Today I'm chatting with Emily Berlach from Bohemian Traders about growing a fashion brand.
Emily Berlach is the Director and founder of the global brand Bohemian Traders. Known for their “Classic European cuts, for the modern bohemian”. BT blend classic, fashion-forward pieces including elevated basics with bohemian detailing. Since their inception, their aim has been to provide size-inclusive fashion basics for the modern bohemian.
BOHEMIAN TRADERS commenced operations in 2014 and is based on the Central Coast of NSW Australia, they are all about being an environmentally and socially responsible company.
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Emily Berlach 0:00
Hello lovelies, welcome back to the podcast amazing to have you here. I am suffering a little bit with a chest infection whereby I am recording this so if my voice sounds a little bit Husky No, I'm not trying to be sexy. Although you know, I'm happy. I'm happy to sound a bit sexy for you if you like. But yeah, just not 100% Anyway, today I am excited to share this interview with you. I met Emily who is the founder of Bahamian traders, if you are an Aussie. Who Loves Fashion then you will most likely know this brand. I met Emily at the huddle in orange this year where both of us were speakers. She's such a powerhouse. She's so fun. And I really wanted to have her on the podcast. And so I know that if you know you love to talk fashion and we'd love to talk building brands, and also just starting something that you love to do and watching it grow, then this is a great episode for you. So let me introduce you to Emily blash. She is the director and founder of the global brand Bahamian traders, known for their classic European cards for the modern bohemian I love that. Bohemian China blends a classic fashion forward pieces, including elevated basics with Bahamian detailing. And since their inception, their aim has been to provide a size inclusive fashion basics for the modern bohemian. She started the business in 2014 is based on the central coast of New South Wales here in Australia. They're all about being environmentally and socially responsible as a company, she is a wife, she is a mama, she works with her hubby as well. And I've just loved this to hearing her story and how she's growing the business. So I know that this is something that you're going to enjoy as well. So without further ado, I hope that you're having a fantastic break when this goes live, because this is for our holiday season. And so enjoy.
Emily, welcome to the brand builders love podcast.
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
My pleasure. You were one of the amazing connections that I made at the huddle. It was just such an amazing event to meet new people,
wasn't it? I'm still living off the good vibes.
So good. And so obviously, we met there. And I heard a bit about your story. And I think one of the things that I loved, everybody just had a very different way of running their business. And obviously you have such a super successful business with Bahamian traders, and and I just really wanted to get you on to share some of your story and talk more about business as well. So you could be thought, y
eah, absolutely. I'm ready. I'm certainly no guru, but I'll do what I can.
Yeah, but you know, something, I love that you had a really different take on it as well. And there is no one way to do it, which I think is what we kind of saw at the huddle. And we heard and so I loved your story. So can you tell us a little bit about like how it all started?
Yeah, of course. I mean, it's uh, I guess it's a little bit of an interesting story in that I don't have a fashion background I'd never worked in fashion other than in retail you know, when I was putting myself through university in high school. So I paid my dues there
who to work for when you were in retail, I worked
for just jeans started with just jeans when I was 14 and nine months first job. And then for that whole group, so Portmans and Jackie and whoever else was in the group time and as of this Josie and sports girl and another brand called Rodney Clark, but I don't think exists anymore. But yeah, them all and in the mall, lots of years in retail. Well, I was well, from the time I was 14 to probably 22 I was working in retail part time.
And so what made you take the leap into this?
Well, I was you know, studying Fine Arts. I've got a fine arts background and then eventually moved into high school visual arts teaching, which I was doing until the time that I had my first child at 26. I just turned 26 So I wasn't in education for very long, but I you know, had had my three children and was at home on maternity leave and feeling a little rest solace. And yeah, I had been writing a personal blog for a number of years, kind of through those dark, dingy days, the early days of motherhood, where it's all brain fog and postnatal depression. And from there, I, you know, I was sharing my life and unknowingly building connections with a whole host of amazing women. And for me, at that time, the blog was really just a support network, it was my hobby, it was my safe place, it was my kind of wine time, once the kids are gone to bed. And I just build a community there. And eventually, out of a need for some cash for Christmas presents for my children, I started importing some products from India and selling those through the blog under a name that I just whipped up called bohemian traders. So
Wow. And so how did that happen with like finding products in India? Because what year are we talking? What year was this? Or
2012 1313 2013 2014?
