Sarah Rovis: Absolutely. We have such a loyal following that gets passed down generations and families. When the design team was working out what we could bring back [for the anniversary] and what we could talk to in celebrating 25 years, it was definitely that Icons collection, as an ode to what we were known for. We’re known for our jewellery for special occasions – statement-making pieces. We were very much known for crystals and pearls in the early days as well, so there’s also a [new] collection of jewellery that we did that talks to that.
In light of how the world has changed since Covid hit, the other piece of it is casual attire and different ways of dressing have really come to the forefront. We were originally known as a ‘high heels and jewels’ brand, with going-out bags and work wear, but we’ve really had to pivot in a Covid world. So we’ve also done a nod to the ’90s [with] a limited-edition collection. It’s sort of laid back luxe, with things like bucket hats, high-top sneakers and denim bags.
IR: That’s interesting. Would that be the first time you’ve kind of gone down into that more casual look and feel?
SR: There have always been things [at Mimco] you could wear or style casually, but we’ve never really talked to it the way we have with this collection, I think. Sneakers as a trend has been around for a while, it wasn’t just Covid that created that, so we’ve always had sneakers in our range, but we’ve probably had a portion of the [new] range talking to that casual component.
The other exciting thing that we’ve done is a limited-edition print that forms part of the [anniversary] coffee-table book, as well as a scarf. It also runs through other pieces in the range. Our print designer Meg created it by using all our old campaign imagery. One of our first models, Emma Balfour, was also in the photo shoot for the launch of the product. [The print was made with] the negatives from the campaign and we used that to create a beautiful black-and-white print that ties the whole thing together.
IR: How thoughtful. Is the book about the heritage of the brand?
SR: Absolutely. It was curated by the former editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Kellie Hush. My team worked with Kellie and I take my hat off to them because they were doing it remotely [through Covid]. They were going through all of our archives, pulling out all the campaign imagery, the old sketches, even the old runway shots from when we were at the Australian Fashion Festival way back 20 years ago. Kelly even interviewed [Mimco co-founder] Amanda [Briskin-Rettig] and she talked to all the people, the creatives and photographers – anyone who had a creative hand in bringing Mimco to life. The coffee-table book really shows our journey and our partnerships – creative and philanthropic – and it talks a lot about the customer throughout the book.
IR: I guess in Australia when it comes to fashion brands, there aren’t maybe as many as in Europe that can stand on such a strong heritage, where they can go back into their archives and reimagine old designs.
SR: Yes, I think it comes from the fact that we’re design-led. We have creatives, we have designers, we’re not a product-development brand. Our heritage comes from that and we’ve continued to hold on to that. And I think that’s why we have such a rich archive and history around that.
As for the customers, you just need to go onto some of the social media pages, [where they] are so passionate about our brand and talk about certain iconic pieces that we’ve done over the years and brag about the fact that they’ve got them. It’s a beautiful story because it’s just authentic.
IR: What are one or two examples of how the business evolved during Covid? And, what are some of the things that you think are going to stick around?
SR: We’re trying to design remotely and I take my hat off to the team, who have just persisted. It just shows how adaptable they are. We continue to deliver those quality products. At the heart of everything, it’s about the standards that we all hold ourselves to and it’s really shown through that process. I mean, we had to do some things very differently.
We couldn’t shoot any of our campaigns or our imagery for our online store [during lockdown]. We worked with people in Sydney, and we were remotely directing them on how to shoot our product, because they’d never shot our product before. We’ve worked forever with some of our partners in Melbourne; they just pick up the product and we wouldn’t even have to be there sometimes. But when you’re working remotely with a new team, that’s certainly a challenge. I think that’s just shown how we can pivot.
I think the thing that will change for us is the mix of products. I don’t think we’ll ever go back [to what it was before]. I think we will always have more casual components to our offering. We were laughing about how people were not getting out of their pyjama pants, but they still put on a shirt and a bit of bling around their neck for their Zoom call, so we’re still relevant in that respect. It’s about being flexible but knowing that things are changing.
IR: What have your sales been like over the last year and have they stabilised?
