“When I founded Gorman, nobody had even thought about sustainable or green fashion,” says founder, Lisa Gorman, to Inside Retail PREMIUM.
“Today, I think there’s now a great divide between fast fashion and the fashion that people want to invest in.”
Therein lies the catch: while Gorman has stuck to its indy aesthetic, it has also spent the last few years slowly dominating the high street.
The chain has been a relatively quiet achiever in a local fashion market crowded by loud youth labels and fast fashion entrants like Zara or Topshop.
It launched in 1999 as a wholesale brand for Melbourne’s tight knit community of famously kooky and alternative women.
Fifteen years later, Gorman has 20 stores and has so far avoided the financial woes experienced by other brands of its generation, such as Lisa Ho, Fat, and Ksubi.
The business faced gossip about financial woes in early 2010 when it was partially acquired by Melbourne-based fashion group, Factory X.
Factory X also operates fast fashion chains including Jack London, Dangerfield, Revival, and Alannah Hill.
Gorman says the acquisition was never a matter of financial salvation, but it did allow the retailer to expand with less business risk.
“Gorman was acquired at a time when I needed more funding in the company. I was at the point of seven stores and having young kids,” she says.
“I needed to secure stock purchases and the lending institutions were tightening on security on shopfits.
“Factory X gave a lot more flexibility to me and my business partner. We could focus on the creative side, explore our horizons, and try new products.
“We would have never been able to get the label to the point of having 20 stores if we were solo operators.”
In 2014, Gorman is set to open four new stores, with new locations to include Melbourne’s Emporium and The Strand, following the loss of the Melbourne GPO store, which closed due to H&M’s arrival.
In the last few years, Gorman has entered more shopping centres and suburban areas, such as Highpoint and Chatswood Chase.
“We’re always looking [for new sites]. We’re not specific on strip shopping or centres. I like both and there’s benefits to both,” she says.
“There’s some limitations in a centre. Strips locations can be a bit more independent when it comes to the fitouts.”
The Melbourne-based brand has been focusing on Sydney for the last two years, with its King St store in Newtown a perfect home for the label.
“Newtown is a nice sit and it’s quite homely. We pretty much roll out everything in Sydney that we do in Melbourne,” says Gorman.
It has also opened in Brisbane, Perth, and New Zealand, with the company looking for more sites in NZ, and even possibly the UK.
The chain’s first store in Prahran, which opened in 2004, and its Fitzroy boutique remain emblematic of Gorman’s alternative urban following, says Gorman.
Gorman’s new era
Gorman ceased wholesaling in 2008 due to the risk attached with selling to boutiques, but it does still have an agreement with David Jones.
“I think businesses that have survived with being bought by multi-branded boutiques have had to change their pitch. There’s not enough margin,” says Gorman.
The chain has substantially grown its inhouse footwear range since 2011, when it started manufacturing its own clogs, boots, and heels instead of buying wholesale.
In the last year, Gorman has also developed a homewares range, and it has sold an organic cotton range of clothing since 2006.
The brand manufactures the majority of its product offshore but produces a relatively small number of seasons, going against the fast fashion trend dominating Australia.
“Generally speaking, most Australian designer brands are taking that track of fast fashion.
“We can’t do fast fashion. If you’re not at a certain scale, then you’re not in the position to turn over the product to get your units up to do fast fashion prices. It’s very driven by price and we’re not at that scale.
“People still wear Gorman season after season, which is important to me. It’s about both fashionability and getting good wear out of a garment.”