After 10 years operating as an e-commerce fashion brand, Melbourne womenswear brand Steele has just revealed its flagship store, located within a 1900s heritage-listed home in the suburb of Hawthorn. Here, we chat with Steele founder Jessica Reid about the story and inspiration behind her brand and why despite the ever-changing retail landscape, it was the perfect time to finally invest in bricks-and-mortar. Tell me the story about how Steele began and why you launched it. I founded Steele in 20
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nded Steele in 2010 after almost a decade in the industry as a fashion buyer. As a frequent visitor to Bali, my love of breezy island life and the fashion it inspired continued to linger, long after I returned to urban life. I found myself wanting to encapsulate the relaxed, resort feel and aesthetic, no matter my location. Steele really is a manifestation of my dream wardrobe, fusing ultra-feminine styling with sophistication, offering a wear-anywhere attitude.
How would you describe the Steele customer?
Our loyal community of Steele women value the versatility of our designs and the effortless nature of our wear-anywhere pieces. They share a love of feminine, breezy silhouettes that celebrate diversity and appreciate our commitment to quality at affordable price points. She loves to walk into a room and be noticed, but she exudes a relaxed nature, she doesn’t shy away from bold colours and prints and is drawn to the confidence our pieces embody.
Bricks-and-mortar took a hit during Covid and Steele has been successful online, so why have you decided to recently open a physical space?
While it certainly may seem like strange timing to open our first brick-and-mortar store, the pandemic forced me to reassess our business model. During the lockdowns, I really missed the personal connection and it gave me time to think about the brand and its future. We don’t want to just exist in an invisible digital space, we really want to connect with our customers and offer them a unique experience, and when the opportunity to take our beautiful space came up, it all just happened organically. It was meant to be. I think we were always going to be guided by the space.
How would you describe Steele’s in-store customer experience and what it’s like walking into the store?
Steele House was designed as a personal and relaxed space. It’s ‘home inspired’, like you’re entering our lounge room. An elevated experience, we want our customers to have a slow and meaningful visit. Soft hues and natural light encompass the space where the focus on customers is to make them feel welcome. From the moment you enter our front courtyard, you can feel the new life that we’ve breathed into the historic space.
Tell me about the process of designing the space and the thinking that went behind it.
Designed in conjunction with interior designers Kirstin Dahl-Feathers and Carlie Ng, the early 1900’s heritage-listed house was carefully considered to foster a sense of homeliness, and connection. The interiors were curated and selected from some of my favourite Australian design houses, including Lucy Montgomery, House of Slim, Fomu, and Anna Charlesworth. We weren’t looking for a retail space, we were looking for an incredible opportunity and something magical to connect with the Steele woman. We found it and we’re so excited to share our world.
How has the business evolved in the past decade and how has the fashion industry changed?
In the first six years of business, we purely focussed on the global wholesale market. When the pandemic hit, we had to pivot and worked to shift that focus to the direct-to-consumer model, investing in our digital platform. The change in strategy and financial investment paid off, and we were able to grow our e-commerce revenue by 90 per cent last financial year. This success has allowed us to expand into the physical realm, opening our first flagship boutique, Steele House.
What are you excited about in 2022 and what are your intentions for the business in the year ahead?
After 10 years of manifesting our dream space, we are thrilled to finally have a place to connect with our community in the physical realm. We’re looking forward to making the most of the space in the new year, and we already have plans in motion for various events, pop-ups and branded collaborations. We are excited for the opportunities for connection that SSteele House brings, and the avenues it opens to further expand our brand in the future.