Cool Comfort

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-By Kristy Attard

In 1987 Mitch Dowd was a budding young artist wandering around Chapel Street in Melbourne selling hand painted boxer shorts. In one week he sold 150 pairs and a few weeks later buyers from Myer and David Jones had snapped up 10 000 pairs. At the time, Mitch was only trying to raise money to fund an upcoming art exhibition. The young creative type was not planning to start what would become one of the biggest names in underwear and sleepwear. It was what Mitch Dowd Design CEO Dane Totham calls “an accidental business.” This year Mitch Dowd Design is celebrating its 25th birthday and gearing up to dazzle the market once again with a funky new summer range, water pistols included.

Cheeky Vibe

When Mitch started the brand back in the 80’s it was during tough economic times. The marketplace had become rather conservative and safe but Mitch made a splash by bringing his trademark quirk and fun to the label. “And what we’re doing right now, coincidentally in a similar trading period,” explains Mr Totham, “is we’ve got some of Mitch’s original product coming back onto the market, but also a sort of freshness in our product that’s different and I think our difference is what’s making it work.” The secret to the success of Mitch Dowd Design is it dares to be different and explore new avenues of growth. The brand has stayed true, however, to its grassroots heritage and creative edge. Today the team at Mitch Dowd remembers why its core consumers are still passionate about the products after 25 years.

Despite the bleak economic and retail state that is still struggling to bounce back from the global financial crisis, Mitch Dowd Design is excited to be bringing its summer collection to life. The collection promises to honour the heritage of the brand in the most eclectic way possible. Expect to see many of Mitch Dowd’s much loved original designs revamped with a surprising twist. Try to resist an old-fashioned water pistol fight, because as a way of thanking customers for their loyalty and support, Mitch Dowd will be offering a gift with purchase. That means water pistols to let loose with in the backyard!

Mitch Dowd Design epitomises quirky cool. It’s for the young and the young at heart who are looking for pyjamas, socks and underwear minus the dag factor. Mitch Dowd is on trend but offbeat, with a distinct irreverent charm that’s at the heart of every Australian. And speaking of being on trend, with the company’s organic cotton and bamboo Green range, guys can even do their bit for the environment with sustainable underwear. For the more technically minded chap, what could be better than pyjama pants featuring prints of iPhone apps? There are everyday basics too, with a good dash of commonsense added. Feel comfortable all day long with fitted trunks, briefs and boxers with a fit as good as their look.

Don’t panic though; Mitch Dowd isn’t just for blokes. There’s something for the ladies and kiddies to enjoy as well. Basic pyjamas become fashion statements with prints of bikes, hearts and snowmen. Kick back in super bright colours and leopard print if you fancy. There are spots, stripes, checks and a quaint sailor plus an owl or two. Expect the unexpected from Mitch Dowd Design; there is always something thrilling up the company’s sleeves.

Fresh Take

Fashion changes at the drop of a hat and so do trends in sleepwear and underwear. These categories of the fashion market used to be thought of as ‘daggy’ and ‘ugly.’ The perception with manufacturers was largely, why be bothered making pyjamas, socks and underwear trendy? What was on the market tended to fall on two opposite ends of the spectrum – dreary or tacky.

In recent years, however, designers and manufacturers began putting more effort into design, a trend that Mitch Dowd Design was definitely ahead of the curve on. Consumers started demanding more contemporary styles of pyjamas, underwear and socks. Over the last decade, the major trend with men’s underwear has been moving away from boxers and briefs toward fitted trunks. Sleepwear for both sexes has been evolving from traditional pyjama ensembles to loungewear – comfortable to sleep in but stylish. What consumers love about loungewear is that they can answer the door or get the mail wearing what they slept in minus the embarrassment. No one can tell they just rolled out of bed a minute ago.

Of course, keeping up with what consumers want means being able to get the right products out there on shelves fast. Having a broad distribution network throughout Australia and New Zealand means that customers never have to look far to get their hands on the latest and greatest gear from Mitch Dowd. “Speed, I think is the most difficult part,” reflects Mr Totham. “Just being nimble and quick and trying not to bog down with process and trying to focus on why we’re in business, which is great product.” The label has been hiring young talent from design schools to keep in touch with its core consumers and simultaneously attract new fans to the brand. “A lot of the talent in here is in design anyway, what I’d call current generation, and they bring a degree of freshness to product development,” says Mr Totham. “That’s really important; it keeps us connected with our consumers. Our challenge is not to alienate our core consumer because we have a person that has been buying our product for 25 years. It’s about bringing more consumers on the journey with us and certainly the young kids today are helping us do that.”

Mr Totham has an in depth knowledge of the industry and believes that the business is back to being in a strong position in the market. “I was a retailer by trade and was a men’s underwear buyer many years ago. Just through evolution, I guess, I stayed in the product categories that I’m doing now – underwear, socks and sleepwear for the best part of 30 years and it has been an interesting journey. I guess I’m a specialist in that category.” Turning the business around and gaining back some of the market strengths that it enjoyed back in the in-house days of Mitch Dowd have been major successes, ones Dane Totham shares with Jason Dowd, Mitch’s brother and a key driver of these critical growth years.

Wide Awake

With a colourful past and a glowing present, the future is buzzing with opportunity for Mitch Dowd Design, which is anything but tired. The team at Mitch Dowd are continuing on their journey to create super comfortable ultra cool products with wow factor. “The future will be a continuation of what we’ve been doing in the last couple of years which is creating stylish underwear that caters for the Australian male.”

Staying focused on growing stronger within its product categories of sleepwear, socks and underwear is a main priority. “I think we’re a great, privately owned, probably the last of the independent men’s wear operators in our product category, and I think that we offer tremendous product owned by Australians and designed by Australians,” says Mr Totham. “I’m lucky to be supported by experts who have joined with Jason and I in executive positions to drive the business. Being accountable to shareholders is my primary responsibility,” says Mr Totham, but when “shareholders like Andrew McInnes and Ian Rose are not only backing you with their support but also their hard earned dollars, that level of accountability is amplified; success is assured under this model as Shareholders and the Senior Team alike share a vision for a strong and sustainable Mitch Down brand.”

Indeed, Mitch Dowd Design began as an underdog sort of brand, and has only grown from there. Born on the streets of Melbourne, who could have known that the fledgling business would grow to become a strong industry player? “I think Mitch is your quintessential Australian male brand,” agrees Mr Totham. “Unlike many other brands which are foreign owned now and designed overseas I think we’ve got a real local flavour that makes quite a difference.”

After all this time, where is the eccentric founder of the label? Not only is Mitch’s brother Jason still a co-driver of the business – and someone Mr Totham describes as his “principle advisor and mentor – but shoppers will be pleased to know that Mitch is still connected with the brand and gives his own unique input into its direction. “Mitch is currently in Bologna, Italy doing what he loves to do which is create masterpieces,” comments Mr Totham. “Mitch connects with Australia regularly – he’s got an exhibition in August actually – but we speak to Mitch for guidance, wisdom and counsel regularly. He’s part of our DNA, our brand, our product development, so Mitch is still shareholder of the business and he’s still very influential.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:30 AM AEDT