Yeah. And so how did you find like, suppliers and things like
that? Yeah. Um, I just essentially, Google search, you know, this amazing modern resource. Yeah, so I literally Alibaba did. And, you know, just started making connections with suppliers, you know, on a very ad hoc basis, no strategy at all. And yeah, kind of started selling those through the blog. So you
just found it found like it? Was there a certain vibe, you're going for a certain look, and you just happen to find them? Yeah, I really, I
mean, I'd seen things that I really liked around and at the time, I was really into that that boho style, you know, embellished beads, and, you know, antique coins and those kinds of things. was very much in that space. It was it was cool at the time. A little over now. But um, yeah, so that's what I was. That's what I was looking for. That's what I was into at the time. And, you know, I was into like pattern clashing and stripes with the boho and, and that kind of thing. So that's, that's what I was looking for. And that's what I found.
Amazing. And so how long did you do that for where you were importing?
I'm not long, to be honest, I think maybe about six months, I was just importing and I was making accessories myself, like antique antique coins on, on cord necklaces, and leather, leather strands, and that kind of thing. And you know, it took maybe six months until we realized that we had something real happening. And at that point, I started because I couldn't get the product fast enough from India. And you know, there were challenges in in that process. I started designing very simple garments that were being made in China and connected with a factory there who we still work with to this very day. But their families, they've met mine. So yeah, I started designing very simple, you know, striped dresses that were literally a column with arms. Very, very basic. And yeah, I think about six months down the line, my husband was like, Oh, you've actually got something really good going on here. I'm gonna leave my job and come and work with you.
We must have been great.
Yeah, it was it was doing surprisingly well. Like it wasn't planned. It wasn't strategic in any way. It was completely organic. And a complete surprise, I was learning very much on the fly and still feel that I am to this day. But there's there's a little more strategy now, I promise. But yeah, at that point, Dave jumped on board. He was in commercial construction as a senior project manager. And, you know, he thought at the time that he was going to be a farmer, so I was going to be the breadwinner. And he was going to work on the little half acre block plot of land that we had, we already had fruit trees, we'd already raised ducks and pigs and chickens, and we were quite self sufficient. So that was his plan. I was going to be the business woman and he was going to be the farmer house dad. And by the time his notice period was up, he'd given his employer three months notice, you know, had it was with them for about 1215 years and you know, still is connected with with that business now. But by the time his notice period was up, the business had grown another 150%. And it was like, buddy, there's no farming for you. It's boots on the ground.
So at that point, obviously, he was coming in. Did you have other people that were working for you because had this factory in China? You were designing it? So you were designing just the patterns and fabrics or the whole thing?
Well, well, the whole thing. Yeah. Because at the time it was myself and Dave and we had one person who pick and pack for us just because, you know, we still had three young kids actually at home like their preschool. One was at school to preschool. So life was incredibly busy and we'd have one young girl who was actually our babysitter, and then became our first pick and pack person. And she would, we had a little kind of home office downstairs in our home. And she would come in and pick and pack and and I think we probably did that for another three months until we had a shipment coming in. And we thought, we don't have any way to put this. So we had to get a warehouse. And that's when we kind of moved out. We got our first full time employee and had a warehouse and it's kind of in the area that we're still in now.
Wow. So once you got the warehouse, what happened from there?
Well, we filled it with stock. Yeah, we employed our first full time person I was Anna beautiful still friends with it to this day, she's gone off and had a couple of kids now. And we we grew incredibly steadily. So you know, it didn't take long for us to build from a team of three to a team of five to a team of 10 to now a team of 25.
What do you attribute the growth to? Like, what do you think like, especially in those early days, like you're saying, you imported from, you know, India making your own staff? And was it the community? Was it the garments themselves? The trends like what, what made the business grow so quickly?
Yeah, I think I think that it, I would attribute it to the community. I think that, you know, I'd started connecting with women through this blog, and they were very genuine, heartfelt connections, and it was a true community that doesn't exist anymore. In the online space. At least I don't think it exists in Instagram. It does my life's different now. But um, yeah, I think it was, you know, building connections with all of these other women who wrote blogs themselves and supported my brand from day dot, I mean, Nikki Parkinson from styling, you still wears bohemian traders, you know, for her model and me posts and, you know, baby, baby Macbeth.
