An Interview with Alana Smith

Modern Fashion: Alana Smith of Kitten D’Amour On The 5 Things You Need To Lead A Successful Fashion Brand Today 

An Interview With Candice Georgiadice

Brand Identity — The world is a very busy place with millions of brands all trying to gain our attention. It’s vital to have your own identity and not to try to be ‘all things to all men’. We know and understand our customers and we don’t deviate from the styles we know they like and want from Kitten D’Amour.

Many in the fashion industry have been making huge pivots in their business models. Many have turned away from the fast fashion trend. Many have been focusing on fashion that also makes a social impact. Many have turned to sustainable and ethical sourcing. Many have turned to hi tech manufacturing. Many have turned to subscription models. What are the other trends that we will see in the fashion industry? What does it take to lead a successful fashion brand today?

In our series called, “5 Things You Need To Lead a Successful Fashion Brand Today” we are talking to successful leaders of fashion brands who can talk about the Future of Fashion and the 5 things it takes to lead a successful fashion brand in our “new normal.”

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Alana Smith.

Alana Smith is the founder and designer of the popular Australian Fashion Brand Kitten D’Amour. Kitten D’Amour was established in 2003 and has over 270,000 followers in Australia and over 4,500 5 Star Trustpilot reviews. Kitten D’Amour has dressed numerous celebrities including Lady Gaga and Britney Spears and their designs will be featured in the new HBO/ Paramount+ ‘Grease’ prequel, ‘Rise of the Pink Ladies’ that will be screening later this year.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

Igrew up in Brisbane, Queensland. As a girl, I had very little interest in clothing design apart from dressing my Barbie dolls! My distant grandmother was a fashion designer in nineteenth-century Paris and my great-great-grandfather was a ‘Staymaker’, in other words, he was a skilled artisan dressmaker. I find it fascinating how the skills of our ancestors can be passed down from one generation to the next!

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

My first job (when I was 18) was working at Benetton as a salesgirl. As you might know, everything about Benetton is about attention to detail and quality, and I was shown at an early age the importance of merchandising. This is where I really started developing my interest in fashion. My next job was the one that truly set me on my path to creating Kitten D’Amour. I worked for a popular Australian clothing brand that was driven by fashion trends. One day the buyer for the company visited one of the company’s Brisbane shops where I was working. I remember it as if it was only yesterday, the buyer told me all about the current trends that were popular at that time in the US and Europe…..I instantly knew that this was the job that I wanted! Fast forward three years, I moved to Sydney and landed my dream job…the new buyer for the company! I would travel around the world buying samples and discovering the latest styles and trends in London, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles six times a year.

Between trips, I also designed for the company and it soon became apparent that the styles I was creating would often ‘out-sell’ the designs modeled on samples that I had bought on my buying trips. I then decided to start my own label. With no formal training, it was a real learning curve. I basically taught myself to create and grade patterns, cut fabric, sew and assemble garments and create clothing designs that I felt would be popular. I sold my designs to various clothing boutiques in Queensland and this gave me the confidence to open my own shop…I have never looked back.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

We now have shops in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast and a popular online store where we sell to people all over the world. I feel blessed that so many people appreciate the designs we create. We recently had a popular Australian film called ‘A Stitch in Time’ feature our designs as part of the story of the film. The director (Sasha Hadden) told me that he was inspired to write and make the film after visiting one of our shops. To think that the designs we create are now inspiring others to be creative is very exciting. There are so many wonderful stories that I would love to share with you, I think it’s important to grab every opportunity that comes your way….this is something we are always doing. Not every opportunity ‘pays off’ however you will be surprised as to how many do!

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

‘Over Deliver’ — The owner of the ‘trend-driven’ clothing brand I used to work for in my 20s would often ask me to travel overseas on buying trips without much notice! I never questioned when and where I had to go, and I would ‘hit the shops’ to gather clothing samples the minute the plane landed. I had no interest in finding my hotel and resting after a long international flight. I had a job to do, and that was my first priority. I soon discovered that the more I ‘over delivered,’ the more successful I became.

