New York fashion designer Lindsay Nicholas started her business seven years ago as a side hustle while working in marketing in Singapore. But after an unexpected move to Australia – and a global pandemic – she has just opened her first bricks-and-mortar boutique in the Melbourne CBD. With luxurious touches, such as a VIP area with velvet chairs, a personal shopping service, and free domestic shipping for in-store customers, Nicholas calls it “one of the most elegant stores” she has
has ever seen. Here, we chat with Nicholas about what sets the New York fashion scene apart, how her business fared in Covid, and why she’s committed to physical retail. Inside Retail: How would you describe your business? Lindsay Nicholas: We are a seven-year-old omnichannel brand that carries wardrobe essentials for the discerning woman with emphasis on luxurious fabrication and intentional designs. Our styles make a statement through powerful cuts and silhouettes combined with premium materials to flatter and empower our client. IR: Many Australian fashion designers dream of moving to New York, but you went in the opposite direction. What brought you to Melbourne? LN: A chance chat with a handsome Aussie (who would become my husband) at a little sushi restaurant on 49th Street in Manhattan brought me initially from NYC to Sydney 11 years ago and then to Singapore, and then to Melbourne. I started my business as a side hustle in the early mornings while working in Singapore. I thought we’d be moving to NYC when we left Singapore, so I started my business in New York. Of course, life doesn’t always turn out as we plan, and we wound up moving to Melbourne in 2017. I ran the business for two years with trips back and forth to NYC, but it wasn’t optimal, so in 2019, I moved the business to Melbourne. And thank goodness I did, as I was still able to keep all parts moving through the pandemic. IR: What is it like running your label there? What are the biggest differences compared to the fashion scene in New York? LN: While my client is consistent in that she truly loves clothes, cares about premium quality and exceptional attention to detail, there are some differences. For example, it’s more difficult to convince an Aussie woman to wear short suits to work, whereas in New York, it’s a staple of many women’s wardrobes, especially if she works in a creative field. In the US, women are more averse to a drop-crotch pant, which in Australia is more common. That’s why we describe our core client as a woman who defines her own dress code, and she certainly exists both in Australia and the US. She’s a bit bold. She wears what she likes. And my personal aesthetic is very New York-based, so every piece has a bit of NYC edge infused into it. IR: The last few years have been tough on everyone, but especially smaller businesses. How did your business fare during Covid? LN: Since we started the business in 2015, we’ve been very fortunate to double the business every year. We fared well through 2020 as we have a strong online presence, though in 202,1 we saw things slow down a bit. We think people just got fatigued about not knowing what was happening with lockdown after lockdown, especially here in Melbourne. We had double-digit growth still, but for us, it really felt like the right time to invest in retail. We’ve had pop-ups and a shop in The South Melbourne Market, but as a true believer in the power of physical retail, at the end of 2021, we opened a gorgeous new flagship boutique in Melbourne’s CBD. There is still a bit of trepidation with physical shopping, but we are very optimistic about the future. While footfall in the CBD is still down, we’re finding that our in-store conversion rate is far higher than we ever expected! We’re very confident that this was the right decision for us. IR: Looking back, what were some of the most important steps you took to stay afloat? LN: We have always been self-funded, and making sure that we had a comprehensive plan to ensure that we will stay that way into the future has been important to us. We’ve certainly had to change forecasts as market conditions change and as a brand that offers trans-seasonal clothing all year, we’ve been fortunate to not have to adhere to the traditional fashion calendar. This gives us more flexibility. Most of our pieces will work as well in a New York summer as they do in a Melbourne winter with just a change of styling. We’re also not a brand that takes markdowns on stock after six weeks. Our pieces are meant to last season after season, so while we offer new pieces monthly, we only do sales twice a year, and only on seasonal items we won’t continue into the future. During the pandemic, I was so glad that we weren’t one of those brands marking down new stock by 60 per cent just to get cash. I feel that that can ruin a brand. We were able to be patient and ride it out. IR: Why was it important to you to open a bricks-and-mortar store – and what has the process been like? LN: Our business is very intimate. Our client is making an investment in her pieces and she wants to know why they are worth the investment. Being able to walk her through the details in person, have her feel the fabrics and experience the silhouettes…it’s all so important. I spent the first 10 years of my career working in retail and it’s in my blood. Nothing compares to the in-store experience. And now since many of us have been separated from other people, I think it’s more important than ever to have in-person connections. As far as the process, admittedly it has been a bit of a challenge. Supply chain issues around the world certainly affected our timing and costs. We were hoping to open in September and didn’t open until mid-December, so there were several bumps. In the end though, we are really happy with what we created. I also think as a business owner, I have become much more resilient over the years, and perhaps that was even accelerated by Covid. Things don’t always go the way you want and being able to accept that and move on is a critical skill in this new world. I would say I smiled through most of it. IR: Can you describe your store design and experience? LN: The design is meant to look like a New York City loft, but with a lot of warmth. I worked with a wonderful designer, Nicole Rutherford from Stylesmiths, and it was almost like we were reading each other’s minds. The palette is charcoal and gold, with luxurious touches such as a VIP area with velvet chairs and a marble table, exposed concrete floor and walls, and three levels of lighting. The result is very special. I honestly think it’s one of the most elegant stores I have ever seen. The customer experience is second to none. We offer personal shopping, extended private hours, free domestic shipping of their purchase…really whatever our customer requires. And a comfortable seating area allows those accompanying her a nice relaxing place to sit. This isn’t a place you rush in and out of. We want our customers to feel like they can stay, have a coffee and really explore our collections. And we love getting to know them. IR: Prior to launching your fashion label, you led marketing teams for luxury brands, including Paspaley and Marina Bay Sands. What are some of your biggest takeaways from that time? LN: Then and now, I am my client, so it’s wonderful to be in her shoes and know what she’s looking for from her wardrobe. She travels, she’s busy, she dresses for herself and wants to look amazing, but she doesn’t have the time to fuss over clothes. She wants pieces that flatter and still feel very comfortable, travel well, and are trans-situational. Working with some of the best luxury brands in the world was an amazing education for me. Seeing the care for the product and the customer, and the ability to evolve, that so many luxury brands excel in was incredibly insightful and that is certainly something that I took to my own brand. It really is all about the details and offering something exceptional and exclusive.