I remember those women back in the day, yes, exactly.
And, you know, their business women in their own right, they also use their blogs as a launch pad to, you know, start other, you know, initiatives. So, I would say that it was the community. And then obviously, there's the hard work that that comes in behind that, you know, you're not just magically up products, you, you've there's a lot of, you know, preparation, preparation and work that goes into every single garment, and, you know, the launching of the garments and the marketing behind, you know, how you how you put them out there. So,
yeah, amazing. And so, how did you like from the design? Because obviously, you did find out when you were at university? And so, how did you kind of decide what you were going to be designing? And, and how did that process goes sort of season on season? Like, how were you learning what you were going to do in that process.
I started from a place of complete selfishness, and I haven't deviated too far from it. And I only designed the things that I wanted to wear. And you know, I'd gone from being a size six or a size eight at 22, to being a size 14 or 16. At, you know, 26 after I'd had three kids, actually, I was 30. By the time I'd had three kids, who am I kidding? The body changes a lot, and the places that I was shopping didn't accommodate for my lifestyle or my new shape. And at the time, you know, eight years ago, size inclusivity wasn't a thing, it wasn't you weren't walking into any shop and being able to buy a size 16 or, you know, we size up to 22 it didn't exist. So I wanted to create these things for myself, you know, I wanted my striped dress, but with a little bit more length. So you couldn't, you know, see my bike when I was getting the kids out of the car. You know, so it was really out of a, you know, there are products that I want that don't exist. So I started there. And I still, you know, I am creative director at this brand. I oversee every every touch point, and it's all stuff that I want.
Yeah, amazing. I mean, even even the dress that you're wearing, at the moment, I was looking at it the other day going, I think that would look great on me as well. So I think that obviously your taste translates to a wider audience. But are you looking at like trends that are coming next season and all of those things at this at this point in time? Yeah,
we definitely are. So our design team is always you know, trend forecasting and looking at colors that work and you know, we're always trying to deconstruct those trends that we're seeing and filter them through that bohemian traders lens. So you know if lavender is the color of the season, how are we doing lavender? What does lavender look like for bohemian traders? You know, there's been a strong cut out trend that's just run through, you know, Australia in the international market in the last 12 months. But, you know, Bohemian traders is not doing cut out so not everything is for us and our consumer doesn't necessarily want everything to be trendy. I think that there's core styles and core shapes that are genuinely timeless. And we update through trims and fabrications.
So I would love to know more about the lens. So what is the Bahamian trade lens? And I'd also love you to talk about the brand, like when you started this, and even now, what does the brand mean to you? And how have you built it?
Yeah, well, the brand is my fourth baby. It really is. And I love her very much. And she is the most time consuming of all of my children. Yeah, but I think, you know, we've basically, I guess, over time, gathered all of the data that is necessary to understand who our consumer is and what she wants, and when she's shopping and what her price point is, and what her favorite fabrications are. And, you know, in what shapes does she want them. So, you know, we we have the data that tells us those things, and I suppose as a design team, we're bringing in the soul and the spirit to the garment. And then, you know, as a creative, digital content creators, were translating that into a into a shoot location into a campaign that then speaks to our audience that way.
Yes. And as I said, you've just come back from Europe. And I did say that you were doing a shoot that I'm like, Oh, my gosh, that looks it. Was it like Lake Como or something? I don't know where I'm shooting promo.
Yeah. Yeah. That's Kevin, kind of one of the perks of
the job, for sure. For sure. And so with the lens that you were talking about, like, Are you kind of like where this and we're not that like, is it very, it's a very distinct, I guess, separation of that for you, for you when you're making those decisions?
Absolutely. Yes, I think there are things that our customer just doesn't want. And we're not we're not going to give her a body con dress. Maybe she's getting ready, ready for a bias cut, slip, maybe we might try that. But you know, we definitely want to translate those easy wearing essentials, into something that says bohemian traders. So you know, our slip dress version is a gorgeous, you know, linen slip with a shoestring strap, but it's a line and swings through the body rather than hugging the body. Simply because, you know, our customers are busy woman. And she's you know, she's a career woman. She's got children, she's juggling everything. She needs things that are washed, and were friendly. She needs things she can pack in a suitcase to travel, she needs things that are multitasking just like she is.
