Inside Retail: How did Kind is Cool start out?
Amber Wilkinson: I had just finished working in a corporate workplace. I designed some tees for my boys and that was all it was going to be. Then my sister wanted one and she suggested I sell them. I set up a dropshipping service to do it as a side hustle, and it just got bigger and bigger. My husband and I taught ourselves how to screen print (and nearly ended up divorced!), we purchased our own printer and printed in-house, and it all steamrolled from there.
IR: How did your own experiences of bullying influence you when setting up this business?
AW: [Being bullied in the workplace] definitely led me to start the brand. I had been bullied in school and things like that, but as an adult, it probably impacted me more; questioning why the person was choosing that route.
The main reason we partnered with Bully Zero is because they work in schools and workplaces. I was trying to create a kinder world for the next generation and it was originally meant to be a kids label but my audience is predominantly women.
During lockdowns, online bullying went up by 40 per cent, with everyone online more. I think it’s been a really tough two years for everyone.
IR: Any advice for people that may be going through workplace bullying at the moment?
AW: Definitely talk about it. That was the case for me. Often there’s shame [associated with bullying] that it’s your fault or you’ve done something wrong. Definitely speaking to close friends or a professional is something that helps.
IR: Tell me about the challenges of running your own small business. Is there anything you’d do differently?
AW: I think the main challenge is knowing your numbers and having great contacts. I had no contacts overseas for manufacturing. We were printing in our garage [at first]; we now have a beautiful studio space. I didn’t have a great understanding of business and numbers then. I’m not really a good planner, but I’ve gotten better over the last three years.
IR: How has the business performed during the pandemic? Have you seen an increase in sales?
AW: Absolutely. It’s been a hard thing to talk about because a lot of businesses have suffered. My husband is in the music industry and hasn’t worked for two years so I know both sides. We have definitely blossomed throughout the pandemic.
IR: Have you struggled with supply chain issues during the pandemic?
AW: We hadn’t until now. I got an email this morning to say that my delivery that was due to come tomorrow is not coming until the 12th. But we did experience price increases for shipping. China is struggling with power, factories being closed down – we have one manufacturer in China and we still print in house. Here, Australia Post has [up to] 500 employees off per day due to Covid. It definitely has impacted us in that way.
IR: There seems to be a lot more purpose-driven clothing brands coming onto the market now. Do you think it’s becoming an increasingly competitive space?
AW: There are more opportunities to start an online business these days, and it’s a lot easier to find manufacturers overseas. I think that more people are open to starting an online business but whether they stay in it for the long haul is another thing. I see a lot of start-up brands that fizzle away. It’s really hard, much harder than what I thought. It’s been amazing to see the growth we’ve had in the past six months, but it’s been challenging because we didn’t have any processes in place to manage that.
IR: Your designs have been worn by some famous faces including pop star Jason Mraz and model Miranda Kerr. Was that something that happened by accident or is there a really strong influencer strategy behind the brand?
AW: We had a really strong influencer strategy early on; we’ve backed off that a little bit. I don’t know how well influencers work now. When we started two years ago, it was a great strategy but I think now it’s a saturated market. It’s time for brands to pivot and work with influencers in a different way.
IR: Tell me about some of the other causes that you will be supporting in the near future.AW: Our next social injustice tee is an LGBTQI+ t-shirt that’s going to be supporting queer charities to raise awareness and start conversations. I want to give my platform to communities that need a voice.