Prue Thomas is an Australian fashion industry powerhouse. As the General Manager of Marketing and Digital at Oroton, she’s turned around Australia’s only luxury accessories brand, launching it in the US and the UK in the middle of a pandemic. We sat down with Prue as part of our From Australia With Love panel to learn more about how she’s building an international brand from the shores of Sydney.

F: How are Australian consumers and Australian media different from the US?

PT: “Australians are used to digital immaturity when it comes to our ecommerce brands. Whilst this has improved throughout COVID with many brands and retailers improving their digital experience and footprint, Australians tend to prefer an omni-channel approach. Aussies are social creatures, so pure-play retailers coming into the space need equal measures of approachability, supported service and a desirable product. We also find that Australians are a lot more sale focussed than international audiences, and we see this even more in New Zealand. COVID hasn’t helped change this state of mind but we will sometimes use sales as a hook to encourage them to convert on full price.

The Australian market has a number of ‘audiences within audiences’, including a large domestic Chinese audience, who converse and transact on Chinese social channels in Australia. For brands coming to Australia, this can be a great audience to engage early, but it’s also one that needs tailored messaging and an on-the-ground guide.

If you have a sustainability strategy in place, shout about it! The Australian customer is becoming increasingly discerning when it comes to knowing the origin of fabrication and where their products are sourced.

From a media perspective, our market is a lot smaller than other countries, but while we might have fewer publications, it’s effective and well connected. There are some great independent media channels that can be leveraged that talk to very targeted audiences, but it definitely helps to have a great on-the-ground guide who understands the media landscape well. The same goes for influencers – there are plenty of influencers in Australia whose audiences have a lot of crossover, meaning cannibalisation and wasted resources. Be smart about targeting and selection of influencers and remember that more does not always mean better!

F: You relaunched Oroton internationally in the midst of a pandemic – are Australian shoppers interested in luxury brands during a time when there’s so much negativity and uncertainty in the news?

PT: “Australians love to spend money on nice things. Domestically, the uncertainty is palpable right now, and people are just looking for the little things that are going to make them happy – and in our case that happens to be handbags and beautiful clothes, even though they may not see the light of day for a while yet. Like the rest of the world, we are spending inordinate amounts of time in front of screens, which gives brands the opportunity to be present where the audience is, interrupting and delivering deliver the dream of something from afar.

From a luxury perspective, I’ve got it on good authority that a large luxury power group are considering Australia for their first multi-branded luxury outlet destination, similar to the luxury brand outlet malls in the US. This is big business in Australia because we’re interested in luxury brands, but we also have a number of smaller target groups within our larger population. We have a large Chinese customer base in Australia who need to be respected and carefully considered from a content and product perspective, and a large middle-class who aren’t necessarily white-collar workers.

So, while the population isn’t huge, we know people aren’t spending on travel and still want to treat themselves. The brands who spend more time on their content and adapting their tone of voice are the ones who are winning.”

F: How are you changing your approach between Australia and the US when it comes to positioning the Oroton brand?

PT: “We are right at the start of our US journey and I will be sure to make some mistakes! Oroton is a household name in Australia, we are the only home-grown luxury brand. Everyone has a story or a memory of our brand, so our approach in new territories needs to be different. We don’t tend to trade on our heritage much in Australia but launching internationally, we have been leaning into where we come from and who we are. We’ve had to make some obvious changes to seasonality and have experienced a few cultural differences but we let our collections do a lot of the heavy lifting for us. It helps when the lovely Meagan Markle wears Oroton – an amazing moment for the design team!

I’m taking a soft approach in the US, not only because our budget isn’t huge but because we would always prefer to be targeted rather than trying to hit the mass market. We are starting small with some state-based testing where we already have warm audiences.”

F: What are some examples of international brands who’ve really cracked the Australian market and how do you think they’ve done that?

PT: “The big luxury players are leveraging local talent while remaining 100% true to their brands – pure-play online retailers like Matches, Net-A-Porter and ASOS have succeeded. On a more commercial level, I would say that brands like Everlane and Glossier are building a strong following in Australia. Everlane have come into Australia with service as their mantra, making it easy for the Australian customer to get the product. They’ve also tapped into the fact that the Australian audience is actually relatively conservative (although we will never admit it!) and we do like to spend money on nice things. Everlane has done really well at putting those great edits together and appealing to the Australian customer.

Glossier is probably a really obvious example to pull out, but I think they’re building an audience. They know their voice and are tapping into a tone of voice that’s similar to the Australian customer.”

F: What’s the one thing brands can do *today* to make their brand more appealing to an Australian audience?

PT: “It comes down to equal parts creativity, product desirability and service. Don’t make Australians pay a fortune for shipping and returns! Treat it as an acquisition cost in order to build your audience and absorb the cost of shopping and returns.”

Image via Oroton.

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