Carving a Niche in Australian Fashion

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-By Aleisha Parr

Five years ago, Sydney based designer Nikki Hager sent shockwaves through the Australian fashion industry with the introduction of her vibrant and daring line of PeepToe shoes and accessories. With a strong focus on quality, all of PeepToe’s shoes and accessories are handmade within a group of small boutique suppliers in China, utilising individually selected leathers and high end textiles such as patent leathers, suedes, textures, crystals and metallics which are custom dyed for the most exclusive colour set. Although the line has since expanded to include luxurious bags, statement jewellery and a bridal collection, Nikki’s original focus was on bringing to market fabulous – but wearable – stiletto footwear.

“From the very beginning, stilettos have always been my absolute passion,” says Nikki on the corporate website, “I love the way a pair of stilettos can change a woman’s behaviour and elongate her physique… My shoes are made for fashion-savvy, sophisticated women who are not afraid to express their individuality.”

PeepToe boasts a glamorous Australian celebrity clientele including Miranda Kerr, Megan Gale, Natalie Imbruglia, Sarah Murdoch, Jennifer Hawkins, Jessica Mauboy, Delta Goodrem, Laura Dundovic, Ruby Rose, Rachel Finch and Jackie O. Says PR Coordinator Montana Taffs, “We offer a high demand product for the celebrity client. I think also it is very important now for Australian celebrities to be seen in Australian brands as well, and again, we’ve got that amazing niche in the market where it’s still an Australian designer fashion brand but we have a strong classic collection as well.”

Internationally, stars such as Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Kelly Rowland, Nicky Hilton, The Pussycat Dolls, Rumer Willis and Lauren Bosworth have also been seen dazzling fans in PeepToe shoes and accessories.

Currently stocked in over a hundred boutiques across Australia, PeepToe has established seven flagship boutiques of its own in Westfield Bondi Junction, Westfield Sydney City, Westfield Parramatta, Chatswood Chase, Castle Towers, QueensPlaza in Brisbane and Little Collins Street in Melbourne. PeepToe’s expansion strategy involves the addition of one to two new stores annually, though the company prefers to focus on pursuing the right opportunities rather than the right number of opportunities. PeepToe will open a boutique in the prestigious Chadstone Shopping Centre in Melbourne in May of this year which has been a long time in the planning. But again it is all about the right opportunity for PeepToe. Furthermore, last March the company developed a powerful feature-rich e-boutique experience at, enhancing its clients’ ease of access and user experience.

Explains Sue Ellen Mackintosh-Dixon, CEO: “We’re investing a lot of money in the website on an ongoing basis, whether it is through Facebook ads or adwords or seo – anything that helps drive traffic to the site. The flexibility that being an e-tailer as well as a retailer gives us means that we’re able to offer our customers a lot of options that other pure online retailers aren’t able to offer.”

Becoming a multi-channel retailer has brought with it significant challenges alongside the obvious benefits, but Ms Mackintosh-Dixon reports that through engaging the services of a number of external specialist companies, PeepToe has been able to successfully integrate all of its sales channels and is eager to begin capitalising on these changes.

This move to becoming a multi-channel retailer was part of a complete restructuring of the company a little over eighteen months ago, when PeepToe went from being owner-operated to more of a corporate entity. Nikki Hager’s rapid rise to notoriety and business success meant that she needed to take a step back from doing everything herself to bring in specialists who could help manage that growth – including CEO Sue Ellen Mackintosh-Dixon. This move has allowed her to focus on her Creative Director’s role in a more focused way.

“We’ve got a great team here,” boasts Ms Mackintosh-Dixon. “It’s quite a young team in terms of experience, but everybody – including the team in the warehouse – is very engaged with the brand. We are all very passionate about being the best every day.”

“By coming onboard in my role,” she continues, “I’ve started to corporatise the organisation a little bit and put in a level of sophistication of reporting that gives us better insights into how the company is trading in the different areas of the business. [That can mean anything from] determining how many transactions we are getting out of one store above the others, how many units per transaction, or what is the average spend and who is returning what and to which stores and for what reason.”

Ms Mackintosh-Dixon has placed particular emphasis on revising the business’ buying practices, ensuring not only that each retail boutique has the proper amount of stock but also the right mix of stock at all times. She notes that this can be particularly tricky for a retailer who is also a wholesaler, as the decisions made at Head Office level impact other peoples’ businesses. “So if we’ve only got a few sizes left in a 34 – and a 34 is not our bestselling size – we might want to move it on, but we’re always conscious of what impact that might have – obviously on the brand – and on our retail partners.”

Although it’s been a complicated process over the past six to twelve months, Ms Mackintosh-Dixon expressed confidence that the company had “got it right.”

“We’re fairly proud to say we’ve got the right stock, we’ve got the right mix, and we’ve certainly got it on time, which again is another thing we have to be conscious of. It’s great if a company can come up with all those ideas and designs, but if you don’t get them delivered on time it’s a problem.”

This attention to delivery standards is of particular importance to a premium fashion brand such as PeepToe, which focusses on not only providing its clientele with a classic collection available year-round but also with four new fashion-forward collections introduced seasonally. With its Classics Collection ranging in price from $199 for ballet flats up to an average of $229 for an elegant stiletto, and it’s on-trend fashion shoes topping out at $599 for a jaw-dropping pair of Swarovski encrusted stilettos aptly title Miss Indulgence, PeepToe is a full-price brand filling an important niche between the lower priced “mass brands” and the luxury priced international designer brands.

Essentially, PeepToe offers a premium designer brand of shoes and coordinating accessories that are fashion forward enough to appeal to the hottest Australian and international celebrities, while still being accessible to the average woman. As Montana Taffs explains, “Within our product range, we’ve got crystal rings and thin crystal bangles that are at the $39 price point, then we’ve got the crystal encrusted shoes and clutches at the higher end, so we really like to think that there’s something in our collection for everyone – everyone can have a piece of the brand. We see ourselves as being a brand that you can start with at your school formal, and then go on a journey with us through to your first job, your wedding and all the exciting events in your life.”

With the New Year, PeepToe is re-launching its Classics Collection through an internal marketed promotion focussing on its boutiques, e-boutique and press. The re-launch will also include an online promotion and live shoe giveaways interstate, leading up to the introduction in February 2012 of the new Mystical Fantastical Collection, which offers a gorgeous assortment of jewel toned shoes and accessories in luxurious mixed materials with an exotic feminine flair.

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December 19, 2018, 9:21 AM AEDT