We’re profiling fire-affected female-led businesses here on Women’s Agenda to try and give more attention to the women behind them and how we can support their work.
While some businesses are physically damaged, as Jessie Tu find speaking with Jemma Coad about her online clothing store Cotton and Style, the lack of tourists during peak tourist season is having a huge impact on sales and marketing.
Three hundred and fifty kilometres east of Melbourne in a town situated on the edge of Ninety Mile Beach, Lakes Entrance has long been a popular Gippsland holiday spot. With a population of just over 5,000, the town is predominantly fishing and tourism-driven, but has sadly been devastated by the fires raging nearby Colquhoun Regional Park.
Businesses are suffering from a lack of tourists, and, being peak tourist season, some locals have felt it hard. Two years ago, local businesswoman Jemma Coad set up her own online clothing store Cotton and Style after her partner was diagnosed with MS and became unable to work for a period of time. Jemma, then a full-time mother of three, built her business up by herself, obtaining apparel from wholesalers nationwide and setting up her own online store.
In the past, almost half of her sales would have come from the pop up store she sets up a the local markets; but since the devastating fires, she hasn’t been able to operate her business the way she usually does. For one, the local Post Office has been closed — making sending orders particularly difficult.
I spoke to Jemma over the phone to learn more about her business, how it’s been fire affected and what more of us can do for similar businesses from far away.
What was your inspiration for starting the business?
I wanted to support my family, and find ways of accomplishing that on my own terms. I realised, with three young children, that I could open an online clothing store. It’s a lot of work, but it’s very fulfilling.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your business since the recent fires?
Everyone’s feeling it. I don’t have a retail space, and we had to evacuate for a weekend due to the fires. I don’t have a store. But I do a lot of markets, and haven’t been able to do one. Usually I’d have been able to do five in the last few weeks alone. Markets have been cancelled and it’s peak tourists time at this moment. Roads are getting closed. It’s like a ghost town; usually at this time of the year, there’s heaps of people.
The market season is a good way to connect with potential customers and to let them know about our online store too. I also have a side business, before I began Cotton and Style, where I made hand made jewellery. I try to promote that by including a small gift of my own earrings with each online purchase.
How have community members online supported your business?
My photographer Anna has a studio and also a handmade store. We collaborate together to fundraise where people can come in and have a look at things. We like to meet new groups, which is always fun. We build each other up and support each other. This is important to us especially during this difficult time caused by the fires.
What can readers and consumers do to support your business?
I’m all about supporting women’s business. It never stops. It’s more than a full-time job. It fits in with where I am at. Liking us on Facebook and Instagram, sharing with friends will help us immensely. We offer free postage worldwide on all purchases too.
Check out Cotton and Style for more.
Do you know a female-led business that has been affected by the bushfire crisis? Let us know.