We continue to catch up with members from across our industry community to see how they are navigating these unprecedented times. Meet Melbourne based sisters Fatuma and Laurinda Ndenzako, Designers and Founders of Collective Closets. The creative duo delve into some of the key challenges they are facing as a small business during Covid-19, how they getting through, the importance of community and of taking time to reinvent and reset…
We continue to catch up with members from across our industry community to see how they are navigating these unprecedented times. Meet Melbourne based sisters Fatuma and Laurinda Ndenzako, Designers and Founders of Collective Closets.
The creative duo delve into some of the key challenges they are facing as a small business during Covid-19, how they are getting through, the importance of community and of taking time to reinvent and reset.
Images by Michaela Barca
We are two Melbourne based sisters behind womenswear clothing label Collective Closets. Our label is a harmonious marriage between our two cultures, Angolan born and Australian raised.
The marriage between our dual cultures has played a significant role in the aesthetic and inspiration behind our clothing label. We were raised to be proud of our heritage and it’s played a strong influence on the women we are today.
Collective Closets is about sharing our story of our influences and our upbringing through our designs and the beautiful textiles we grew up with. With a stance on slow fashion and creating timeless pieces, we’re a brand that celebrates the power of women and strongly believes in giving back to their community!
Made In Melbourne.
We, like so many small businesses globally, have felt the effects of trying to run a small business and stay afloat during such a challenging time. We’re a micro business that employs 1 other person and in June we just celebrated (not quite sure how we intended the celebrations to look/feel) our 1 year of opening our first brick and mortar store in Melbourne.
It’s been a challenging experience trying to stay ‘positive’, and having a can do/problem solving outlook when there is so much uncertainty. With so much changing on a daily basis it’s been hard to mentally process what’s going on - especially in the first 3-4 months. It’s been difficult at times to process the changes and not get stuck in a ‘woe is us’ headspace. Knowing that there have been some resources available to us, through government funding for small businesses, rental assistance from our management and having VERY understanding customers - it’s made navigating these strange times that much easier.
Financial Challenges/Cash Flow/Initial Decrease in Sales.
During a time of such uncertainty managing our cash flow is so much more important for us and the community of small businesses that have been affected by Covid-19. Knowing that there are so many people in our community out of work, and being realistic that we are not selling essential products has made how we spend within our business even more important. We are having to be that much more mindful on budgeting. Visual merchandising (when our store was open), production quantities, marketing campaigns etc. are all areas within our business that we have had to scale back a lot more.
Freight + Supply Chain.
We purchase the majority of our textiles for our collections from Nairobi, Kenya. We’ve been greatly affected by the significant drop in the US dollar throughout the last few months. We’ve had to take on some of the shipping costs of our fabrics because of the increase in costs to freight our goods to Australia. These costs have been significantly higher during this time. We have also experienced delays in freighting our goods across to Melbourne.
Impact of Lockdown + Restrictions in Kenya.
We also saw delays in transporting our goods from the spinning factory where our fabrics are spun to the warehouse which transports our goods from Nairobi to Melbourne as Nairobi were in stage 4 restrictions for several months when the outbreak hit their shores- this in turn affected the release of our Autumn/Winter collection with production etc.
Impact on our Manufacturing + Production.
The current stage 4 lockdowns has made the physical contact and transportation for our production very challenging as the vast majority of the production team live outside of the mandated 5km radius.
The strain on Australia Post has caused varying delays on shipments of our goods to our customers. A challenge that is out of our control. As a small business you really rely on your customers’ overall shopping experience being ‘easy’ and enjoyable. The added stress of these delays has caused a few headaches but we’ve been very lucky as 99% of our customers have been extremely understanding and patient during this time.
We’ve been able to tap into government grants with the help and assistance of our accountant. Our landlords Queen Victoria Market have done a fantastic job of being flexible with rent assistance and providing us with information in live time and possible resources that are available to us.
Small Biz Victoria: helpful resources by the Australian Government www.business.gov.au
We’ve reached out and been in touch with other small businesses as a shoulder to lean on and bounce ideas off more than ever. Even if it's just sending out a ‘Hey how you going’ email, a ‘thinking of you during these challenging times’ DM. This support has been paramount to feeling less isolated and alone through these times.
Taking the Time to Reset.
Through the madness of 2020 it’s been important for us to cut ourselves some slack and actually take some time away from the business, especially in the first few months. Being business owners and new mums, there were also personal challenges outside the business that needed our attention. Like working from home with a 2 year old running around and sleepless nights with a newborn. Having the store closed for 3 months initially helped us reset in many ways and actually take some time to regroup.
Exploring Ways to Reinvent Yourself/Business.
In these changing times, how we shop, communicate and navigate this space has really made us think about how we not only market our brand, but how we stay in touch with our customers and sell our products. It’s been amazing to watch so many small businesses evolve with the changing climate. This has left us inspired and motivated to also think outside the box and our comfort zone.
One of the biggest opportunities we’ve seen is the ever growing support from the community to support local businesses in all fields.
We are getting a real sense that consumers (more than ever) want to show their support and promote the actual people behind so many small industries. There are massive opportunities here for us to continue to promote the importance of shopping local, supporting small businesses and showcase the real life people behind them.
Educating consumers on the benefits of this is a great start and we could see a continued shift in how people shop and where they spend their money.
Hubby + I moved into a new place last year + celebrated the arrival of our little man - so I’m currently spending my “spare time” obsessing over DIY projects around the house. I painted our kitchen a few months back + currently I’m reworking op shop finds and turning them into beautiful pieces to decorate our home! When I’m too tired to paint and DIY I’ll spend time on the couch binge watching on Netflix - right now I’m getting stuck into Suits - not that exciting! Lol!
I’m obsessed with Jessica Nguyen, an amazing home cook from Instagram. Lots of delicious comfort home cooking! Lots of pasta!!!
Excited to dig into this month's Australian Vogue Magazine with the gorgeous and inspiring Adut Akech Bior on the cover.
Home schooling my 2 year old son - who turns 3 in a few weeks! This has kept me super busy over the last several months.
Currently obsessed with everything Mexican - Taco Tuesday is a real thing in our house, bring on the lunchtime Margis.
Partners Podcast: “…two partners tell their shared story: how they found each other, and what it took to make their partnership work. Featuring all different kinds of partnerships—business, romantic, creative—the show is an intimate portrait of two people who have managed to make something together. Partners is made by Song Exploder creator and host Hrishikesh Hirway.”
Head to the Collective Closets website below, follow the sisters’ story as @collectiveclosets on Instagram and Facebook, and be sure to have a read through their amazing Collective Conversations series, where they chat to fellow inspiring women.
All Images by Michaela Barca