Suzanne Chadwick 17:36
I love it so good. And so with the because you sort of said, you know, when you you had the warehouse, and then the business was growing, and the marketing and sales was obviously a big part of it. Did you have a background at all in that area? Obviously working in retail, you would have the sales background a bit. But what was it like coming into your own business looking at, I guess, marketing and sales from that perspective?
Emily Berlach 18:01
I mean, I can't reiterate enough, I was and I'm learning as I go. So you know, we're constantly watching and monitoring what's happening in the market. I mean, I think you have the very best education around you if you're a consumer, because you know, what's a good experience? And what's an experience you wouldn't want to repeat? So I think, you know, shopping online shopping in store, watching what, what's happening in the world on social media, and, you know, taking what's good and taking what resonates and then filtering that back through.
Yeah. And how have you seen I guess, obviously, a marketing has massively changed in the last few years. And you were saying you've got your team and that like a you're still involved a lot in how the brand's marketed and obviously, the creative and all the rest of it, what are you seeing that's kind of changing, especially in the fashion landscape at the moment,
I think there's been a massive change. When I first started the brand, you know, Instagram was this small little organic platform, where you follow your friends, and they followed you and you'd have meaningful conversations. And blogging was still a thing, you know, publishing long format articles, that people would sit down with a cup of tea and read. I don't think those things exist in the same way. And you know, these days, Instagrams, just an enormous machine in which you, you know, struggle to get cut through, everything needs to be paid for, and there needs to be strategy behind that. So, you know, and some of those things are just completely outside of my skill set. So we outsource to third party agencies who really support us and bolster us and I think marketing is one area in the business and there are many others that you know, you get to a point where you're like, Okay, I need to bring in an expert. I'm, you know, I'm busy. There's so much for me to do that I'm actually really good at and that's not everything so you get the experts on board to guide you.
Yeah, And speaking of not doing everything, obviously, as you mentioned, Dave, your husband is part of the team and joined quite a while ago. How do you balance that? How do you balance hobby at work, and I guess, really focusing on what both of you are good at?
Yeah, that's a I mean, we've got such a complementary skill set, and we are genuinely good mates. So Dave, and I love working together, it's been a really positive thing for us. And I can't do anything that he does. Dave's a spreadsheets man, he's a money, he's got a project management skill set, he's organized his regimented, those things come really naturally to him. Whereas I'm a bit more like a chalk with my head cut off, I'll flip from one thing to the other. And, you know, I'm constantly taking notes on scrap pieces of paper that I'll lose. So, I feel like there's just a natural synergy, in that they can do the hard things, I can do the soft things. And when I say hard, I mean hard skills, you know, fixed things. And, you know, I bring more of the creative elements in so but you know, together, there is just an easiness in that in that complementary skill set.
Suzanne Chadwick 21:12
So you didn't really need to define the roles, like when he first came in, like, with the balance of who did what,
Emily Berlach 21:19
no, we didn't define them in a, I guess, official sense. We just have, you know, we naturally gravitate towards completely different areas of the business. And, you know, there's some times when, you know, we'll tread on each other's toes, and I might approve something that Dave doesn't have in his cash flow. And, and he might make a suggestion to the graphic design team, and I'm, you know, I'm not happy about it. Everybody in the business knows who their boss is. And that's me. No, not really. But kind of, yeah, actually.
Suzanne Chadwick 21:58
Good. And so, you know, you said, you've got a really big team. Now, obviously, the business is at a much bigger level. And so when it comes to risk taking, and really, you know, I guess, carrying that, how do you manage that? Like, how do you guys kind of manage the business as far as what's coming? And I guess, changing markets and the cache responsibility of a team that big? How do you manage all of that?
