Feathers tickling Myer’s fancy

Feathers Store Collins StOpening its sixth Myer’s outlet and most recent store on October 6 in Brisbane, women’s fashion brand and retailer, Feathers, will open its next Myer’s store in Sydney’s Bondi Junction in the first quarter of 2016.

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Feathers founder and director, Margaret Porritt, believes the relationship with Myer is working well.

“With the new directors in Myer, there is a new direction,” Porritt told Inside Retail Weekly. “They’re very happy with Feathers and I’m very happy with them. So it’s pretty mutual, and they’re happy to expand. We’ll see what happens interstate.”

In Myer, the stores vary from 30sq and 50sqm within the store, while the standalone boutiques are usually between 80sqm and 100sqm.

The first quarter of 2016 – around February – will see the launch of a new collaboration with young Melbourne designer, Shakira Wallis. Porritt will mentor Wallis through this latest initiative of the business.

“She has beautiful fabrics, she has a younger handwriting [style] than Feathers, and I want to work with her to see how we go – if it can work together as a collaboration,” Porritt explained.

“I just feel for the new young designers coming up in the marketplace today. We are so overregulated, there are so many issues with high rents, high wages; running a business today, isn’t easy.”

Wallis’ brand, known as S. Wallis, will be showcased as a capsule collection, initially through the four main boutique stores of Brighton, Hawksburn, and Collins Place in Melbourne and Mosman in Sydney.

“Shakira’s designs are similar and the feeling is similar, but younger and a little groovier and I think it will slot in, and work very well,” Porritt explained.

“Basically, her target is 30 to 50, where I started. It’s just that my customers have got older with me, they’re 50 to 70. When your product is timeless, you still get 18-year-olds and you still get 80-year-olds. Sometimes I get a really gorgeous older woman who is quite chic in her 80s looking divine, and then I will get a big girl who is 18 who loves our clothes. Everything is a little bit timeless, but basically our demographic is 50-plus now.

“I love what I’m doing as much as day one. For me, it’s not going to work – this is a passion I have, and have always had it flowing through from my mother, and I love working with young people.”

Porritt’s desire to be ever-evolving and nimble to change has seen a recent – and third overall – upgrade to the Feathers website. This involved putting in place a new platform and provider on August 1, as well as taking on a new marketing and advertising company.

And engaging new media sees Feathers working with a number of bloggers, including iconic Phoebe Montague – known as Lady Melbourne.

Feathers window

Black or white
The fitouts of Feathers’ stores can be described as minimalist.

“My philosophy is we’re selling clothes – and I want the shops to look like an art gallery – very white, very pure, stainless steel furniture, quite modern, and the clothes are the thing that does the job [the hero].

“The fittings are very simple, but very expensive. We have beautiful oak floors, or white concrete; Mosman (for example) has a lovely timber floor, all-white walls, stainless steel handmade furniture just made for us with lovely white boxes to go with it, powder coated.”

Contrasting with, and highlighted by, the white background, is the mostly black and white clothing.

“We are known for black; we sell a lot of black. When you’re in the city working in an urban environment, you end up wearing black every day.”

Loyalty factor
Staff loyalty has played no small part in the success of the business. Feathers has a staff retention rate of 90 per cent, with some staff working in the business for up to 30 years.

“So when the customer comes in, she is used to seeing the same girl, having a relationship, the friendship,” Porritt said. “The team knows what she likes, what she doesn’t like.

“I built the whole business on service. If a customer has a dress she bought five years ago and she wants another one and I have the fabric and the pattern, I’ll make her one for a small surcharge. Things that I am doing are unheard of in the industry.”

Feathers carries sizes six to 20. Its biggest selling sizes are now 14 and 16; five years ago it used to be 10 and 12.

“The slimmer women have a lot of choices, the bigger women don’t have the choices,” Porritt said. “My vision for the brand remains the same today as it was 43 years ago – to add value to women’s lives and make them feel good about themselves. You can’t underestimate the power of self-confidence.

“It was doing family-friendly before the phrase was even coined. Although times are tough in retail, I still insist on offering exceptional, old-fashioned customer service, both in the boutiques and online.

“Feathers offers generations of Australian women the opportunity to wear great quality designer styles at an affordable price.”

Margaret-Porrit-feathers

History – her story
Now with a total of 14 stores all up – including eight standalone boutiques plus an online store – Feathers has weathered expansions and contractions through a number of economic cycles, with Porritt at the helm since starting the business in 1972.

One of Melbourne’s most iconic fashion brands, Porritt still oversees the design of every garment, guaranteeing the quality and ensuring the brand is ever evolving, “offering women of all ages sophistication, practicality, and style”.

Growing up admiring the talents of her milliner mother, after working in the UK for Norman Hartnell – former dressmaker to the Queen – Porritt’s business began as a small dress shop in Melbourne, following her divorce in her early 30s and the need to support her three sons.

Within a year, she opened a second shop and ran both shops for 10 years, only stocking Australian labels.

Feathers was one of the first shops to carry household names such as Country Road, Carla Zampatti, George Gross and Anthea Crawford.

20 years ago, Porritt sought to manufacture her own range so Feathers by Margaret Porritt was born in ’95 and “took off like a rocket”. Now her shops stock only the Feathers brand.

In addition, Porritt has served on the board of the Australian Retailers Association for 10 years, including on its executive and interstate boards, and then on the Melbourne Fashion Festival board.

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