Designer Cindy Huong Bui talks maintaining margins

Fashion designer and retailer Cindy Huong Bui reveals her strategies for combatting cheap knock-offs and maintaining healthy profit margins.

It’s said there are in excess of 2.1 million small businesses in Australia, but the majority of them will fail within three years. And the internet seems awash with businesses that are here today, gone tomorrow.

Amid such tough trading conditions, though, there are businesses finding and owning their own niche. By doing so, they are earning themselves a decent living, all while helping a particular type of customer meet a particular need.

My Business speaks with Cindy Huong Bui, founder of women’s plus-size swimwear and sleepwear brand Curvysea Australia, about the challenges of operating an online business, cheap competitors and imitators, as well as how she maintains relevance with her core audience.Cindy Huong Bui, Curvysea Australia

How did you come to establish Curvysea?

I worked in the fashion industry for about five years before setting up Curvysea as a swimwear brand. I got inspiration from my best friend, who is size 18 – she complained to me about how hard it was to find a nice swimsuit to fit her plus-size figure.

This gave me an idea of designing swimsuits, so I established my Curvysea trademark and online boutique in 2006.

My swimwear is designed to accentuate plus-size women’s bodies in the right areas as well as to help them camouflage specific portions which they don’t want other people to look at.

“I do not support a “heavy discount” strategy, despite a flood of cheap women’s swimwear selling online from overseas … the products’ quality must come first, and customers understand it.”

What have been the crucial things that have enabled your business to not only survive, but to grow?

I always keep three crucial things in mind:

  • Researching trends: I constantly study fashion trends for women on the internet or by attending fashion shows such as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Then I create styles to suit full-figured women.
  • Listening to customers: I provide my customers with excellent service so they are willing to share their experience with others, or give me their ideas on how to make products even better.
  • Pricing: I do not support a “heavy discount” strategy, despite a flood of cheap women’s swimwear selling online from overseas (their swimwear price is so cheap, it’s less than my wholesale costs). To me, the products’ quality must come first, and customers understand it.

Do you make the garments yourself, or do you import them?

Curvysea Australia plus-size swimwear, modelled by an unnamed modelI design the swimwear, which is Curvysea branded, myself and I send the garment sketches overseas to manufacture in Vietnam, then import the products (pictured left) back to Australia.

Where are your products sold?

My products are sold online through my website. Our customers come from right around Australia, as well as New Zealand and the US.

How many staff do you currently have?

It ultimately depends on the season, as I do rely on casuals for support during the busier months. But there are two of us full-time.

It’s an online business, so I outsource most of the work online to experienced people.

“Be patient, as success does not come overnight, have a passion for what you are doing and communicate regularly with your customers.”

What are the biggest barriers to growth for your business?

There are two main challenges that are a constant struggle for the business.

Competing with cheap, low-quality and imitation products from overseas – primarily China – is a constant battle. However, as I mentioned previously, I have carved my niche on quality, which helps to differentiate my products from these low-cost alternatives.

The other challenge is one familiar to most businesses: simply keeping up with technology and changes to search engines such as Google.

Any advice you would give to other business owners out there?

I would just say be patient, as success does not come overnight, have a passion for what you are doing and communicate regularly with your customers.

Also never stop learning and trying new technology, as there are always things you can pick up that will improve what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Finally, I would say that you have to be prepared to deal with any circumstance which may happen suddenly in your personal life. Running a business is hard, but so is life, and sometimes things happen that really test your commitment and ability.Curvysea Australia founder Cindy Huong Bui (centre) at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week

You really need to be prepared and have a strong support network in place so that when difficulties arise, you can keep the business going!

Fast facts: Curvysea Australia

Established: 2006
Industry: Online retail, fashion
Employees: Two plus various contractors during peak periods
Location: Sydney, NSW
Customer base: Australia, New Zealand, United States

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