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Fashion-tech entrepreneur Dale McCarthy shares 10 rules that have guided her in business

A blue-chip corporate turned fashion-tech entrepreneur, BONDI BORN’s founder Dale McCarthy shares the lessons she has learned since founding her start-up luxury swimwear label in 2015.

As Fairfax Digital’s Director, Corporate Development, Dale McCarthy oversaw Strategy and M&A. It was a role that regularly brought her into contact with some of the country’s brightest entrepreneurs. “Witnessing their challenges and celebrating their wins, I aspired to their autonomy and ability to write their own destiny,” she explains. Hooked, the advertising and marketing executive knew her next chapter would involve starting her own business.

“My dream was to create an iconic, Australian luxury swim brand that was reflective of a contemporary Australian style without compromising on quality, design or values,” she says.

In 2015, BONDI BORN was launched in the UK, before arriving on home soil in 2017. Despite a difficult start in the local market, the brand’s digital focus has propelled its growth, while its sustainable and ethical values and beautiful, high-performance fabrics have seduced a band of loyal fashionistas.

Stocked in some of the world’s leading high-end retailers – such as Harvey Nichols in the UK and Galeries Lafayette in France – Dale is delighted to have signed a contract with David Jones, calling the Australian department store the “brand’s natural home”.

Dale McCarthy and fabric swatches

The label, which also made waves when it debuted at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, is starting to find its rightful place on the map alongside other Australian designers.

Rule 1: Love what you do

I’ve always been incredibly passionate about style and fashion. If, like me, you’re someone who gives their all to their work, then you need to wake up every morning loving what you do. For me, that’s the strategic and creative challenge of building brands.

Rule 2: Global before local

It may surprise people that I decided to launch BONDI BORN in the UK rather than in Australia. Having lived overseas and travelled extensively with my English husband, I’ve seen how much other cultures love everything Australian and aspire to our beach lifestyle. And, because of my experience at Fairfax Digital, my mind wasn’t constrained by geography. I knew that, because of the internet, going global first is very possible.

Rule 3: Sacrifice nothing for your product

Our price point might sit higher but it’s been a conscious decision to sacrifice nothing for our product. When we think about who our typical customer is, she is defined by her love of travel and a beautiful holiday wardrobe. We therefore have a responsibility to work with premium partners when it comes to our supply chain – European fabric mills and the best local manufacturers. Our customers know this and it’s how we set ourselves apart.

Rule 4: Expect the unexpected

After two seasons in Europe and one in the US, we decided to bring the brand to Australia. We were surprised with how difficult we found it. Buyers just didn’t get BONDI BORN.

Rule 5: Find positives in the negatives

This reception in Australia turned out to be a pivotal turning point for the business. We leased a pop-up store in The Pacific Club Bondi Beach in 2017 that confirmed Australian women loved our collection. So, we launched ecommerce in this market so we could go direct to the consumer – one of the best moves we could ever make. Our Australian online sales have grown more than 350 per cent year on year.

Rule 6: Put your business first

We’ve yet to sign a contract with a major department store in the US on trading terms that make commercial sense for us. It takes a lot of strength to walk away from having your brand hang in an iconic American department store, but we’ve done it to protect the business.

Rule 7: Hire slow

Your team is everything. Know what sort of culture you want to create and find the best possible people that are not only great at their job but also fit your culture like a glove. As you don’t have time for anchors or micromanaging in a start-up, if they become a stone in your shoe instead of keeping the wheels turning, then you have to be tough and call time.

Rule 8: Know your weaknesses

As a start-up, entrepreneurs fall or force themselves into a position of doing everything and, while I do, and always will, wear many hats, I also know my weaknesses and am the first person to identify the need to engage people better than me, who can do what I cannot.

Rule 9: Value expertise

Coming from blue-chip corporates, I am constantly looking to work with people who are the best at what they do, and then instil them with the trust to deliver.

Rule 10: Communicate the big picture

I like people to have clarity on the structure and objectives of the business, so they have a clear understanding of their role, goals and responsibilities. By understanding where they, and everyone else, fits in the process, they can work together as a team to deliver what the business needs.

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