In 20 years, Sydney fashion brand Shona Joy has weathered the many storms to have hit the global fashion industry.
Renowned for its bohemian silhouettes and hand designed prints, its pieces are stocked by the likes of global department stores David Jones, Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdale’s.
We spoke to Founder Shona Joy Thatcher about the brand’s journey over the past two decades, how they pivoted to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, and their path forward with e-commerce and sustainability.
From the early days of market stalls to today’s global marketplace, what has been Shona Joy’s growth journey within and beyond Australia?
We started the Shona Joy brand in 2000 with market stalls at Bondi Beach and Paddington. Back then, many Australian designers were carving their way and using the markets as a platform to test their aesthetic. Shona Joy got its first big break at Belinda Seper’s 'Corner Shop' in Sydney, launching a capsule collection of hand-printed tees. From there, the brand quickly built momentum with a growing list of premium retailers carrying the label both locally and abroad.
The Shona Joy brand became a market leader in the bridesmaid space, with our original focus on evening wear dresses, however, over the past five years, the growth in our e-commerce business has allowed us to really come into our own. Our use of natural fibres and the growth in our resort category has seen the evolution and elevation of the brand – offering aspirational day and night looks that reference key international trends, while remaining consistent to our uniquely modern, yet bohemian and feminine aesthetic.
What role has e-commerce and logistics played in this international growth?
Growing the direct to consumer side of our business with our online stores has been empowering for financial reasons, but more importantly to allow us to connect directly to our customer. We now have a truer understanding of who she is, what she loves, where she wears our brand, and where we want to go with the brand. Social media has allowed and opened up conversations – it’s exciting to hear directly from her – and equally to learn where we have gone wrong, and how we can be better.
How does international express delivery contribute to the brand’s overall customer experience?
Without any of our own physical stores, we’re reliant on our e-commerce channels to be our key avenue to engage with our customers and provide a seamless brand experience. Offering complimentary upgraded express shipping was so important for us to ensure our customers receive their purchases as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
Reflecting on the past 12 months, what have been the most significant challenges?
In the 20 years of the brand, we’ve encountered huge challenges (including the global financial crisis), however nothing compares to the impact of the recent global pandemic.
In the space of three days, we had millions of dollars’ worth of orders cancelled by some of our biggest retail partners – including large immediate orders which had been produced specifically for our retailers only to be rejected in-transit, as well as forward orders for our upcoming collections which had been put into work, with materials purchased and production underway.
As an industry with longer lead-times, the task of predicting the future is a huge challenge. We’re being forced to adapt to customers’ new buying behaviours, as well as adapt our supply chains and closely monitor our inventory levels. I’m so proud of our team and how we’ve been able to overcome these challenges by really listening to our customer and introducing new product categories, as well as improve the online experience.
With the pandemic impacting seasonal consumer buying habits across the fashion industry, how has the label pivoted to remain relevant?
We were fortunate enough to have been 12 months in to our 18-month website rebuild when the pandemic hit. Our new digital platform has been designed to showcase more of who we are; to take our customer on the ride with us and give us the opportunity to share where our ideas and inspiration have come from. Without a physical store presence, the Shona Joy website functions as our flagship – it’s now so much more than simply a transactional e-commerce store.
Listening to and learning from our customers has been critical in enabling us to expand into product categories such as our SJ Sport Collection, or build new features for our website to ensure we’re offering the best possible customer experience.
Have you also observed changes in purchasing trends for your bridal wear line?
Our passion is to design for real women and create dresses for celebrating life in. We’ve seen a real shift in the bridal industry with brides scaling back their weddings, and seeking gowns that go against all conservative expectations to align with their own personal aesthetic. Our ethos is that you shouldn’t spend your life working, nor should your greatest celebrations break the bank. We don’t believe in disposable fashion, so our mission is to design dresses that will be treasured as part of your wardrobe forever.
In recent years, the sustainable fashion movement has grown in prominence. How has this played a part in the label’s journey towards sustainability?
As a consumer goods brand, we’ll never claim to be 100 per cent sustainable, however, we’ve made a considered commitment to better our business and reduce our impact through conscious improvements of our processes and materials. The first step for us was to identify our most commonly used fibres and replace these with sustainable alternatives; the first of these being a switch to Lenzing. Additionally, we’ve done a complete audit of our packaging to fully transition all of our mailer satchels (and labelling) to home compostable alternatives.
We’re also working on a roadmap to offer more clarity around our decision making and transparency in our process as part of our commitment to always seeking areas for improvement, as well as to ensure we’re keeping our community informed every step of the way.
2020 marked a significant milestone for Shona Joy. Over the last two decades, what have been the most important learnings for you? And what advice would you give to emerging Australian fashion designers?
Our 20th anniversary was an opportunity for reflection on who we are as a brand and how we want to move forward. As a team, we're committed to and motivated by building a business that we can all be proud of with a refined focus on using our growth to ensure we’re making a real impact to the issues we feel most connected to.
Some of the key pieces of advice I’ve had to remind myself over the years:
- You can’t be good at everything: find out what you are best at, then employ the best people you can to fill the gaps. Make sure you keep those people in your business through growth, up-skilling and internal promotions
- Trust your gut instinct: you shouldn’t let others to tell you how and why to do things, it should all feel right for you at that specific time
- Its only clothes: we're not saving lives, so don't sweat the small stuff. Just do your best as there’s another challenge around the corner
- You need to quickly work out what sets you apart
For more information on Shona Joy, visit shonajoy.com.au