Just under five years ago, brothers Omar and Zane Sabré’s lives were suddenly thrown into disarray. Omar was 25 and working full-time as a dentist in New Zealand, and 22-year-old Zane was in his third year of a dentistry degree when their father was diagnosed with leukaemia.
“The news really rocked our entire family – we were shocked and devastated,” Zane tells The CEO Magazine.
But just as the brothers were beginning to process the news, they were dealt a second blow – one that needed to be addressed urgently.
“I had moved to the Gold Coast on my own in 2014 to start my five-year dentistry degree,” Zane explains. “Because I’m from New Zealand, studying in Australia meant all of my university fees had to be paid upfront, and dentistry here is a particularly expensive course – I was paying upwards of A$50,000 per year.
“Up until that point, my parents had been financially supporting my studies, but because of my dad’s medical bills, they could no longer afford to.”
Zane was faced with an impossible decision – drop out of his course, forfeit the fees that had already been paid and kiss his dentistry career goodbye, or figure out a way to make the money himself.
Not one to call it quits without a fight, Zane enlisted the help of Omar, and together, the brothers discussed their options. After weeks of brainstorming, they settled on an idea – personalised leather goods. But don’t be mistaken; this was no get-rich-quick scheme.
“We wanted to create a brand that we were incredibly proud of, and that really expressed who we are,” Omar says. “The label is a play on our family name, and that way, we’re saying that everything we put out is something that comes genuinely from us. That’s why we prioritise such a high level of quality.”
In July 2017, Omar and Zane launched Maison de Sabré with just one product – a beautifully constructed, monogrammed leather phone case in a variety of colourways.
While some could argue that pinning an entire business on an item as commonplace and readily available as a phone case was more than a tad risky, Zane explains that it was a “strategic move” targeted at millennials in particular.
“We’re part of this generation where everyone has an almost emotional connection to their phones,” he explains. “It’s the first thing you reach for in the morning. “So it was the perfect starting point for us because customers would always have our product with them 24/7.”
A perfect mid-ground between high-end designer brands and cheaper labels of lesser quality, the concept was an indisputable hit, and it wasn’t long before Maison de Sabré was demanding more and more of their time.
“We wanted to create a brand that we were incredibly proud of and that really expressed who we are.” – Omar Sabré
“It snowballed really quickly,” Zane laughs. “While we were launching and selling to our customer base, doing dispatch, customer service, reaching out to influencers, myself and Omar were both still working full-time, him as a dentist in New Zealand and me studying on the Gold Coast.
“So we were trying to run this business at the same time as staying afloat of the fees, and working and studying in different places.”
The brothers hit their first million well before the year was up, paid off Zane’s university fees in full, were helping support their parents during their father’s treatment and had come to the realisation that their days of dentistry may be over for good.
“At that point, we sat down to decide whether we should continue our original plan to work as dentists, or commit 100% to Maison de Sabré,” Zane says.
“We’d always had this entrepreneurial spirit within us – this drive deep down to start a business. We’d dreamed of creating our own destiny, so at the end of the day, it was a pretty easy decision to make. We just really loved the thrill of the journey.”
Maison de Sabré hit the big time
After that, things accelerated – their rise to the top of the industry was swift, and unprecedented. The brand earned a cool A$10 million in revenue in its second year, a 500% year-on-year growth.
The team expanded from two to 30, and suddenly, celebrities including Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown and supermodel Kaia Gerber were photographed toting Maison de Sabré on red carpets and in paparazzi snaps.
This year, Omar and Zane were included in Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 Asia Pacific Retail and Ecommerce list. The business currently ships to 131 countries, and a Maison de Sabré product is sold every two minutes. Not bad for two would-be dentists, right?
From that singular, exceptionally crafted offering of the phone case, the brand expanded – gradually including a selection of luxury wallets and clutches and even adding AirPod cases to their line-up.
Each product can be purchased in a rainbow smorgasbord of colours, from sky blue to emerald green, and each customer is able to add a personalised monogram to the item.
“We see them as a means of expression,” Zane explains. “The monogram is a really important feature, which allows customers to create their own bespoke pieces. Our products act like a blank canvas in a sense, for them to go and build their own journeys and stories with.
“That’s why we’ve developed a central theme that encompasses all of that, with the hashtag #MakeYourMark. It’s a way for customers to connect with the wider, now global community, for them to express who they are, where they’ve been and where they’re going.”
The brothers are quick to admit, however, that those early days were far from a walk in the park – rather, establishing their business required determination, drive and grit in spades.
“In business, there are always going to be ups and downs,” Omar says. “It’s never going to be all glittery and glamorous. You’re not only going to have wins.
“Sometimes it’s going to be tough, but what gets you through is having a strong vision and a lot of passion. Passion is our rocket fuel.”
Trials and tribulations
For the majority of businesses across the globe, 2020 has been a year riddled with challenges. Indeed, many have suffered immense financial losses, been forced to downsize or rethink their entire strategy.
Not for Maison de Sabré, however. At a time when others have floundered, Omar and Zane’s empire has flourished.
“We’ve stayed laser focused, calculated and measured, and just gotten through whatever has been thrown our way,” Zane says.
“Perhaps part of it is due to people getting bored and jumping online to shop since they can’t be out, going to restaurants and bars and travelling.”
Irrespective of the reason, Maison de Sabré is emerging from COVID-19 triumphant, with global sales increasing by 65% since March.
“It’s never going to be all glittery and glamorous. You’re not only going to have wins.” – Omar Sabré
Omar adds that he believes the pandemic has forced many businesses to re-evaluate their approach and attitude to put people above profit – something that Maison de Sabré has prioritised since day dot.
“If there has been any benefit from this whole ordeal, it’s that it’s allowed people to connect more,” he says.
“It’s made brands realise that community is number one and product is number two. We’ve always looked at the business that way, which I think is part of the reason we’ve done well though the pandemic.”
It’s this emphasis on longevity that has also seen the brothers invest in sustainable practices, shunning seasonal or trend-based designs in favour of timeless design and quality materials.
“We don’t believe in fast fashion or fast trends,” Zane explains. “There’s such a massive push towards sustainability at the moment and one aspect of that conversation is making sure that the products and designs outlast seasons.
“We’ve been fortunate in attracting an audience that also believes in that quite strongly as well. Obviously, we release new initiatives or products to foster a better connection and are more and more relevant to our community, but the focus is always looking to the future in a responsible way.”
Given they spend the majority of their time together, with their personal and professional lives now completely intertwined, you might be forgiven for guessing that sometimes it all feels a little too close for comfort for the siblings.
“A lot of people ask us that,” Zane smiles. “But really we’re a dream team. We know each other very, very well, and have a lot of trust in each other.
“Even though we’re quite alike, we have different strengths and different weaknesses, so we complement each other’s skills. I can’t see myself doing this with anyone else. The partnership is second to none.”
While the brand has now reached a point where Zane and Omar could reasonably sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labour, neither brother has any desire to do so.
“We’re very hands-on founders,” Omar enthuses. “We like to be involved across all the teams. Design is something that I take a very strong part in.”
“And I’m very active with the operations side of the business,” Zane adds. “We’re really passionate about certain areas, and we don’t find any reason to delegate those tasks to someone else.
“We’ve always been the type of people to do everything at 100%, so this has really been an outlet for us to drive that home.”
Looking to the future, the entrepreneurs explain that the goal is simple – to continue producing superior leather goods and cultivating an engaged community of like-minded individuals in every corner of the globe.
And from there? “To take this company to the moon and never look back!” Zane laughs.