I’m a qualified interpreter for the deaf, which I did for about six years. It was my passion, and it’s still my passion now. My partner was a footballer and had to travel a lot for work so I started travelling with him. I got into the beauty industry because it was something I could do while we were moving around but I still kept up my sign language. When we moved to England, my son London was born (he’s actually named after a gorgeous dog we met called London, not the city! ). He’s now five years old, and he spent the first year of his life in England – and obviously the fashion over there is amazing. It’s second to none with everything you could want at your fingertips. I fell in love with fashion, particularly men’s fashion, and I got obsessed with it. When we got back to Australia I couldn’t find what I wanted, which is quite common for new mothers. I really wanted him to wear some drop crotch animal print pants and they were nowhere to be found – so I found some fabric and got them made.
Duke of London actually launched in 2009 when London was nine months old. I was at that point where I really wanted to do something - so many mothers find themselves in that place. Even though being a mum is the best job in the world, we still want to do something for ourselves. It all started with three designs of boy’s pants and I posted them on my Facebook page and it went ballistic – so I followed my heart and that’s how it all began. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by some incredible business women who gave me the push I needed and pointed me in the right direction.
I am really proud that I’ve never borrowed money for the business and I’ve done it all my own. I would work doing a spray tan and a set of nails, and then I’d buy some fabric, and then do another job and get some patterns cut. I have always done the photo shoots myself – I only hired a photographer for the first time this year. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I had stores calling me to order stock but in the early days I couldn’t keep up with the demand. I was really new to the industry so I wanted to take it slowly – I wanted to make sure I could fulfil the promise, so I needed to learn about the business before I grew the business.
Getting the business up and running with a nine month old baby wasn’t too complicated. I would just work when he was asleep during the day and I’d stay up late at night. My life during the week is completely governed by routine – come the weekend I’m completely the opposite. I had a sample and pattern maker on the Gold Coast, and we manufactured locally with ‘Annake Swimwear’. Anna has been amazing, she’s been so helpful in my business. She helped me grow and allowed me to do minimum orders – which is something a lot of people struggle with. Anna is a swimwear designer manufacturing different swimwear labels on the Gold Coast, like ‘Finch’, and she has her own label now too. She manufactured everything for me on site. She didn’t have to take me on but she did and she’s still a great friend now.
We started wholesaling to retail stores, which wasn’t my initial goal but it’s definitely my goal now. I actually want to step away from my online store and just look after my stockists. Once orders grew Anna’s business couldn’t fit the production in so we went off-shore and again I was lucky enough to have a friend who recommended a manufacturer in China. I now travel there twice a year to do all my fabric printing and sampling and go through every item, I’m pretty hands on with the production cycle. I’m not a computer person so I’d rather go there and get amongst it all.
We indent each season, so in August we sell Autumn/Winter and in February we sell Spring/Summer. Being such a small company and only a few years old, working on indent takes the pressure off with quantities and timelines. We get our stock a few months before it goes out, because we want to check everything and make sure it’s perfect. In this industry you need to be prepared for things to go wrong and for mistakes to happen.
My second son Duke came along four years ago, and he threw a spanner in the works! To be honest, and I think it’s important for other mothers to know the reality, my partner and I split up not long after Duke was born. My partner had retired from football and he went through a period of adjustment - we had a very civil, amicable break up. It was a tough time – and when I look at the collection that I designed at that time I can feel how difficult it all was. I had to step back from my business to try and concentrate on my family, and now everything has worked out as it should be. During that time I was too consumed in my business, and I know many mothers in business find it hard to keep a balance. I did have to take a step back but I didn’t want to lose my business so it was a dilemma. Now I have set work times and I’ve made a routine and I think I have a good balance. I never feel guilty anymore – I used to feel guilty all the time, but now the boys get my undivided attention when I’m with them. I learnt to separate out work time, it was important. It takes a while to work out what is best for you, it’s trial and error. You think you’re doing the right thing because you’re putting everything into building a business, but something’s got to give.
Duke of London is a boy’s brand, for ages 000 – 8 years old. Having two boys and loving men’s fashion, I definitely market myself at the boys, but our clientele is probably a 60/40 split – about 40% of our clients are girls because a lot of the items are unisex. But when I design, I have a boy in mind. It’s important to have an identity and a focus. We are now concentrating on our stockists, but we don’t want to flood the market - we aim to have a maximum of 100 really strong retailers around Australia who love our brand. We spend a lot of money on our imagery and videography to support the brand, which in turn supports our retailers. We only stock one store per area and they have a certain exclusivity, if they want a larger area then they have to stock the whole range. All payment is required prior to delivery. We have guidelines for stocking our brand that we stick to – and it works for us. I’m a single mum and I need to make sure that my business is profitable so I can look after my boys.
Having amazing business people around me has made my business what it is. I have learnt so much from people – how to work trade fairs effectively, how to up-sell and how to group designs together – I really feel lucky. Not everyone gives out sound advice easily. Having support really is the theme in my life – from my mum who’s a computer whiz to my brother-in-law who takes care of the legal side of my business and my sister helps me with the kids when I need to work. I like to think that I never take the help and support for granted and that I always try and repay it in some way. I speak to a lot of mums who contact me wanting advice now, and I believe in paying it forward so I’ve created a little package that I give them. For mothers wanting to create your own products, you need to research your product really well and make sure you are going to benefit from it if you want to make your business profitable. Pricing is so important – even if you’re not planning to wholesale in the beginning you need to structure your pricing based on the wholesale market. Be aware of the mark-up for retail stores which is 50% plus GST. Make sure you include all your shipping and landed costs, your packaging and labelling, and factor in the exchange rate so that you don’t sell yourself short. Having a business might be a hobby for some people, but for me I need to put food on my kids’ table. It’s my passion and I’m lucky to do what I love, but I am here to make money and this is my main income for us and our future. So it’s really important that I make money and keep moving forward.
Dressing celebrity children has been a huge strength for our business. The Kardashian team saw our Lookbook and selected a few pieces and we’re just lucky that they love our label – they’ve ordered every range since they discovered us. I love being known for dressing celebrities, it excites me – they have endless choices so for them to pick Duke of London is such an honour. Kim Kardashian did a Facebook post featuring Duke of London clothing and Chris Hemsworth’s daughter was seen wearing our gear as well, so there was quite a bit happening for us. The Courier Mail did a story on us and then the Today Show contacted us earlier this year wanting to support us. They did a feature on the brand a few months ago. It sounds crazy but I really wanted to be on the show and it happened!
Our ultimate goal is to take Duke of London overseas. We have a huge following in the US and I’m desperate to get over there. To be in department stores in the US and in boutique stores in Australia is the aim. The plan is to do two trade shows in Australia each year, as well as two in New York (within the next two years) and one in Paris – that’s our five year goal. Trade fairs are so important for our business to give it exposure. It’s a lot of investment but people need to touch and feel the product. I have a business plan and I set goals. I’m a borderline dreamer - I creatively visualise where I want to be. It works for me!
To see Kiri’s story on the Today show click here!
Duke of London is a clothing range for boys, but not just any boy. Their unique designs find the perfect balance between uber-cool and comfort for active little dudes . Duke of London has taken boys wear to the next level and answered the call from fashion-forward mums across the globe. Kourtney Kardashian is the latest celebrity to dress her highly photographed son, Mason, in Duke of London.
Photographed on location in Sanctuary Cove, Queensland, with special thanks to Sparrow Couture for Kids.
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Copy: Melanie Quirk Photography: SomedaySomehowStudios
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