Celebrating 95 years in business, men's accessories connoisseurs Buckle | 1922 are one of few Australian businesses that have survived the hard times throughout the GFC, Great Depression and WWII.
And there have certainly been some other challenges along the way – competing with fast fashion and keeping a traditional brand relevant in modern times.
As the name suggests, the company has operated since 1922 and was originally established by a father and son duo, Sandy and Alick Buckle. Fast-forward more than nine decades and the brand still handcrafts their accessories.
In 2013, General Manager Melissa Gibson along with the National Sales Manager, Warren Sanders, put forward a proposal to the fourth generation owners and purchased the business. Within six weeks, they became the proud owners of Buckle | 1922, now operating out of a 1000sqm factory in Stanmore in Sydney's inner west with more than 25 employees.
Melissa says there's always concerns about new international brands entering the market and selling fast fashion, however Buckle | 1922 have seen growth over the past two years which suggests that consumers are steering away from such brands and searching for quality.
'There's definitely been a shift away from fast fashion with consumers becoming more aware and educated of the impact fast fashion has on an ethical and environmental level. You pay for what you get," says Melissa.
'Economically, purchasing Australian-made product from Buckle | 1922 not only supports our company, but Australia's local raw material suppliers – It's a bit of a knock on effect. We need to purchase raw materials and consumables such as leather, thread and packaging using other Australian companies."
Melissa says while Buckle | 1922 cannot compete with fast fashion on price, its target market is segmented by a consumer's value set and the goal to support Australian-made quality.
'Unfortunately we can't compete on a price with international imports, we would simply go out of business as our labour costs are substantially greater than products coming out of third world countries. Once again, everything comes back to qualities and guarantees. We stand behind our product and we have done so for 95 years."
For example, a belt from Buckle | 1922 goes through 21 processes before it leaves the workshop with a team of 13 handcrafting the item.
'So, we stamp on the back of our belts the names of our craftspeople to remind consumers that their accessories are handcrafted in Australia," says Melissa.
It's been Melissa's mission to implement the brand's two growth strategies; one being focused on product development – building the brand to be the -one stop accessories shop' with retailer support from additional product categories other than belts and braces. The second growth strategy was overseas expansion – in January 2018, the brand will be attending the INDX tradeshow in Solihull (near Birmingham UK).
Another key challenge for Buckle | 1922 has been maintaining the traditions of a 95-year-old business while staying relevant in the modern world.
Melissa says using updated colours and textures, something the business is always researching in local and overseas markets and tailoring to their customers, has been a key strategy to modernise the brand, as has updating the packaging to more sleek modern lines.
'The missing link was also to introduce product styles that were more relevant," says Melissa. 'We didn't want to neglect our traditional customers, so we have maintained a lovely range of traditional accessories. However, we also enhanced our range to include other categories that are more contemporary.
'Men's fashion has become more open and differentiated. A couple of years ago, you wouldn't have thought to consider categories such as lapel pins or pocket squares. These items were once reserved for a very small percentage of fashion confident men, now they are somewhat mainstream. It is good to see men's fashion moving down this path."
Buckle | 1922 accessories are available in more than 1,200 stores in Australia, New Zealand and overseas including Myer, David Jones, quality independent men's retailers nationwide or online from www.buckle1922.com.au
Question: Who/what is Buckle | 1922?
Melissa Gibson: We are a long established accessories company based in Sydney. We have been in operation for more than 95 years and continue to manufacture and design accessories in-house from our 1000sqm operation in Stanmore, NSW. We focus on Australian made and produced handcrafted quality accessories.
Question: What's on the gift guide for Christmas 2017?
Melissa Gibson: New this year is our double buckle gift pack. It's four belts in one and can be resized to fit most men with a waist size up to 44"/112cm. Every man deserves a good belt which makes it the perfect gift. Available from The Iconic and other great independent stores. These gift packs retail from $49.95.
Question: What was Buckle | 1922 originally creating and how has the range developed?
Melissa Gibson: When the company first started (which was in 1922), we were manufacturing braces. Belts weren't really an accessory until the 1940s. As men's fashion developed so did our range. Today our range extends to include bow ties, pocket squares, bow ties, cufflinks, lapel pins (just to name a few). Our core product lines are leather belts, but together our accessories collection exceeds 500 line items.
Question: Can you share your business advice for surviving world and financial crisis?
Melissa Gibson: Be prepared to adapt, reinvent and take calculated risks. Just don't stay in a sweet spot or get too comfortable – you simply will not survive in today's world.
Question: How have you used past troubles to overcome more modern challenges?
Melissa Gibson: Yes, it's important to make and learn from your mistakes, but it is even more important not to repeat them. I wouldn't say that there is one instance that stands out. Every trouble faced in the past is equally as important as the next.
Question: What's a typical day like for you, at Buckle | 1922?
Melissa Gibson: I walk into the office with a coffee in my hand and take time to say good morning to everyone. I have a brief 15-20 minute catch up with the other director and we cover topics such as sales targets, production, incoming or expected orders, new shipments and other business matters. On Monday mornings, there is a brief director's meeting that is followed by a production meeting held with our operations manager, purchasing manager and product manager. We talk about every individual order that is in our system and discuss our production schedule. Once these formalities are over, the day really gets going after that. Each day is different. For instance, this month's focus has been on building our wholesale website platform as well as strategizing our international distribution into the UK market. Other times, I will have my head in a spreadsheet analysing sales across items lines and using this data to develop our range further.
Question: What are the five things you couldn't run your business without?
Melissa Gibson: 1. Our people
3. Sense of Humour
Question: What's next for Buckle | 1922?
Melissa Gibson: As hinted previously, we are looking to new markets. Right now we are in the process of launching our brand into the UK market. At the end of January 2018, we will attend the INDX trade show in Solihull (near Birmingham) to introduce our brand to this market. We have two key agents on board that are introducing and familiarising this market with the Buckle | 1922 brand. We are very excited about the prospect of launching into this new market.
Question: What advice do you have for those wanting to start a business?
Melissa Gibson: Make a plan and stick to it. Give it a fair go (you will know after two years if the business is successful or not – you don't necessarily need to make profit during this period). Most importantly, be confident.
Interview by Brooke Hunter