours than I had envisioned, in order to keep up with the growth of the business," she says.
"We have just quadrupled our product line to include silk robes, eye masks and beauty bags. Our distribution in the US is forecast to grow 500 per cent this year. While we do ship globally, we have lots of customers asking us to get our product into stores in the UK so that will hopefully be on the horizon too."
Sometimes they find themselves struggling to meet demand.
"We have always had our bestsellers sell out quickly and constantly have waitlists for new prints," she says.
"I guess it was naive of me to think that you can start a company and work part time."
She has learned a lot along the way and has some good advice for other women wanting to start their own business.
Her first lesson was about outsourcing.
"If you want to scale your business, you can't do everything, you need to outsource, whether it be consultants, employees, (plus help at home if you're a mum), so that you can work on your business, not in your business," she says.
"The reality of this is that you don't pay yourself a salary for quite a while and that can be hard.
Also, you cannot please 100 per cent of people, you will listen to lots of different advice ... listen, but stay true to your vision for the brand".
The toughest lesson was about global expansion.
"Manufacturing offshore and exporting to the US has been a baptism of fire and I have learned so much," she admits.
"Paying for marketing in the US is like a drop in the ocean, it's such a big market and I invested a lot and the sales results didn't justify such a large expenditure for a small company.
"My favourite quote is 'a coward dies a thousand times and a brave man dies only once'. I think being successful is about resilience - how do you get back up when you face a setback ... because starting a business is full of highs and lows".