Brisbane-based entrepreneurs Emily Bitkow and Sarah Hua dropped their jobs in fashion and health to develop and launch their very own fashion accessory – a magnetic, belt-free pouch to carry your essentials.
A progression of product development over 10 years, Emily said she was becoming frustrated with trying to find somewhere to put her stuff when she was going for a run or a walk.
“I hated wearing arm bands and bum bags that weighed me down and there were no pockets in tights. So I thought, ‘You know what? I really think there’s a product here for this market.’”
With more than 26,000 Instagram followers on the VIVRA account, it turns out she wasn’t alone.
After launching in 2016, VIVRA has since gained stockists in Australia and New Zealand, as well as a boutique in a six-star hotel in Germany. The brand also caught the eye of the National Retail Association when they picked up the Small Online Retailer Award earlier this year.
But bringing a new product to market is not without its challenges, and the pair have learnt a thing or two in the process.
“Manufacturing has been a huge battle for us,” Sarah says. “Mostly because it’s a new product to market, no one’s ever made it before. It’s magnetic. With metal sewing machines, it’s not a fantastic combination. So that’s been a huge mission for us to get the product right.
“And also with it being a new product to market in itself, that’s been really difficult as well to educate customers on how it actually works. So we’ve really had to hit the pavement with getting out there and educating people at markets and popups and things like that on how the VIVRA actually works. So that was a huge challenge.”
Sarah and Emily have set up shop in an industrial precinct in the inner north Brisbane suburb of Windsor, where VIVRA’s office space and warehousing sit side-by-side. We dropped into the HQ and caught up with the VIVRA founders to find out their top tips for fashion entrepreneurs starting out in the industry.
Patience makes perfect
They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and that’s been the case for Emily and Sarah – but the reality is that it’s taken them five years to reach the point they’re at today.
“The advice that I would give to those considering going into business is not to expect things to happen overnight,” Emily says.
“Especially if you are going to market with a new product or a new app, it takes time. If you consider how long manufacturing takes, all these things you can look at, it could be at least a year before you are going to get things off the ground.
“And it’s really important that you don’t strive for ‘perfection’. If you think about big brands like Apple, they’ve had major progression of their product – what the Apple phone is today is not what it was 20 years ago. So you can’t expect to go to market with an absolutely perfect product straight away.”
Bootstrap wherever you can
Funding the development of a product while trying to get a business off the ground takes time and hard work – but more than that, it takes money. So when it comes to the bottom line, the VIVRA founders found doing what they could, themselves, was essential for spending their money where it counted.
“Be prepared to work very, very, very hard for nothing,” Emily says. “And I mean that in a monetary sense. It’s very satisfying to have built the brand and the business to where it is today. But for four years we didn’t take any money from the business.
“And on top of that, I would have to say that whatever you anticipate it will cost to start the business, multiply that by at least three, because there are going to be unforeseen expenses. You just need to protect yourself.”
Find your tribe
The VIVRA founders have been cheered on from the sidelines by their epic customer community built online through their website and social channels. But the pair also found common connections among Brisbane’s business community at Brisbane Business Hub.
“BBH has assisted us with inviting us to a lot of networking events,” Emily says. “And through those networking events we have met some fabulous entrepreneurs and business owners, who know people that we might need to connect with or vice versa.
“I think that’s just the most beautiful thing about that space, is that you can go there and feel supported and comforted. That’s especially important if you are by yourself. I mean, Sarah and I are fortunate to have each other, but sometimes it can also feel lonely for us.
“To be able to go there and talk to other entrepreneurs about what their experiences are and say, ‘Yeah, I’m going through that, too’. It’s super cool.”
Emily and Sarah now have their sights set on global markets. With their hands free, there’s no stopping them.