Australian footwear brand Billini recently launched a range of boots for customers with wider feet and calves, filling a long-overlooked gap in the market. Here, we speak with founder Susannah Khouzame about the thinking behind the launch, and what’s next for the fast-growing business. Inside Retail: What was the impetus for launching your new range of wide-fit boots, Billini Curve? Susannah Khouzame: For us, as a fast fashion brand, our goal is to be a destination for every fashiona
fashionable girl, but not all fashionable girls are tiny with tiny calves, so this is a really exciting opportunity for us to celebrate all shapes and sizes. I’ve been talking about this personally for a couple of years, but we thought Covid was not the best time to start working on this project – we had our hands full with other issues – so we’ve actively been working on this for about a year now. Prior to [launching] the Curve range, we launched extended sizes and wide-fit shoes, which have been doing really well. That’s been around for a few years. We offer sizes four to 11, and wide-fit, so we’re more diverse than some other brands in the market, but wide calf was something we’ve been wanting to work on. At the end of the day, our retail division has to provide feedback around lost sales, and we got a lot of feedback around boots just not being able to be zipped up in-store. Billini co-founder Susannah Khouzame. Supplied IR: What has the customer response been like since you launched? SK: I’ve never been inundated with that many messages on Instagram. There were lots of girls saying they’ve never bought over-the-knee or long boots in their entire lives, so they were really excited about that. Some of the constructive feedback was that we didn’t offer sizes over size 10. We cater to size 11 in a lot of our products, but because this was a new product for us, we needed to open up new moulds in every single size in every single style that we did. In order to test and get this into the market sooner rather than later, we [offered sizes] five to 10, but so many girls needed size 11 and even size 12. In our next range, we are going up to a size 12, which is unheard of. We also got a lot of [people] thanking the brand for not coming up with a range of products that was different to our regular ranges. We chose our three best sellers, so our current range is an extension of our regular range. IR: You mention that you had to make completely new moulds for this range. What did that process entail? SK: In terms of the moulds, we decided that all the moulds would need to have a wide-fit foot, as well as a wide calf, so it was an extensive project, and we did need the technical expertise from our suppliers base as well, to really guide us. We went through a lot of fitting samples with different shapes and sizes. We didn’t want to fit on just one in-house model, we wanted to fit on several different types of calves, different heights, different widths, to find that perfect fit. We needed to come up with a one-size-fits all calf measurement. Some samples were too slim or too wide, or the shape just wasn’t looking great in terms of the grading from the ankle up the shaft of the boot to the very top. We were very fussy with how it fit and looked as well. The design and production team were amazing and really passionate about the project. We’ve all learned so much and are excited to grow this category in the future. I want this to become a permanent part of our offering. IR: It seems like there’s a much bigger focus on size diversity in apparel, but not as much in footwear. Why do you think that is? SK: I don’t know why, but I do feel like it’s the norm in the apparel space. There are so many brands offering extended sizes, and there are so many brands out there solely focusing on that. But in the footwear space, it’s really hard to find brands that are catering to diverse sizes and shapes. I think it might be because it’s really challenging. Footwear is a lot more technical than apparel. Most brands run from a size five to a 10. I’d say in recent years that brands have diversified into fours and 11s, and we’ve done that for a while now. But not many brands cater to wide feet, especially fast fashion brands. The wide-foot customer is just expected to squeeze into a narrow-fitting shoe. A lot of girls have wide feet and wider calves, especially in Australia and the US, it should be the norm to cater to them, but it’s just not the case. It’s definitely a staple within our offering. We want to continue to explore what diversity looks like in every single way. It’s a big opportunity, so we will continue to push this space for sure. IR: Beyond the Curve range, what else is happening at Billini? What have your sales been like over the past year? SK: As an omnichannel retailer and wholesaler, we’re constantly juggling multiple projects, and we’re growing quite rapidly at the moment. Our focus is expanding our retail portfolio, so opening up more stores across Australia is \a huge focus for us. We’ve got three new stores opening before Christmas. That will bring our grand total to 25. In terms of sales, we’re definitely considerably up from last year, including online. Obviously, everyone had an uplift online during the Covid period, but we are still up from that, which is really exciting. For our business, there is a huge focus on international wholesale and online. We’ve just recently expanded to the US. We’ve opened up a DC [distribution centre] in LA, so we’re now shipping all of our international online [orders] from our DC in the US, and we’re looking at expanding that global footprint. We just recently signed off on [international wholesale and online to] Canada last month, so we’ll be looking at which other countries will come on board in the near future. I’m sure international retail stores will be on the cards in the next few years as well.