It’s not uncommon for small businesses today to launch with the prospect of eventually ‘going global’. But how does one go from spotting a gap in the market and having an idea, to shipping products all around the world? Margie Moroney, Founder and CEO of HOLOS luxury knitwear, an elegant clothing range made of Australian superfine merino wool, explains how, after 20 years in investment banking, she took the leap.
About HOLOS: Grown in Australia. Made in Italy.
Having specialised in agri-business in her time as an investment banker, Margie looked at assets all over the world in wool processing for a client. This led to relationships with a number of the very best Northern Italian superfine wool processors, and an idea to fuse Italian fabric perfection with modern shapes and Australian lifestyle ease started to take form.
Typically reserved for use in men’s suiting Margie found, that when used in knitwear, superfine merino wool fibre is exceptional, and is actually rarer, more luxurious and more suitable for travel than cashmere. “That’s when I saw this opportunity. I saw that all these Australian superfine merino wools weren’t being used and that designers were overlooking them,” she explains.
Margie spent years thinking about her idea when a friend, who also happens to be a venture capitalist, decided it was time for her to act on it. “He gave me a kick and said come on you’ve been talking about this for 20 years, now you have to do it.”
That led to HOLOS Luxury Knitwear finding a home in a Paddington business hub in 2013. “We are starting with the very finest Australian merino wool that’s as fine as cashmere, and it’s really special stuff which grows nowhere in the world but Australia. Then we’re having it transformed into knitwear in the very best, multi-generational knitwear companies in Italy.”
Learning to cope with chaos
It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s an entirely different story to take that idea and launch it into the market. Margie explains, “you have to build everything at the same time. You’ve got to develop your product, work with amazing designers, find your suppliers, do the marketing, set up inventory management, accounting, find the right staff – everything at the same time. It’s impossible to do all of that properly at once, so you have to start prioritising, and you have to learn to absorb some chaos”.
Margie takes solace in reflecting on what others in the same space are doing. Referencing a book by Ben Horowitz, a technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist, called The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Margie recalls a time where Horowitz showed up to a meeting wearing a mismatched suit after a sustained period of high stress and low sleep.
“Then, one day when I was really in the chaos, I was in a meeting and I looked down and realised I had on two different ballet flats. I had one brand new black one, and one really old navy blue one.”
It was experiencing and relating to the plight of fellow entrepreneurs that drove Margie to just keep going, “even if you’ve got two different shoes on.” As for advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs of the future, Margie’s would be to develop a product that people actually want.
“Whenever I got stressed out, I’d always come back to the product, and the product was just so good. We have such great feedback from customers, people even write us love letters and tell us how much they love the product, and can we please keep doing what we are doing”
“So, I would say if you’re going to start something up it’s got to be a product that the world needs, and a product that you believe in. That makes it so much easier to keep going.”
Building relationships across borders to understand local context
The brand’s tagline ‘Grown in Australia. Made in Italy’ speaks to the relationships that Margie built across borders in order to create truly unique products. After 20 years in the industry, Margie had established an impressive network and knew who to go to, something that turned out to be imperative for her success. “The Italian superfine wool processing industry is a really closed shop and quite conservative. If I hadn’t been introduced to the knitwear manufacturers by other significant Italian families then I wouldn’t have even found the front door, and they certainly wouldn’t have given us the runway with which to develop new shapes and designs.”
In the time since starting the business, Margie has forged close relationships with her suppliers in Italy. She also employs an Australian local (who’s married to an Italian) on the ground to help with both the language translation, but also the cultural translation.
“I don’t think I could do it without her, I think the business cultural differences would have overcome us by now.” Margie reflects, “You have to be open minded and willing to listen to each other.” And with juggling five different suppliers, it was really a matter of finding what works best for each supplier and sticking with that, “not trying to get them to do things that aren’t natural for them.”
How OFX were able to help along the way
The startup community is often known for being quite a supportive one, with many relying on one another for their processes. It’s that notion of relating to what one another might be experiencing that drives that connection.
For Margie and the HOLOS team, it’s no different. “We’ve got this suite of young dynamic companies that underpins us – It’s been really fun finding young businesses to work with, watching them grow and building partnerships.”
Having used OFX for both business and personal reasons, Margie has come to learn that the company is a facilitator for helping SMEs and global citizens to thrive, “and it’s one of the aspects of my business that is so seamless and easy and a pleasure to work with.”
Margie recalls a time where, in the midst of a transfer at 2 o’clock in the morning, she accidentally sent the funds to the wrong supplier, “and it was quite a large amount of money, I just felt sick when I realized what I had done!” After making an urgent call to OFX, Margie was surprised to find how far the customer service team would go above and beyond to help her fix the transaction.
“They got the money back for me from the wrong recipient and then organised the payment to the correct recipient. I just could not believe how they went the extra mile to do that and how smooth it was, it was incredible.”
As for where the business is headed in the future, Margie explains that the company will stick to what it knows works, continuing to introduce elegant Italian colours, and to interpret modern shapes that people are comfortable wearing into chic, high quality fabric. “The other thing we can get out of Italy that you can’t get anywhere else is this amazing sense of colour, they’re so subtle and beautiful, many of our customers build a collection!”
In not straying from the specialist streak that sets the company apart from the rest, the brand is driving a greater consumer interest in high quality, specialty items that can be used for a long time. “We very much embody the ethos of buy fewer, better things” she says.
“There are so many suppliers of everything these days that the market really appreciates people who go narrow and deep, and who specialize in an area with passion. So stay true to what your special interest is and something that you are extremely good at.”
“If you make a great product that actually delivers benefit to the customer, then the product will ultimately sell itself, you just have to let it be seen and experienced. OFX helps us to get our products made by the world’s best and then helps us to get them out to the wide world. We love this partnership!”
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