‘Intuition’ — We don’t follow trends at Kitten D’Amour, and I believe that you should never deviate from what ‘your gut’ is telling you during the creative process. We do our best to always be original, we don’t create designs just to be ‘on trend.’

‘Don’t Get Too Comfortable’ — I have a saying: “I am only as good as my last collection!” The success of Kitten D’Amour all depends on how popular each of my collections is. I never take the success of Kitten D’Amour for granted and I strive to make each collection the best I’ve ever created. We have adopted this philosophy in each department at Kitten D’Amour, our mantra is to deliver collections and products that continually inspire our guests to shop with us.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Kitten D’Amour has such a loyal following. I believe that this loyalty has been created for a number of different reasons. 1) Consistently creating quality products that our guests love. 2) Creating the very best shopping experience in our boutiques. We have our own ‘unique’ Kitten D’Amour Fragrance which is dispensed through diffusers. We use the same ‘signature fragrance’ when packing online orders, and our guests absolutely love it. We have our own radio station (Kitten D’Amour Radio) that can be streamed anywhere around the world. We play our own ‘unique’ style of music in-store, and guests can then listen to the station at home or on their phones. We incorporate Pinball Machines, antique lamps, antique furniture, and unique custom-made wallpaper that are unique to each individual shop. 3) We have the most brilliant staff, most of whom have been with us for many years. 4) We invest heavily in beautiful packaging ensuring that every Kitten D’Amour product is exquisitely presented. 5) We only make very small quantities of each style (on average 300 pieces of each design). This creates exclusivity for each collection. 6) We introduce a new collection of designs every month, this ensures that Kitten D’Amour is constantly re-inventing itself. We never repeat any of our older designs. This keeps the brand fresh and exciting. With each new collection, we invest heavily in photoshoots that allow us to have lots of new content to inspire our guests to shop with us.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

The harder you work, the luckier you become.” This is a very well-known quote, and at Kitten D’Amour we call this the ‘Time Machine’ theory. Basically, there is ‘Time Travel,’ however, time travel only works in one direction…forward. To make a difference in the time you experience in the future is down to you today! So….if we work hard now and put a lot of effort into making your brand the best it can be, the ‘Time Machine’ will hopefully reward you by delivering you a popular, successful brand in 5 to 10 years. This is true for everything in life such as health and relationships…I just wish I could apply this principle and commitment to my exercise regime (haha).

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

Right now, there are lots of micro-trends in fashion, and I believe soon we will reach a point where people will work on their own personal style rather than buying into quickly evolving trends.

Can you share how your brand is helping to bring goodness to the world?

Bringing ‘goodness’ to the world is a wonderful and admirable ambition. We do our very best to spread ‘kindness’ and ‘thoughtfulness’ whenever we can. This can come from creating collections designed specifically for guests that might be going through tough times. Making donations to help Australia’s wildlife (such as during last year’s horrendous Bush Fires) and donating to other animal-related charities. It’s a privilege to be able to be in a position to help others where we can. We are huge animal lovers and we are particularly passionate about helping our beautiful koala population.

Can you share with our readers about the ethical standards you use when you choose where to source materials?

As most Kitten D’Amour designs are ‘fitted’ and structured, it’s important that we use skilled machinists and tailors. We have used the same small factory in China for 15 years. The owner of the factory (Simon) is the son of a very talented tailor that created the finest business suits and shirts in Hong Kong. The majority of Simon’s tailors and machinists have worked for Simon for over 10 years. As the factory is small, Simon is able to focus on making designs primarily for Kitten D’Amour. We visit the factory on a regular basis, and with Simon’s help, we have built up an excellent supply chain of suppliers that manufacture fabrics and other materials to the highest of standards to the strictest ethical standards. Using the same suppliers over a long period of time has made it much easier for us to be confident that our materials are ethically-sourced. We also do not use any animal products of any type. I believe that you need to see things with your own eyes to be truly confident that the materials you use are ethically-sourced and that the people making your designs are treated well.

