Retail revolution
Poppy Lissiman. Picture: Iain Gillespie

Perth designer and retailer Poppy Lissiman is soon to close her Times Square boutique in Claremont to focus on ecommerce but she is no victim of the dour economic climate, she says.

Rather, it's the surprise success of her online site that has steered her in the direction that many other fashion designers and retailers are also taking.

Zara Bryson, who once presided over Subiaco and Claremont boutiques, now focuses solely on ecommerce with the occasional pop-up shop. Industry stalwart Liz Davenport is also reducing her bricks- and-mortar presence. All would undoubtedly admit that fashion retail is going through some tough times.

But Lissiman says you simply need to go where the demand is and, for her, that means online sales.

"Our online store launched in January and it's been thriving," she says. About half the sales from her website comes from the US, thanks largely to a targeted social media push.

"I'm still a huge fan of bricks and mortar," Lissiman adds.

"I've worked in retail my entire professional career and there's a lot to be said for how special it is to be served in a real store, especially with clothes when trying things on can be really important. But bricks and mortar can be limiting. You're dependent on location, opening hours, weather and traffic, all of which can affect trade. With online, you're opening your business up to the whole world. You can be open 24/7, there are very few overheads, and business isn't affected if, say, the footy derby is on. People shop online in their lunchbreaks, when they're in bed."

Lissiman's boutique, Poppy Lissiman Addition, stocked her own apparel and accessory designs, along with simpatico brands. For the moment, her website is focusing on her quirky range of accessories, which are selling like hot cakes.

"I'd wanted to do accessories for a long time but it's difficult to manufacture in Australia because we just don't have the resources," she says. "I'd have loved to keep my manufacturing in Australia as long as possible to support the industry but now that I've moved it to China I'm able to produce some awesome pieces for a price that more people can afford."

Some of Lissiman's accessories have been worn and touted by influential American bloggers and websites, which has had a "snowball effect" on sales. It also helps that Lissiman is a bit of a street-style star in her own right, constantly getting snapped at Fashion Week Australia in Sydney this year wearing an eclectic, colourful mix of her own accessories and her favourite designer labels.

Lissiman hasn't ruled out a return to designing apparel, however. Currently, the online store sells the Poppy Lissiman brand exclusively; there are bags, clutches and jewellery, and an eyewear collection which will launch at the end of next month.

"The main ethos of the brand going forward is to create pieces that appear high-end but don't come with the price tag," Lissiman explains. "Most of my pieces will come in under $150. I also plan to do some limited-edition pieces for the website now and then, and that may also include limited runs of apparel."

Lissiman says it's undoubtedly sad that so many bricks-and-mortar shops have closed down in recent years but suggests it's ultimately about the bottom line. Fashion businesses can still survive, even thrive, but in a different format. As long as people are still pressing the "buy" button on their laptops and smart phones, there is still a way to make a living in fashion retail.

"One of the fundamental things about the fashion world is that it's ever-evolving," she says. "It really is sink or swim. Now I can redirect some of the funds normally reserved for rent and overheads into the creative side of the business, which is super exciting. There's something to be said about having that one-on-one experience with customers each day, but the idea of being exposed to thousands of people per day is more appealing from a business point of view."

The West Australian

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