In 2015, Tania Austin made it onto BRW’s Rich Women list when her business was worth $56 million.
IRW: What has the past financial year been like for Decjuba?
TA: We had a really solid 12 months, which has been super exciting for us. It was driven primarily out of the product offering. The team has done an astounding job delivering amazing product, which is at the core at what we do. The customer has rewarded us and the feedback has been sensational.
In the last 12 months, we’ve opened 19 new stores. We’re at 62 now and we’ve got another 11 scheduled in the next 10 weeks, so we’re a bit busy! Our plan is to have 80 open by the end of December.
We also launched our D-Luxe Basics range last year, which was a big highlight for us. Whilst it’s not a standalone label, it’s the first label within a label that we launched. We relaunched that yesterday in all stores – it was a collaboration with a famous influencer Michaela Babuskova from @FIGTNY. We had such a great time collaborating with her; she styles and edits the range for us and the designers put the range together.
IRW: What kind of plans do you have for Decjuba in the next few months?
TA: We’ve got lots of super exciting plans. Number one, it’s always about delivering amazing fashion, that’s our guiding principle. We want to make sure we’re always delivering amazing, edgy, affordable effortless style that keeps it easy for the customer.
We’re opening new stores and concentrating mostly on the east coast, some in WA and a new one in NZ in three weeks. We’re looking to newer markets. We’re not in SA yet but we have a few deals on the table. We’re looking for growth in areas in Australia and New Zealand.
We’re relaunching our website around mid-September, so we’ve been working on that for the last few months. I just feel like websites are like underwear, they need to be changed all the time. The site will have improved capability which will in result in a more amazing online experience for customers. I’m all about less clicks – how many clicks do I need to make to buy something?
The upgrade is all about giving her a better experience online, there are a lot of things the site can’t do from an online perspective, like click-and-collect. Some of the basic functions are missing at the moment, like customers being able to find which stores are holding stock, so she can click on the stores to see which ones have her size. It’s just about making it easier for the customer.
IRW: How would you describe the Decjuba customer?
TA: She is definitely someone who wants shopping to be made easy for her, as all women do – that’s what we deliver. We tend to think she’s every woman who wants to look and feel amazing, so we don’t put her in age bracket. My 14-year-old daughter wears it, my mum who is 72 wears it.
Our core customer is obviously through the 30-, 40- ,50-year-old age bracket but at the end of the day, she’s looking for edgy, everyday trend-driven style. It doesn’t matter if she’s not buying us, but if she’s leaving our stores feeling amazing, that’s the start of the journey. We’ve all had those experiences when you go into a store and you don’t feel welcome or comfortable – that’s not what we’re about.
Everyone’s busy these days, whether you’re working or not, whether you’re a mother or not, whether you’re travelling or not, everyone’s busy, so everyone wants shopping to be easy. There are so many choices out there and online, it’s impossible to find something unless it’s easy.
IRW: I know Decjuba’s a great place for working mothers. Can you tell me about that?
TA: I bought Decjuba about eight years ago, but I kind of played it slow for a long time. My kids were little – they were one, three and five when I bought the business, they’re now 10, 12, 14. So as they’ve grown, I’ve had more flexibility as a single mum to do more things. When they were little, I was quite absorbed with the kids and they always come first, so if you’re a working mother, Decjuba’s the place to come and work.
Being privately owned by a woman, I think we do have a different understanding of working parents. I have a flexible workforce here and we have this great camaraderie and culture because we’re in it together. Out of 694 staff, around 592 are female. Isn’t that cool? I don’t know many businesses that can say that.
I think the brand resonates with women because we understand women, so we attract them from the get-go. We have some great men in the high level positions in the business, but on the shopfloor, we seem to appeal to females. I don’t think it’s unusual that women fashion retailers have predominantly female staff.
At Decjuba, you can bring your kids to work if you need, but we’re flexible with the whole team. For me, kids come first, so when you’re a working mum, your children come first, so guided by that principle, if anyone needs time off with them, the team just gets it. It’s not even a conversation, you just say, “I’m not going to be in tomorrow.” We very much empower everyone in the sense that they know we all know what work needs to be done. If that’s covered, great, and everything just ebbs and flows around that.
It’s important to me that when you’re a working mum, the kids have to come first. I couldn’t do what I do without that premise guiding me. We have a couple store managers who work part-time so their work just sits in around their kids which is important. We just make it work. People first.
IRW: You were one of the co-founders of Cotton On. What did you learn from that experience that you’ve carried on to Decjuba?
TA: For me, the thing we learnt at Cotton On was to be yourself which I apply constantly – I don’t look to what others are doing, I’m not interested. I’m my toughest competition. At the end of the day, it’s about being yourself, having a very clear purpose and staying true to that, looking ahead, never looking back and staying focused on what you do best.
