Melissa Gibson and Warren Sanders, Directors at Buckle | 1922, share the challenges and opportunities in reviving a nonagenarian Australian label to style today’s modern man.
Buckle | 1922 opened its doors over nine decades ago to provide locally manufactured, authentic Australian-made men’s fashion accessories. It goes without saying that this Australian business has had its fair share of ups and downs, surviving everything from World War II to the Great Financial Crisis, and now the rise of ‘fast fashion’. Based in Stanmore (NSW), Buckle | 1922 continues to manufacture men’s leather belts and braces from its 1000sqm operation in Sydney’s Inner West.
While catering to both the ultra-conservative and the fashion aware, their customers have a commonality; valuing quality and locally manufactured products. We speak with Melissa Gibson and Warren Sanders, who purchased the family business from its fourth-generation owners in 2013, to learn how they are spearheading this heritage brand into the new fashion era.
Buckle | 1922 survived some of the century’s major global and domestic challenges. What are some present-day challenges it faces?
Technology. The growth of online channels is phenomenal. If you are not on it, you will move backwards. When we first started with an online fashion retailer ‘The Iconic’ in 2013, orders were small and sporadic. Fast forward to now, and we send weekly stock orders into their warehouse to keep up with demand. But in saying that, it’s not the death of brick and mortar retailers. Our independent category is as strong as ever. Consumers will continue to enjoy ‘the art’ of going shopping, provided that their brick and mortar retailer offers a unique experience or product mix.
Globalisation. The world is moving at such a rapid rate, and the speed (from the runway) to market is in fifth gear. No longer do Australians lag a season behind in fashion. We are at the same pace with Europe and America. It’s so important to plan and get the right styles, colours and products in place before you miss the boat – time is of the essence.
How do you balance the product range between adapting to new fashion trends and maintaining the heritage appeal of the brand?
It’s exactly that – a balancing act. We are constantly looking at what is happening locally and abroad. We regularly introduce new products, product categories and colours to keep fresh and relevant. Consumers are savvy and look for something deeper in the accessories (and other items) they purchase. Knowing that their accessory was handcrafted in Australia yet in line with fashion trends provides a product with personality and character.
Unlike fast fashion, it’s not just ‘another thing’. When an accessory is purchased from Buckle | 1922, it is marked with the name of one of our craftspeople to emphasise where and who made their product. Our website also features details of the production process and introduces our craftspeople to the world.
What inspired you to purchase the business from its fourth-generation owners?
It’s not often that you come across a business with such a heritage-rich history behind it. We were also blessed to have a team (or work-family) that are extremely passionate about what they do. We got wind that the business was for sale in early 2013. The previous owners were in retirement phase, and their children were not interested in taking over the business.
Both Warren and I worked within Buckle | 1922 (as National Sales Manager and General Manager, respectively) prior to taking the leap of faith. Even though the business at the time was 91 years old, we believed that it still hadn’t reached its full potential.
Three things you’re most excited for the business in 2018
Our launch into the UK. Melissa is off to Solihull (near Birmingham) in January 2018 to launch our brand in their market. We have two active agents introducing and familiarising their market with the brand. Launching into a new market requires lots of attention, and we know to make this successful in the UK, it requires time.
Growth in the online space. The Iconic has become a very important trading partner. It provides us with more opportunities to present our brand to a broader market.
More new styles. It’s always very exciting to launch new styles and products. We have new shades of tan leathers and really ‘out-there’ brace elastics arriving in March 2018 which we hope will offer the same excitement to both our retailers and end users.
Visit www.buckle1922.com.au to see the latest from the house of Buckle | 1922.
Photographs by Oscar Colman.