To remain competitive and profitable, the Saltbush Clothing Company has had to change and evolve over the past twenty years. During the recession of the early 1990s, the company ceased production of children’s clothing to concentrate exclusively on women’s wear. When the company hit hard times about five years ago, Elspeth Radford recognised the need for help in key business areas such as book keeping, marketing, business strategy and accounting. But without the finances to employ a team of professionals, Elspeth assembled her own business advisory board, a group of professionals who volunteer their time and expertise to assist her.
Saltbush Clothing Company was established by Elspeth Radford (pictured) and her husband Graham, in early 1988. Unable to purchase hard wearing, smart moleskin trousers with co-ordinating casual shirts for her two young sons, Elspeth set about making the garments herself. Very soon requests from friends for similar garments encouraged the Radford’s to start a clothing business from their farm in South Australia. With only a high school dressmaking course under her belt and with no working background in fashion design, Elspeth moved into designing and producing women’s wear.
Since making the decision to design and produce clothing exclusively for women, the Saltbush Clothing Company has become more fashion focussed, whilst still maintaining the company’s core values of durability, longevity and a classic edge. Elspeth Radford describes her clothes as “Easy to wear and they look good on real women.”
Speaking to me by phone from a house boat on the Murray River, where she is currently designing the next season’s collection, Elspeth Radford said although she does subscribe to trend forecasting reports from Europe, she also draws inspiration from her surroundings in her home state of South Australia.
“Australia is very different to Europe and we tend to use a lot more colour. We did the last photo shoot at Port Augusta and the Arid Lands Botanic Garden. We also shot on the railway line in saltbush country. That’s the sort of country I grew up in, so that’s very much a part of me.”
As previously mentioned, when the company hit hard times five years ago, Elspeth Radford decided to assemble her very own business advisory board. They act largely as a sounding board and give Elspeth suggestions and advice on any decisions she is contemplating.
“I’d read a bit about advisory boards and at the time we had been going through a bit of a hiccup in the business, we were still manufacturing in Australia and I really needed help with direction,” said Elspeth. “I just asked people who I really respected in business if they would be prepared to work with me and they said yes.”
“They have skills in I don’t have. One works in marketing, two are lateral thinking accountants and our retail manager also comes to those meetings. A lot of people will help if they’re asked. Their reward is seeing you do well.” She laughs, “They also receive a free breakfast once a month and a really nice Christmas present.”
To remain competitive Saltbush Clothing had to move production of their women’s wear offshore. Since then the company has achieved 25% growth every year for the last 3 years. “But you can’t take your eye off the ball. You’ve got to be prepared to constantly evolve and change the way you do things,” said Elspeth.
“Our customers wanted to be treated as special, so we developed a customer relations program for our retail customers. We send thank you letters to new customers and try to keep in touch with all our customers. We send out newsletters and surveys if we want their opinion on certain things. We also try to include them in our conversations and in our decisions as much as possible.”
Like those who sit on her advisory board, Elspeth Radford has learned the value of giving something back to the community that has supported her. “I occasionally go to TAFE and speak to students from a business end because they can teach students on how to be the best designers, but very few of those kids will make it to the top. But if they’re got a good solid grounding in business as well as design, then they will do well. You have to be able to do both these days and if you can’t do both, you’ve got to find someone else to do the bits that you can’t do.”
“You’re working to make people feel good and that’s really what fashion is about. We don’t just sell clothes, we sell an experience and we like to think that people come back to our stores because they’re well looked after and they’re made to feel special and important.”
PREVIEW THE SUMMER COLLECTION 2009
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Saltbush has 3 flagship stores in South Australia (Port Elliot, Burra and Norwood) but Elspeth’s clothing is stocked in more than 120 retail outlets nation wide. Elspeth Radford is also seeing a following from international customers.
For more images, more information and stockists, visit the website www.saltbush.com.au