A FORMER property developer has swapped real estate for fashion and is finding surprising parallels.
Following a 20-year career with several multinational construction companies, Island Way founder Cameron Mana was inspired to move into the beach-fashion industry on a business trip to the Maldives.
“My family has been involved in both fashion and property construction and building for a long time,” says Mana, the former general manager of Development Institute of Australia.
“I really saw the opportunity when I picked up some clothing from the Maldives for a girlfriend of mine. People were stopping her in the street to ask where she bought them from and I realised that no one had the distribution rights to these brands in Australia.”
In a local market dominated by beachwear fashion giants, Mana has discovered a niche for his swimwear and resort clothing label to flourish.
“Being the size we are (total of 20 full and part-time staff), we are able to be more responsive to our customers needs and; as opposed to major labels, have structured ourselves to be able to meet these individual needs,” says Mana.
“We’re targeting a niche market where beautiful clothes at a good price are not widely available in resort and leisure destinations in Australia. We’re starting to get specific requests from various resorts to manufacture their swimwear merchandise.
“Typically, it is difficult to sell these products in this space as guests bring their own swimwear. But by creating clothing for resorts to retail as mementos makes the purchase emotive rather than practical.”
The Island Way line is manufactured by Chilli Pop at Tweed Heads and is stocked in 10 retailers across Australia including the Sheraton Mirage Gold Coast. In keeping with the Pacific-inspired designs, export operations to resorts in Fiji and the Maldives are also strong.
Through his parent company Barasti Group, Mana also imports niche clothing labels from around the world and distributes them exclusively throughout Australia. Popular European brand Star Blue and African-made Aspiga footwear are among those sold alongside Island Way.
Designed in the UK, but hand-made in a village on the coast of Kenya, the Aspiga collection includes leather beaded sandals, thongs, belts and baskets. Aspiga products are sold in the UK, Europe, The Caribbean, US and Hong Kong.
“Around 11 families in the village are involved in the manufacturing of those sandals and the work they receive from Aspiga, they often tell us, ensures their livelihoods and that of their families,” says Mana.
“Part of the profits are also donated back to an orphanage there, named the Brydes Orphange – it’s a really nice part of what we do.”
In its second year of operation, Mana expects to turn over $350-400,000 in revenue and increase stockists to 50.
“Our growth strategy is simply to establish a footprint of retailers – in which we expect to crack 50 stores this year, and then focus on providing them with a larger range of products while still working on further expansion,” he says.
“Last year we came into the market too late to really make an impact as most companies indent orders were already completed, but our profitable year will be this one.
“In the space of 12 months we will move from five stockists in Australia to more than 40, and there are several additional markets we aim to be servicing within the next two years.”
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