It is around 10 years ago that the silk clothing retailer Silk Islands was formed, and to date the business is approaching 50,000 garments sold.
Yet instead of turning to e-commerce or a store network to put its products in front of consumers, Silk Islands turned to television shopping via an agreement with TVSN.
“I had retired from varied roles in marketing and business development which were very demanding. The first three weeks of retirement were wonderful, and then the reality set in I needed to be busy. I bought a sewing machine, some Poly Chiffon and started sewing a kaftan,” Christine Eyre, CEO of the Lake Macquarie-based company, told My Business.
“It took weeks to perfect the design, but when I finished it and tried it on, I realised why people wanted silk.”
According to Ms Eyre, trying to source wholesale silk without a business name or industry contacts was “like trying to find alien life”.
“It took months trawling websites and following tiny clues until I found people who would speak with me, [and] I was able to form a relationship with the most amazing company in Hangzhou in China,” she said.
More months of trial and error in sewing silk followed, before Ms Eyre was able to show off the kaftan she had made.
“I wore it to a party and the rest is history!” she said.
“Everyone wanted one, I had orders and I was beginning to feel this was no longer a hobby but instead a potential business.
“We built a website, registered Silk Islands, had a photo shoot and my baby was born. Orders came in from all over the world and I started thinking bigger.”
So why, with suppliers and concept in hand, did Ms Eyre choose to narrow her options to a single sales channel?
‘I didn’t want the hassle’
Ms Eyre explained that she had long been a customer of the Television Shopping Network (TVSN), and determined that it was her “only choice” as a distribution partner.
She cited the common gripes of many business owners, and retailers in particular, as influencing her decision.
“I didn’t want the hassle of bricks and mortar, staff and the headaches associated with a standalone business, so I approached TVSN,” she explained.
“Naivety was my constant friend in those days; I had no idea how much stock TVSN would need to put together a show, all I knew was that my product would work for them and their demographic. I was still making every garment myself and I was feeling very confident that I did not need a manufacturer.”
If at first you don’t succeed...
At first, Ms Eyre admitted her approach was unsuccessful, as she was promptly told that “my product was too expensive, so the answer was no”. But tenacity eventually got her across the line.
“I kept trying for two years until finally I was asked to come in and show my range,” she said.
“Things went quickly from there; as soon as the buyers saw these gorgeous garments, they gave me an order and a show date: I had three weeks to fulfil the order. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did!”
Her first time on air was a one-hour live slot with a presenter from the network.
“The show was a huge hit and we sold out before it was over,” Ms Eyre said.
“My buyer was waiting outside the studio to arrange another order and another show. Once again, I had three weeks, no sleep for me.”
Clearly, this was not sustainable for the longer term, so Ms Eyre embarked on a search to have the garments manufactured for her. It was a process she said ended well, but was not without its challenges.
“I started interviewing manufacturers from around the world. My life was a whirlwind of disappointing samples, potential con artists and a minefield of importing and customs regulations,” she said.
“Luckily, after kissing many manufacturing frogs, I found my Prince in Mumbai; he is still my major manufacturer all these years later and he is now a family friend.”
Shift in focus
Having a manufacturer enabled Ms Eyre to scale her business and meet larger orders. Instead of making the goods herself, she focused on the design and importing, as well as spruiking her wares on live TV.
The business now employs two staff and has two Indian factories manufacturing its products, with five hours of live-to-air television every two months, selling thousands of garments each year for between $300 and $450 each.
And despite this growth, it continued to use TVSN as its exclusive route to market.
“TVSN is an amazing way to shop: you learn about the product as you watch, you see it in action, whether it’s a cooking appliance, gym equipment or fashion. To me, it was the answer in getting my product to the marketplace,” she said.
“My driving passion was to provide silk garments at a price that was accessible to women, garments that would let them feel good about themselves [and] that put them at the pointy edge of fashion without the stress of having to be a size 8.”
Ms Eyre admitted that customer emails often bring her “to tears”, which she believes is proof that her strategy is the right one for her business.
“I knew there was a space for me on shopping TV and I knew that women were waiting for a fashion solution.”
TV audience ‘bigger than you think’
For Ms Eyre, the decision to supply TVSN exclusively was her own, meaning that she had weighed up the concerns about “putting all her eggs in one basket”.
“I want our customers to know they are buying something special, something you can’t buy anywhere else, something that was made with love and care just for them,” she said.
And as for marketing via television as a traditional form of media, the business owner suggested that, at least in her own experience, the numbers speak for themselves.
“If you have inventory and you are looking for an outlet, consider shopping TV: it is much bigger than you think,” she said.
“And whilst retail is suffering, my brand is still incredibly strong.”
She added: “You have the opportunity to build your brand and uniquely you also build a loyal audience.”
Ms Eyre admitted that her own experience “has been remarkable”, and her advice to other business owners with a product to sell is simple:
“I went from manufacturing the garments myself to being the biggest fashion brand on TVSN. If you can get on board with them, do it: it is extraordinary.”