SR: I think we probably suffered more than most of the brands, just because we’re more wear-to-work, going-out, special-occasion. But you’ve got to work with what you’ve got, so how do you show it in a new, casual way? We’ve really changed direction around how we shoot the product to make it feel more casual, to show how she can wear it in a different way. We’ve certainly seen a shift in product mix of what she’s buying. We’re not selling as many work bags, but we’ve got a whole offer of crossbody bags that she can wear to work or casually. Things like totes have gone completely crazy because [customers are] all carrying their computer to and from work, rather than having a setup at work. It’s just being able to read the play early enough to make the changes and really listen to what she wants to spend her money on.
IR: In terms of the digital side of things, how did that go for you? Have you seen a big uptake of online shopping among your customers? And what have you been doing in the digital space?
SR: We’ve always had a huge uptake in online penetration because we’re not a size business – you don’t need to try on the products to buy them. In states where we had lockdowns, online sales certainly increased. She certainly engaged online, but our penetration online has always been quite decent. I think as we come out of Covid, some have gone back into stores, and some have remained online.
We are an omnichannel business and we really understand the value of that omnichannel shopper. She is comfortable in both [on and offline], but she also likes to go back into our store for the experience. Our [employees] have the product knowledge that they can impart on the customer around the aftercare of the products and how best to care for the leather bags or the jewellery. That’s where you get all those nuances, in that one-on-one conversation [in person]. You get that rich storytelling and understanding that our entire team can actually talk to you about.
IR: As an omnichannel business, what are some of the things you offer?
SR: We have click-and-collect, same-day delivery. If you go to our stores and we don’t have the product, we can get it from another store, place an order and have it sent to you at no cost. From an online perspective, all our products are sent and wrapped beautifully, so what you’re experiencing in-store, you can also get it through an online experience. I think one of the biggest innovations that came to us is that, given we were having a lot of customer queries through Covid, we added live chat, which certainly helps alleviate and streamline [processes].
IR: In terms of a store network, has there been a reconsideration of how many stores you feel like Mimco needs or where you want to reposition your stores?
SR: We have a robust process as a group around reviewing store profitability versus lease expiry. It’s a process we all go through. We evaluate at the end of each lease whether it’s worthy of being in the network. Population shifts can occur and sometimes centres go on and off and we just don’t see the need [for a store]. I think it’s a balancing act. We evaluate every store on its merits. We have closed some stores, but they were due to close before Covid anyway.
I think one of the things we’ve seen through Covid is a shift towards her working from home. She’s also shopping local, so there’s certainly a move away from the city. It wouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that the stores in the city are the ones that are suffering the most, but our outer suburban sales have lifted quite significantly, to almost cover what we’re losing at the moment from a city perspective.
So now we’re looking at opportunities that we may not have looked at in the past in that outer suburban ring. We’re doing a lot of research around where our customers live, to understand what the opportunities are in centres that we may not have considered in the past. A perfect example of that would be Watergardens Town Centre, Taylors Lakes, Melbourne. We opened a pop-up store there over Christmas to test the market and learn and that has been phenomenal.
IR: Are there any new things you’re planning to do in your physical stores?
SR: We’ve been through a new set of designs for pop-ups. It’s a new version of a small, edited, little concept store that we can put in centres around Australia. We are also in the process of designing a new flagship store concept in light of that omnichannel ability to service the customer better and it’s really talking to the customer journey and all its touch points so [we can create] the new store for the future. We will then apply that concept as we roll over new leases or find new, bigger sites.
The new mini pop-ups are going to be beautiful, almost like little jewels in the middle of a shopping centre, rather than an actual full-concept store.
IR: Will that primarily be used to test out different shopping centres you may want to open a store in that you wouldn’t have considered previously?
SR: Yes, correct. Or it may be that we don’t want a bigger store and we can service the customer out of a 20- or 30-square-metre little store in the middle of the centre. We’re trying to understand population sizes and how the centres are dotted around and how close they are, because obviously, you don’t want to get transferred from other centres. We’re trying to find where that opportunity is to get the coverage without eroding it from neighbouring stores.