We were lucky enough to catch up with Sherene, founder and creative director of SHERENE MELINDA, a contemporary London-based designer handbag brand. After seeing a gap in the British market for a truly unique product, Sherene decided to start a new venture.
Using ethically sourced South African springbok hair-on-hide, Sherene has created a niche range of handbags. While eye catching all on their own, we wanted to find out how the brand pushes forward to stand out online and how being a big presence at retail/trade fashion events converts into online customers!
We’d love to know about how the brand came to be. You switched industries to be involved in the creative side of business. What was it about creative control of a product that pushed you to change?
It's not necessarily about creative control. It's more about my work being driven by creativity. In the past I have used creativity to help me succeed in my roles, but the role itself hasn't been creativity focused. I wanted my work to be centred on being creative and this is why I chose handbag design.
The products are extremely unique, so what did you think of the potential of springbok when you first started the venture?
When I first saw the springbok hair-on-hide, I knew that it would have a place in the British market and this is what inspired me to pursue the development of my brand.
Fashion is such a competitive field. How did you prepare for the task of developing an online store, with so many competitors out there?
I knew how competitive the industry was before I entered it, but I felt that I had a niche product that would allow my brand to stand out. It's also not just about the product itself; it’s the entire brand proposition and the way you choose to run your business, the strategy you adopt, all these things can make you stand out. The values your brand stands for and how you treat your customers helps you to attract customers from the competition.
Resourcefulness is key. I started with a concept and had to decide how to build that concept in to a brand. This included learning how to design a handbag in the best way and how to run a business like this in the most effective way. I used a great number of resources to get to this point - some I had to acquire and some I had already - for example, my career background in technology allowed me to develop the ecommerce platform by myself, rather than having to incur additional costs. The point is, the brand did not develop from an idea to where it is today overnight - there was a lot of work, preparation, and learning to get to this point. (PHOTO CREDIT: DAVE COOK)
How did you approach the task of standing out online? What needs to be done for a fashion start-up to do this?
It was important for me to make sure I had the fundamental shopping cart so people could buy online. Then having the website structured so it suits the product offering, for example lots of images. Images are very important to me because the quality of the handbags must come across visually online. The final piece is promoting the website online through search marketing.
Organic search marketing has been difficult because the fashion industry is so dominated by both big brands and department stores, and the first page of Google reflects this. The strategy has been to use social as it’s easier to stand out and generate a following this way, along with using offline events to promote the presence of the brand face-to-face with customers. It has also been productive to connect with fashion bloggers as a tool for attracting new audiences. In general, search marketing has been effective but only for the purposes of drawing a specific audience, such as customers who search ‘springbok handbags’.
Tell us a bit about the great events you’ve taken the product to recently. What was the reaction?
I've recently taken part in Pure London - which is an international fashion trade show. I took my new collection of handbags for buyers to see and also had them on the catwalk. A few days later, I exhibited at Africa Fashion Week London, where my new collection was on the runway as well. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. After the catwalk show I had lots of people coming to speak to me including journalists. The online hype from the show still hasn't died down - and it's been very enjoyable.
How did these events benefit online exposure? Any trends or correlation between promotional events & their impact online?
Absolutely. If you were an established fashion e-tailer then I suppose offline events would take less precedence. As an independent designer brand, offline events are entirely necessary for promoting your online presence.
Taking Africa Fashion Week London for example, I noticed a real impact on my social following for weeks after the show finished. If you think about all the content on social, including videos and photos, a lot of it comes from something happening offline - and this was the case with AFWL. I have also noticed increases in my website traffic during the time of events, quite often people will see you at an offline show and then go home later and Google you to find your website.
What’s coming up for the brand?
Well, quite a lot! We have just partnered with a fashion PR agency called Apsley PR, who are currently in the process of increasing our press exposure. We have a new collection coming out in the lead up to Christmas, a range of time-honoured totes and classic clutches. We have various shows before Christmas as well - including The Spirit of Christmas Fair, which we attended last year. After the new collection, it will be time to start thinking about the next collection, and so on and so forth. The brand increases to grow and develop each day - and the future is bright!
SHERENE MELINDA is due to exhibit at various retail shows across the UK in the lead up to Christmas, where they will be offering their latest collection for sale. To read more about the brand’s story, please visit www.sherenemelinda.co.uk. Alternatively, you can find them on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.