Unexpected times for a fashion brand

North Queensland fashion brand Pure Dust was set for a bumper 2020. Established in 2012, the label first gained recognition in regional and rural Australia when rodeo clowns began sporting its signature hot pink and black shirts in the ring.

As well as selling her colourful lines from a trailer at music festivals and rodeos around the country, Pure Dust founder Sally Blanch had expanded her offering, creating customised clothing and merchandise for sporting clubs and special events.

She’d hired her first employee in 2019 and spent much of that year promoting her brand to wholesale customers – the order book was bulging and the outlook rosy. Then COVID-19 struck and everything changed. Events were postponed and cancelled and, one by one, corporate customers began pulling the pin on previously commissioned designs.

“Everyone was in the same boat – they were all worried they wouldn’t be receiving any income from their events in the foreseeable future,” Blanch explains. “They didn’t want to be outlaying money for designs and garments they wouldn’t be able to sell for at least a year.”

Pure Dust doesn’t invoice customers until designs are finalised, so the timing of the shutdown could not have been worse.

“Typically, by March, we have a lot of projects in progress for upcoming events – winter is the time of year when we’re always crazy busy – and I’m carrying a lot of costs on my credit card, which I recoup after orders are placed and paid for,” Blanch says.

"Everyone was in the same boat - They were all worried they wouldn't be receiving any income from their events in the foreseeable future."

Sally Blanch. Founder, Pure Dust.

NAB helps secure funding to support their digital strategy

Seeing business evaporate overnight was devastating and terrifying. Blanch admits she spent a couple of weeks in denial, “trying not to think about what was happening outside the door.”

With bills mounting and income drying up, she knew she had to act – or lose her small business. So, in April, she contacted NAB to see whether her monthly credit card repayments could be put on hold for a few months.

It proved a fateful decision. Blanch’s NAB Small Business Banker, Scott, called to tell her there was an opportunity for the business to obtain a loan under the Federal Government’s Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme.

“Scott helped me to achieve that, which was amazing,” Blanch says. “I didn’t borrow a huge amount – $40,000 – but it was enough to ‘unfreeze’ me and allow me to pivot the business.”

With cash flow to work with, that pivot saw Blanch get serious with a digital marketing strategy and focus on creating new designs. “Without that support, I would probably still be sitting here scratching my head and wondering what to do next,” she says.

Digital Marketing strategy saves the day

Pure Dust already had a presence on Facebook and Instagram but, up to that point, online sales had been very much a sideline. Employing web marketing experts to implement creative marketing and investing part of her loan on social media advertising saw that change – fast.

“Prior to COVID-19, we might have done $2,000 a month in online sales,” Blanch says. “Within a few weeks of working with an agency, that had gone up to $10,000 a month; a 400 per cent increase. Our following grew really quickly and we started shifting everything we had in stock.”

Meanwhile, working with young female influencers in the pony club and camp drafting scenes – three have signed up to promote the Pure Dust range across their social media channels in exchange for free apparel – is helping drive sales across the equestrian community.

For Blanch, diving into digital has been a revelation and an extraordinary relief. She believes her immediate success is a direct result of the professional input she’s received.

“I really didn’t understand the whole online branding thing,” she says. “I’d seen other people do well online, and I knew I had a great product which people loved but, because my focus had been on custom orders and selling at events, I hadn’t unlocked the mystery of how to make money that way. Having the right team on my side has helped me understand the digital marketing model and make the most of every dollar I’ve been able to invest.”

"Prior to COVID-19, we might have done $2,000 a month in online sales. Within a few weeks of working with an agency, that had gone up to $10,000 a month."

Sally Blanch. Founder, Pure Dust.

E-commerce growth

Blanch’s new online sales revenue has placed her finances in a much better position and she’s feeling optimistic about the future. Once the pandemic is over, she hopes to have three strong income streams and enough cash flow to expand her team and continue growing the business.

“When something like COVID-19 hits, you have to examine your options, to look outside the box and ask yourself, ‘What can I do to make a change, and make it work, so I can stay in business?’” Blanch says. “Being pushed into that situation has helped Pure Dust turn a corner.”

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The information contained in this article is correct as of September 2020 and is intended to be of a general nature only. It has been prepared without taking into account any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this information, NAB recommends that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances. NAB recommends that you seek independent legal, financial, and taxation advice before acting on any information in this article.