Fashion is so fast moving it’s easy to get off track, especially when you’ve got a growing business, you’ve got conversations around warehouse and freight but at the end of the day, what we need to do is deliver amazing fashion and once you nail that, the rest of it is easy.
Everyone gets sidetracked but it’s about pulling it back all the time – remember who we are, what our customer is coming to us for, what we’re about in the marketplace, what’s our niche and doing that really well, making sure our execution is spot-on. I’m not particularly trend-focused myself – we’re classic with an edge. We like to make sure there’s a twist in the range.
IRW: Baptist World Aid Report scored Decjuba as an F this year. What is Decjuba doing in terms of ethical manufacturing and sustainability?
TA: The F was for a non-participation in the report. But for us, ethical and sustainability practices are at the core of our values, we’ve got strong values that guide the business and the details of all our practices are on our website. It’s a well set out and considered piece that covers our commitment, not only to our suppliers and how our garments are produced, but also to the world and the local community. We’ve done a good job in terms of being transparent on our site to those things. It’s super important.
I’ve been dealing with China for 25 years, I’ve been there countless times, I’ve got a really experienced production team that’s been doing the same and those conversations are at the core we’re do. When we’re in China, we’re visiting factories, we’re getting them to sign our own set of non-negotiable principles regarding working conditions, wages, animal rights, sustainability, bribery and corruption. Those are things we have in our non-negotiable principles with our suppliers.
It’s something we’ve worked hard on and there have certainly been been factories and garments we’ve walked away from because we’re not comfortable that they have met those standards without a doubt. It’s certainly getting harder not to do the right thing, which is great, because that’s how it should be.
IRW: Tell me about the work that Decjuba does with The Hunger Project.
TA: The Hunger Project is something I’ve been personally involved with for a long time. It’s a hands-on ground-up cause about empowering people, mutual respect and how we can help people get from A to B and get involved.
We’ve got a platform to help create change and help get that message out there. We find that people want to help and give back, and we want to come up with ways that can make that a reality.
The big thing we’ve done with The Hunger Project was the limited edition t-shirt, where every cent including the cost price went to the cause. The aim is to raise of $80,000 for them – we were at $76,000 a couple of weeks ago. We had some cool influencers on board who have a voice shared the story on social media. Rather than raise and give money, we wanted to do it in a way that could create awareness.
In September, we launch a range of pouches through the Hunger Project but this time, we’ve partnered with a group of women in Bangladesh who are making these pouches for us. The purpose is to create jobs and work for them, which gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment. The pouches will retail for $9.95-$19.95 and all proceeds of that will go to Bangladesh through the Hunger Project, particularly the women.
IRW: Decjuba also does some great work with RMIT University. There’s been a lot of talk lately about the need to nurture local talent and invest more in training in the sector.
TA: I am personally a big believer in homegrown talent, particularly when you’re an entrepreneur and creating your own thing. The best way for us to build that talent is by working with people who start from the ground up, but they need some basis for that. Partnering with RMIT allows us to give young people some of our real life retail experiences. We’re sending our HR managers, production managers, buyers off to do sessions and presentations with them and on the flipside, they come in to do internships in our business as well.
We have a really great internship process which our HR director has set up, so when they come in, it’s a week or two where they get exposure across the business. It’s really important that young people that they get exposed to lots of things to be able to make career decisions. We like to give them a well-rounded look at the whole business.
Twenty years ago, retail wasn’t really seen as a career, it was something you fell into and did part-time. What we’re aiming to do and what’s been done well over the last five to 10 years is retail is seen as a serious career. People working at Decjuba have got roles with big responsibilities and get paid accordingly. It’s an exciting path and it can go in lots of different ways, so it’s good for us to expose that to people.
IRW: You bought Decjuba almost 10 years ago and relaunched it. What changes did you bring to the business and how has it progressed in that time?
TA: When I started, there were five stores, now there are 62. We’ve changed a lot. The product offering is what defines the brand, that’s what we changed.
We’re in the right place right now, but there were a lot of failures along the way. One of our mottos is to fail fast and fail often, make sure you do it quick but keep moving.
One of the biggest things I brought to Decjuba was a growth mindset. The team here is very much about looking forward, growing and owning their mistakes. It’s really simple stuff, but we’ve created an environment where people feel safe enough to make mistakes. I hope I make the most, that’s what I want to do as a leader.
The team has changed substantially through dedicated training and development programs. That’s been a massive journey. We’ve done a lot of work around our people and that’s really important, that didn’t exist when I bought Decjuba.