Sophie Doyle never had her career path mapped out and she certainly never imagined herself running an online silk label. When she was at university, e-commerce didn’t even exist.
But after working in corporate Melbourne for a number of years, Sophie felt compelled to pursue a new adventure. She packed up her life and journeyed to India, where she found inspiration for her now thriving business, The Fable.
The silk label is an ethical brand with a vision to create the best handmade silk shirts on the market. As Doyle tells us below, the premise for The Fable was simply to do one thing and do it well.
“I can’t ever see the brand expanding beyond silk fabric and the strategy has always been to compete in a niche,” she says.
“In ten years’ time, my vision would be for the brand to be a go-to for silk staple pieces across multiple markets and have a strong and positive reputation for ethical manufacture.”
As well as this, the rising entrepreneur has her sights set firmly on an expansion into other markets like the UK where she sees significant opportunity.
We caught up with Sophie recently to hear more about her impressive success to date, the business’s ethos and why it’s okay not to have your career mapped out from the get-go. Sometimes the journey is more organic.
You started your career at L’Oreal before taking a break to recalibrate in India. Why did you choose India?
After I left L’Oreal, where I worked in marketing for a number of years, I needed a break from corporate life and wanted to go and live in a yoga ashram in India. I had always loved yoga and wanted to experience what living in an ashram would be like. I chose a town called Rishikesh which is the capital of yoga and sits at the foothills of the Himalayas. It was an incredibly beautiful part of India and was a wonderful experience!
You said that your time away fuelled your passion for creating an ethical clothing brand. Why was this so important to you?
When I was in India, I travelled for a month and saw first hand the difficult lives and circumstances under which people live and work. It was here that I decided that any clothing The Fable produced in a country where there are vulnerable people, needs to be produced ethically to ensure everyone involved in manufacture is looked after.
The Fable now manufactures in Shanghai however the ethical principles remain and our factory is accredited and ethically certified.
As a business-owner, what are the top three characteristics in your personality you feel are critical to your success?
- Understand your own strengths and weaknesses. Spend time on the areas of the business you enjoy and outsource the rest. This is the best way to get both results and enjoyment from your business.
- Find the balance of being relaxed and having hustle. Both are required and both are important. Without hustle nothing happens, but if you can’t relax and know things won’t always go to plan you’ll get wound up in bits.
- And lastly, know when to ask for help and advice. My fiancé runs an eCommerce business as well and we’re constantly brainstorming ideas. Whenever I’m not sure of something, I’ll run it by him. We work as a team together and that makes a big difference.
Describe a typical day for you
I’m a big fan of reformer Pilates now, so start most days with a class. My working day varies constantly. I have a team and we work out of Alexandria so the day will generally begin with briefing in the work for the day. We produce all of our creative in house in our studio so once a week we will be shooting and that will be what I’m involved with for that day. The rest of the time I’ll be liaising with partners who help us run Facebook, Google and TV campaigns. In the beginning I used to do all of this but worked out you need to partner with specialists to achieve results as you can’t wear all hats and wear them well.
You mentioned your manufacturing is now done out of Shanghai. Have you found any cross-cultural aspects to business challenging?
The Chinese have a very different way of doing business to us. It’s been an adjustment, but I understand their style now. They are a people who want to please you and don’t like to say no. Even if something isn’t possible, they will sometimes say yes. The more I’ve learned about production the easier this has become. You develop an understanding of their capabilities and time frames, so you know what is and isn’t possible. I’ve also spent a lot of time up in Shanghai, seeing the factories and meeting with partners. This has been hugely helpful, as having a relationship makes all the difference to the bottom line.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge you’ve faced since starting The Fable?
Overseas manufacture has been a significant one. The Fable’s production journey began in Jaipur, India and has since transitioned to Shanghai, China. The shirts have always been ethically made. Sourcing factories which meet ethical requirements and produce the high level of quality needed has been difficult. Also, with no background or experience in foreign manufacture I went into the process blind and had to learn along the way.
Where do you seek inspiration? Any books? Films? Podcasts?
I do love the designer documentary style films which have come out over the past few years. Dior and I, the Yves Saint Laurent movie, Coco Chanel. I love seeing the background story of how the designers got started and the journey they went on.
I also listen to the podcast Perpetual Traffic – a great resource in digital marketing, especially Facebook ads.
What are your hopes for the future? Where would you like to see The Fable get to over the next ten years?
From a brand perspective, The Fable was set up to specialise and the vision has always been to do one thing and do it well. I can’t ever see the brand expanding beyond silk fabric and the strategy has always been to compete in a niche. We have recently added a line of silk camisoles to our range of shirts and t-shirts and may consider similar products in the future, within the silk category. We are online only and only ship within Australia and New Zealand at the moment. Expansion to other markets such as the UK could be on the horizon at some stage. In ten years’ time, my vision would be for the brand to be a go to for silk staple pieces across multiple markets and have a strong and positive reputation for ethical manufacture.
If you could give one piece of advice to your 18-year old self, what would it be?
When I was 18 at university, I didn’t know what I wanted to do career wise and it used to worry me. Some people had their whole path mapped out, but I never did. Looking back, I wish I didn’t worry about this, as things have a way of working out– especially if you’re relaxed about it and enjoy the journey. I certainly never imagined I would be running an online silk label further down the line – eCommerce didn’t even exit at that time!
What key advice would you give for aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you have an idea for a business give it a go! There’s nothing worse than to look back and wish you did. However, it’s important to remember that it can take time for a start-up to become profitable and you need to be able to live during this time. Before launching, devise a plan on how this could work and what the path could look like. Perhaps it means working part time to support yourself initially. Finding the balance between risk, ambition and realism is an important one.
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