Emily Berlach 22:31
Yeah, I guess, I mean, our business has grown massively. And for us, we feel like we're in a really good phase, but we're still such a small brand where, you know, 25 staff across the business, we've got two boutiques, which is, you know, we'd love to have more. But I think we're still in the infancy of our brand story. So we feel like the future is really bright. And you know, that's growth there. For us. There is a lot of risk. But I guess fortunately, now that we have a little bit of background behind us, we have the data to help inform us and educate us. So we're not taking blind risks all the time. There is a little bit of that. And that's fun and scary. And sometimes you get it right. And sometimes you get it wrong, and it stings when you get it wrong. But you know, there is there's the data there to inform us. And you know, it's it's all spreadsheet ID. Yeah, it's not a mysterious thing.
Suzanne Chadwick 23:24
Yeah, I saw I saw, I don't know me more just a quote the other day data over drama. Like, yes, I love that. So good. I'm such a data person as well, totally.
Emily Berlach 23:34
And, you know, it just makes it simple. It takes the personal kind of emotional elements out of it. And you do let the data make the decisions for you. It's a really comforting feeling.
I don't know that many people talk about data as comforting, but I love that but so good, but
I'll tell you the truth, you know, the data doesn't lie.
Suzanne Chadwick 23:57
doesn't tell you what you think you want to hear. Yeah, absolutely. i How did you guys go through the pandemic, because obviously having a manufacturer in China and shipping and all the rest of it, how did you guys cope?
Emily Berlach 24:11
Um, yeah, I mean, COVID was scary for everybody in every industry. I mean, I've still got friends in education. I've got friends in, you know, social workspace. It's just it was a frightening, frightening time. And I think as an employer, rather than an employee, it was incredibly burdensome to need to make decisions that impacted, you know, the people who we employ. So yeah, it was incredibly challenging. And there was that one little moment in between when the pandemic hit, and the world stopped. And when the government stepped in, and you know, bolstered businesses and individuals, and that was a really that was a really stressful little second. But fortunately, we were in a really great position and in terms of price back then. And deliveries and those elements was fine and safe. We were fine. We, yeah, because we worked so far in advance all of that product was already on shore in house. So, you know, we kind of carried on business as usual with a few changes that safeguarded us against, you know, what we knew would be a fairly long ride with COVID.
Suzanne Chadwick 25:22
I love that you knew it was going to be a long ride. I was saying to girlfriend, six weeks, six weeks tops, and this will be over. So obviously, you've got benefits.
Emily Berlach 25:31
Yeah, I guess it's just the fear, isn't it? You're like, just give me a couple of options. Like, I need some backstops here.
Yeah, yeah. And sales. Obviously, a lot of businesses, especially retail, because everybody was shopping online, went through a huge boom. Did you find that as well?
Yeah, it was, look, it was, you know, it was difficult having bricks and mortar closed. But there was definitely, you know, some traction in the online space.
Suzanne Chadwick 25:56
I feel like you're being really modest there. I'm not. I love it. So, so good. And so let's talk about the future. So what what's your vision for what you want the helium traders to be in the future? And what kind of plans have you got?
Emily Berlach 26:15
Yeah, like I said, I do feel like we're still in our infancy, where we're really just getting the brand to the stage where we can bring in people who are at the top of their game. And you know, we're just experts in this field, because I'm not an expert, as I've stated. So I know that we will remain size inclusive, that's a vital importance to who we are. It's part of our brand DNA. We're working, we've got an artist club that was just launched, were definitely doing our part in the ethical and environmental space, which is something that we've worked really quietly on in the background. You know, I'm always scared of greenwashing. And when we do something, I want to do it with integrity. So you know, we've just launched this Ellen MacArthur collection, which is completely organic cotton and meta certified partners. So it's definitely a big step for the brand and the direction that we're going in. Which is, which is really exciting. I feel like we're just hitting the tip of the iceberg there as well. So lots of exciting, exciting partnerships for Bahamian traders moving forward.
Suzanne Chadwick 27:22
Yeah, amazing. And I remember you talking about the huddle when it came to brand collabs or artists collabs, what made you decide to go down that path. That's something
Emily Berlach 27:31
that we've always wanted to do. And Helen metallics one of my favorite Australian artists, and you know, there's a few others on my hit list, but she's one of the first artists who I purchase work for, for our home. And I still have two pieces of hers hanging in my entryway and a few others that I need to kind of pop up on the walls when I get the drill out. But yeah, I just think it's, it's fun. It's exciting, you know, and that's the freshness in being able to run your own business. We get to make the decisions, we get to go in the directions that excite us. And you know, coming from a finance background and being passionate about visual arts. It's just a really fun way to make garments.
