After concepting the brand, designing, manufacturing, and doing the campaign shoot in eight short months, in February 2016 – Jessica Williamson launched swimwear label Ete Swimwear onto the market. One week later, and she was already being called upon to exhibit the brand in an Australian showcase at New York Fashion Week later that year. And that was just week one…
At just 24 years of age, this Perth-based local continues to prove she’s one-to-watch – with her smart business moves putting her brand in competition with long-established companies. A fact that’s not gone unnoticed – with Jessica recently named a finalist in the WA Telstra Business Women’s Awards in the Young Business Women’s category.
With Instagram a key strategy in the brand’s marketing focus – and having worked with the likes of Hildeee (406K IG followers), Hannah Perera (203K IG followers), and Matilda Djerf (227K IG followers) – we tracked Jessica down to talk us through everything from nailing the social media game to lessons learnt (and dealing with copycats).
How did you originally get into swimwear designing? Were you doing something similar at the time?
My background is actually in marketing. I did a business degree at uni and then went the formal route of getting a job. I worked in digital marketing, which was a pretty handy background for running a business. I knew how to build my own website, run social media, organise photoshoots, and best position a brand. All of that was pretty helpful in the beginning! I didn’t have any formal design training, I just design what I like and then my boyfriend’s an illustrator – so he paints the prints for me.
Well, it’s obviously working. How do you think you’ve gained such quick traction in a competitive market?
When I launched, it was the easiest route for me to use Instagram as my main marketing tool and just grow it as fast as I could. I use to create Instagram accounts and just grow them to learn what people liked and the best ways to build an account. I grew the Ete Swimwear account to about 5,000 before launching, and within a few months I had up to 20,000 followers. In the beginning our marketing plan was 100% Instagram, which was amazing for us as an online business without having too much budget to start off with.
That’s such quick growth. How did you manage to grow it so fast?
Through reading blogs and just doing my test accounts, I did learn what time of day, what sort of content people liked, how often I should be posting… In the beginning I was posting every two hours – I was literally on Instagram 24/7! It was a bit crazy, but that was how I grew so quickly. People always want the magic bullet that will just grow you to 100,000, but you really have to basically spend 24 hours a day on Instagram to grow that quickly if you want the results.
Did you put much money into influencer marketing at the start?
I didn’t put any money into it, I just approached heaps of people! At the start I made some mistakes and used a few people that didn’t really support the brand image and didn’t produce the best content – but I learnt pretty quickly what kind of influencers I wanted to work with. Then I just approached a lot of girls. Obviously quite a lot of them asked for money and I just didn’t have the budget as all my budget went to stock – but some amazing girls were just so in love with the brand they were willing to exchange product for helping promote us.
You recently did a collaboration where influencer Matilda Djerf designed some of the styles. How did that come about?
Matilda started her blog and I started the brand around the same time and we just grew together. I spotted her pretty early when she had 10,000 followers and identified quickly how amazing she was. We would work together quite a bit in the beginning and just became friends through that. Then around this time last year, I had the idea that I wanted to do something a bit more meaningful with her because we had built a friendship and she was amazing to work with and super professional.
I came up with the idea to co-design a collection because it would mean something more to her and her followers and it really could be something she was proud of promoting as well. She was really excited when I approached her and we jumped on a phone call and had a quick chat about it. I proposed she should come to Australia and she said ‘yes’ straight away. It all just moved really quickly after that. We co-designed the collection together and then she came to Perth (which is where I’m from) and we shot the campaign at beautiful Rottnest Island.
Did consumers like the collection?
It was crazy! We launched at about 3pm on a Friday and had sold out pretty much everything in that one evening. We never expected for it to go that well! We’re so happy it did – but it meant everyone else had to wait for pre-order for four weeks for the next stock to arrive. We just kept selling it! It did so well because people just really love that Matilda has put her whole heart and soul into it and it’s something that we’re really proud of as well.
You have had so much success at such a young age. What do you think has led to this?
I think I’ve always been just a really persistent and hard worker. I’ve always been really driven – I stress myself out a little bit, but that’s been my edge. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure everything looks exactly how I want it and to ensure all the ideas I have get executed. It is a lot of hard work because a lot of the time we’re working into the night – it’s certainly not a 9-5 job! People don’t realise that in the beginning I was working full-time still for a year as well as doing ete swimwear. I literally didn’t have a life. My whole weekend and every night after work was just working on ete.
There were definitely times when I really felt like giving up. Just before I went to New York Fashion Week [for a showcase of Australian designers in September 2016] was probably one of the worst and hardest times, but I pushed through and we went to NYFW and now we’re just better off for it. The first year is always the hardest I think.
Why did you feel like giving up? How was it tough?
I just hadn’t had the experience in business in general and just said ‘yes’ to all these opportunities and had no idea how to get there. I spent a lot of money on stock for the early collections and didn’t have the cash flow at that point in the business. There were a few mistakes I made, but I got through in the end and it’s worked out for the better.
What do you think is key to running a successful fashion business?
I think just never giving up and being prepared to work hard. If you love it, I think anyone can be successful – it’s just are you willing to put in the hard work to make that happen.
Has it become easier?
Yeah definitely. I think you just become better at handling hurdles. There’s probably more hurdles everyday now, but I’ve just gotten better at handling it. For example, when I found out I’d had a few of my designs ripped off with bad materials – it was almost like my whole world was crashing around me when I found the first one. Now, I’m just not too worried. I just focus on what I’m doing.
You’ve just started rolling out your Spring/Summer collection. What can we expect from it?
More florals and pinks and blues and some nice laces as well. We’re bringing back our most popular style with frills, which is being released in a new print. Then we’ve got a few new styles, mostly with cute bows and a couple of reversible styles as well. We’ve also just released our stripe sets, which is a one shoulder style. We’ve got ties and just lots of feminine bows and details on all of them.
When you launched the brand, did you expect it to be where it is in 18 months time?
I didn’t really have any expectations going into it, I just started it because I really wanted to do it. I had no idea where it could go or where I was going with it, but I’m really happy I have gotten here. It’s been pretty awesome so far.
And just lastly, where do you see the brand in 5 years’ time? Where are you hoping to take it?
That’s a hard question! I’d love to see it in stores and we’re starting to expand into wholesale now as well, so I’d love to just continually grow our line and have more girls worldwide wearing our bikinis.
Click here to read our interview with Matilda Djerf about the Ete Swimwear collection.
Article created in partnership with Ete Swimwear. Click here to visit the website and shop the latest collection dropped this week.