Australian fashion flies high in China

19 Oct 2017

Author: Matthew Hall

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After a chance meeting on a plane, Australian business women Katie Pratt and Amy Li have grown their fashion label Elliatt into a global success. Their designs are stocked in 1,200 stores around the world, they’ve shown at major fashion weeks, and now the company is bringing their affordable Australian designs to China.
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The moral of this story? Always say hello to the person sitting next to you on a plane. 

When Katie Pratt and Amy Li started chatting on a flight from China to Australia, they had no idea that six years later they would be heading up an Australian fashion label that’s stocked in 1,200 stores worldwide, and opening retail stores in some of China’s most upmarket locations.

Pratt and Li are partners in Elliatt, a fashion label that began as a one-woman dream in Sydney. The company now has staff in Sydney and Melbourne as well as Guangzhou and Shanghai, with the Chinese market making up 20 per cent of Elliatt’s business.

“There is so much growth opportunity to be had in China,” says Pratt. “We are only just touching the surface.”

From childhood dream to international career

Pratt’s interest in fashion began as a child and, later, became her profession. She worked in sales for several Australian fashion labels, making her way up company ladders to become a product designer. It was her passion to be the creative force behind the designs, so at night she took design courses and created millinery to sell around her hometown of Melbourne.

It was a move to Sydney that began her fashion business. Demand for Pratt’s designs grew quickly and she realised she needed to expand her manufacturing capabilities. Her business had reached a crossroads.

“I had hundreds of thousands of dollars of backorders under my belt and I needed a way to fulfil those orders,” Pratt explains.

Pratt decided to move her manufacturing base to China to meet the demand, but the question was: where to start?

“I had never been to China before. When I arrived in Guangzhou I was like, ‘How am I ever going to do this?’ It seemed like an impossible task doing it on my own and not speaking the language.”

Feeling deflated, Pratt was unsure of which direction to turn. It was a chance meeting that turned Pratt’s fortunes around.

A chance meeting changes direction

When she boarded a plane home to Australia she found herself sitting next to another businesswomen, Amy Li. Originally from China, Li was living in Melbourne where she was running her own jewellery business. Pratt and Li shared their experiences, advice, and business cards.

The pair couldn’t stop talking and within a few hours of landing in Melbourne, they were speaking to each other again on the phone.

“We really clicked and instantly realised we could help one another,” Pratt says. “After we’d been working together for about six months, Amy invited me to join her on a business trip to China because she thought she might be able to introduce me to a few people. 

“That trip solidified our relationship. At dinner one night we realised we should join forces and that’s how Elliatt was born.”

Since the pair joined forces the Elliatt label has boomed. The company’s concept – “beautiful designs at an accessible price point” – has become a global calling card.

It was China where the label has made the biggest impact, thanks to a growing demand for affordable designs. 

“I noticed that you can go into a premium mall in China and buy Luis Vuitton and Chanel or you can go to a street market and get cheap clothing,” Pratt says. “But finding boutiques that sold uniquely designed clothes at a good price was difficult.”

Elliatt have now attracted investment of $1.5 million from Mr Yen Wong, an individual investor. The investment helped fund the company’s growth in China, with their first store opening in the premium mall in downtown Shanghai. The plan is for retail expansion across China in the immediate future.

“We have plans to roll out our retail stores across China,” Pratt says. “We are looking at major cities as well as second- and third-tier cities. The business is still growing for us and China is a region that will grow the fastest for us in the future.”

An affordable Australian luxury

“There is a lot of luck in business and being on the ground is important to make that luck happen.”

Pratt puts down the success of Elliatt in China to knowledge of local culture. “Understanding the local culture and local business etiquette is important,” Pratt explains.

“So is setting up your own facilities, so that you’re not dependent on third parties all the time. We have our own offices and team in China. That has helped us grow.”

Elliatt has also been able to capitalise on Australia’s international reputation as creative and innovative in fashion and design, a status Pratt says is a reflection of the country’s character and culture.

“We have an emphasis on beautiful daywear,” she explains. “That is how we live our lives and that is a point of difference.

“Australian designers bring an eclectic look to products but we still make it wearable. Be comfortable but still look amazing. 

“There was once a time when Australia got everything six months later than everybody else, but now my distributors are saying that Australia is leading the way.”

 Find out more about Elliatt