Yeah, amazing. And so for example, like even the dress that you're wearing, if you check out the show notes, there'll be a picture. I have a link to the dress even, like who designs that. Do you design that?
The fabric is Helen Macalik. So this is one of her that was one of hers phasing. Yep. And then obviously, the shape is a Bahamian trade has tried and flange date, which is what we've done with this collection. We've used to Helens beautiful print on our classic bohemian traders styles.
Suzanne Chadwick 28:37
So God I love it so good. And so is there anything else around like cuz you ship worldwide? Yes, yes, we do. And so is there any, I guess thought around international growth with boutiques or things like that? Or are you kind of just kind of waiting into the online space?
Emily Berlach 28:56
I mean, online is massive online. Amazing. You can touch anyone in the world through the online space. We're just about to launch our US website, which will be really exciting for us. Something we've been working on behind the scenes. So that's definitely coming online very shortly. And in terms of bricks and mortar, we're definitely wanting to in a sustainable way. I mean, you spoke before about cashflow, and I kind of didn't didn't address it too directly. But obviously, cash flow is a real thing. So you know, in a sustainable way, we will continue to open more bricks and mortar stores. That's definitely in our plan.
Suzanne Chadwick 29:32
So good. Awesome. Is there anything else that that we need to know about bohemian traders that you really want to tell me that I haven't asked the question on that you think that my audience like you know, I could connect with as well. So I know that you sort of talked about who it's for and the type of woman and I think that you know, the ethical part of it is so important. Is there anything else that you want to bring to the brand as well like even around Different offshoots or growth of it? Or is it really just keeping it sort of capturing what it is now and just growing that?
Emily Berlach 30:07
Yeah, I think it's a little bit of both, we definitely want to stay in, you know, the women's fashion space. We're definitely working on new lines and new categories. So you know, stay tuned for for those things, maybe it's going to be swimwear, maybe it'd be accessories, who knows. But, you know, we're definitely working behind the scenes, you know, water kind of scenario to, you know, be keeping the brand fresh and relevant and be bringing new and exciting products to the consumer. And you know, and her best friend who hasn't shopped with us yet. Yeah, that we're definitely staying in the women's apparel or women's fashion space, but moving forward with new categories. I don't think you know, we're not going to branch out into home wares anytime soon.
Suzanne Chadwick 30:57
Okay. Sounds amazing. So, so good. Well, Emily, I love that love the story. I love where the brand is going and what you've done as well. And I just I feel like I was I've known about your brand for a long time. I feel like I connected with you at the huddle as well. And now I'm you're such
Emily Berlach 31:17
a star seriously. So inspiring. At the huddle. I was like I need more Suzanne Chadwick what a powerhouse,
thank you. But I now I'm just like, I'm all over your Insta. And I'm like, I need that. And I need that. And, and so community is so important, isn't it. And I mean, all of my listeners, a lot of my listeners are women in business as well. So I know that I know that this will resonate for them. And we love supporting brands that resonate with us too. So I'm super excited if my listeners don't know about yet, which I doubt it. But if they don't, then I'm excited to introduce the
high probability. But there's something pretty powerful, I think about women supporting women. And that was something that I found so fresh at the huddle, you know, just women in business getting behind one another learning from one another sharing their skills. And yeah, it's just a, it's a pretty powerful thing.
Suzanne Chadwick 32:07
It's amazing. And I love it. So I'm super excited to watch you guys and your journey. And keep checking out your Instagram and all of the amazing fashion and things that you're doing so, so appreciate you being on today.
Emily Berlach 32:18
Thank you, thanks for your time.
I love hearing people's stories, especially when they started it up as a passion and then it just went gangbusters. So I hope you enjoyed that episode. And I hope that you have an amazing holiday break as well. Well that's it for another week. It has been amazing to have you here as always, and remember to follow me on all socials at Sue's Chadwick. But thanks so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, then I would love you to leave a review so that others can find the podcast and come and hang out with us every week. Until next time, have an awesome week and make sure you keep playing big and branding bold.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai