Ten Years On… FashionCapital Talks to the Founder of Marlafiji
High quality handbag brand Marlafiji is currently celebrating its tenth year in business, founder, former International model, Marla Singh Walton took time out to talk to FashionCapital about her business, adapting during Covid-19 and the launch of her new jewellery range…
FC: Each bag is inspired by someone you have met – can you tell us a bit more about the concept?
Marla: The first handbag was designed for my Mum who had problems with her shoulders, so she pretty much explained what she wanted: small bag, long shoulder straps etc. So I named the first bag after her. I then thought about the good friends I had met over the years and how their personal style would inspire the design of a bag. I began to name each bag after a friend and so began the concept. As time progressed we started to get requests for certain styles / details from friends and customers so this personal ‘naming’ touch continued.
FC: Can you tell us about your bestsellers?
Marla: We have a few bestsellers that we have been selling for the last 10-years, timeless styles that our customer’s never seem to get bored of. Even when we start to think let’s put this design to sleep…then bang…we get more orders! These are the designs chosen by our customer’s and as I always say to our team our customer’s have chosen us because we listen to their needs so we need to give them what they want.
FC: How has business been for you during the Covid-19 pandemic – have you had to adapt with alternative products or how you do business?
Marla: It is very sad what is happening at moment with Covid-19, I really hope there will be a vaccine soon, like most businesses we have also been impacted. We have had to cut down on our staff hours, production has been nil for 3 months as the bags are made in Italy and all our orders were put on hold.
The factories have just recently re-opened and of course sales dropped but to my surprise we have still been selling! We have implemented all Covid-19 safety rules, extra hygiene and attention when items are going out, washing hands, making sure staff are up-to-date with all hygiene requirements.
The pace is much slower but we are an Australian based company and we have an amazing government, they were very quick to react and implemented all rules and regulations immediately. It was so quick we did not know what was happening, I think we are in a better place than most. I am thankful for that. We have to keep going and that is our plan, online sales globally spiked 80% and contactless delivery is a safe way to shop.
FC: Online v’s in-store – what do you think works best?
Marla: Well, online wins by a mile as you can reach the world with your product and the overheads are lower, however I still like to wander around on my day off and visit shops. The service in the retail sector is really bad globally and that needs to improve. In the long run online will be the future but I hope that bricks and mortar will stay to compliment the retail experience. I do most of my shopping online but I still enjoy boutiques as well, I feel the world is a big enough place to have room for all.
FC: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own brand?
Marla: Anyone wanting to start their own brand I would say ‘go for it’ surround yourself with people who believe in you, believe in yourself and your ideas. Be passionate about what you do, don’t take no for an answer. I guess my background in modelling made me so resilient, I had to turn every no into a yes. It is like climbing a very high mountain!
FC: Is there anyone in the fashion sector that you think is inspirational and why?
Marla: People in the fashion industry that have inspired me…probably Franca Sozzani, who I met on one of my first jobs for Italian Vogue. She came in to say Hello to the team, she was nice and humble but very passionate about what she was doing, we spoke about Fiji she said she must go one day. I did not realise she was so well known, it was like talking to an old friend.
Then there was Giorgio Armani, I was stuck in a big room with him and I felt I had to say something more, I asked what made him so great? ‘Luck and hard work’ was his answer. Well that stuck with me my whole life – luck and hard work. Another design wise would be Yves Saint Laurent, I did not know there was a person called Yves Saint Laurent I just thought it was brand name, very elegant and modest.
Also, as an inspirational person I would like to include Victoria Beckham. She has the style, conviction, determination and dedication, a perfectionist I assume – she always seems to get it right. Plus I’m an old Spice Girls fan!
FC: What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Marla: Never give up and surround yourself with people who believe in you (if possible), my Mum was my rock and my biggest fan. We have had the support of some great friends and family and count your blessings. My 3 life lessons – always be humble as no one likes a show off, work hard and with some luck it will happen!
FC: What next for the Marlafiji brand?
Marla: For our tenth year in business we have designed a range of jewellery, as I love jewellery, the majority is in sterling silver encrusted with sapphires and stimulated diamonds. It is taking off slowly, we have also used rose quartz and jade. It is very exciting to see how our new baby will grow however the Marlafiji handbag line will always be the core of our business.