Fast fashion has an advantage, that it is affordable for most people, but it also has the drawback that it does not last very long and is therefore not very sustainable. What are your thoughts about this? How does your company address this question?

Nothing we do at Kitten D’Amour is ‘Fast Fashion’ related. The thought of working in ‘Fast Fashion’ scares me. Most consumers believe that anything and everything made in China must be very cheap to manufacture and the price should reflect this. This is not always the case. Yes, labor and some materials are cheaper in China, however ‘skilled’ people are scarce everywhere, even in China.

Most of the world’s most prestigious brands manufacture their products in China. This is based on how many highly skilled people are in China. We understand that if we want the most beautiful fabrics, the best quality accessories, and if we want every garment to be exquisitely tailored to the highest standard, we need to be ready to pay for it.

The old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ is very true, particularly when it comes to clothing, bags, accessories, and shoes. We find that our guests truly value each ‘Kitten D’Amour’ design and some of our older collections can sell for more ‘used’ than when we first introduced them. This is a testament to the power of creating products that people admire, cherish, and ultimately love.

We are fortunate enough to own a number of classic cars, including a 1956 Thunderbird and a 1959 Corvette. I’d like to think that these cars are similar to the Kitten D’Amour designs we create. Our classic cars have been enjoyed and cherished by numerous owners over the years. The goal at Kitten D’Amour is to create clothing that will also be enjoyed and cherished by different owners over the years and not discarded after a few wears.

Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Lead a Successful Fashion Brand”. Please share a story or example for each.

High-Quality Products — You must have a beautifully created product that is of the highest quality. Customers are not foolish, they will only come back and buy your designs again and again if the clothing designs you create are consistent of the highest quality and make each guest feel and look incredible.

Brand Equity — It is vital to invest time and money into your brand. Building brand loyalty can only begin when guests know and trust the brands they buy from. Equity in your brand can be created from the quality of the products, the experience your guests receive, the quality of your packaging, and ultimately the service you provide.

Consistency — It’s not enough to have one or two winning designs. To build a successful fashion brand, you must be able to provide guests with consistently high-quality products, over and over again.

People — There is an old saying ‘Hire Slowly and Fire Quickly.’ Basically, invest time and effort in finding the right people in every area of your business. Everyone associated with your brand should be the right ‘fit’ for the brand. If anyone isn’t quite the right ‘fit’ it is much better to part ways with those people quickly (after adequate training and guidance have been given). We have followed this theory for some time and we are truly blessed to have the most wonderful team. Our staff turnover is extremely low and this also allows our guests to see the ‘same faces’ whenever they shop with us. This leads to customers forming strong connections with our team.

Brand Identity — The world is a very busy place with millions of brands all trying to gain our attention. It’s vital to have your own identity and not to try to be ‘all things to all men’. We know and understand our customers and we don’t deviate from the styles we know they like and want from Kitten D’Amour.

Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?

Fast fashion has been popular for a number of years, it’s cheap and disposable. I truly believe (and hope) that this trend is coming to an end. The world is quickly learning that the planet can no longer sustain the damage that fast fashion is causing. You don’t need me to list all of the horrendous issues that fast fashion creates for our beautiful planet. We feel it is better for everyone to enjoy fashion that is beautifully designed, created from ethically sourced fabrics, and manufactured in an ethical environment. Timeless beautiful designs might cost more, however, we find our designs are worn year after year and are often passed onto other owners rather than discarded.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

That is a fabulous question. One of the greatest gifts of having any form of success is to have the ability to provide good advice to anyone just starting out on their journey. Mentorship is vital in helping others to succeed. I’d love it if everyone that has found success could inspire and assist others to achieve their goals.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. 

Read the article here:

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.