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How Instagram is making QLD's micro fashion businesses

Brisbane-based Concrete Jellyfish designer Rene Skelton  makes bold resin earrings. Picture: Liam Kidston.

How Instagram is making QLD's micro fashion businesses

News Corp Australia

GOT a sewing machine, a smartphone and a paintbrush? Then you might be Queensland's next rising fashion business.

The industry of micro-makers has exploded in the state thanks to the creative brains of young women who know their way around an Instagram handle. 

There are success stories across Queensland. Cult earring makers like Kenzie Collective and designers like Jericho Road Clothing have built their brands on the back of social media. 

A savvy Instagram feed has become the tool to beat to build a new fashion business. 

Some of Queensland's small businesses have grown so quickly that they are faced with hiring staff and renting office space within two years of their launch.

We spoke to the women behind three of Queensland's Insta-led businesses.

Bon Maxie

IT took less than a year for Bon Maxie, the brainchild of Clare Spelta, to gain 10,000 fans on its Instagram page.

Clare launched the business from her Brisbane home in 2015 while on a stint of maternity leave.

She was already a portrait painter, and wanted a simpler product that would be easy for a one-woman business to produce.

The result was earring boards. She came up with the concept after a frustrating search for a lost earring. After a photo posted to Instagram got a big reaction from women with the same problem, she turned it into her new product.

In the beginning Clare handpainted every board.  All 234 holes in each A4 board were also hand-drilled by Clare's husband, six boards at a time.

But the growth, led primarily by her social-media using audience, meant she had to upgrade to machinery drilling and printing designs rather than handpainting them.

"That was a scary decision to make," she said.  

Her Instagram page now has more than 25,000 fans, where she is open about her creative process, life as a small business owner and, occasionally, parenting.  

Her page is a strong example of cross promotion that is prolific among Insta-led micromakers. Her page promotes lots of earring makers to her followers. 

"It's such a fluid and fastpaced environment," Clare said. "We wouldn't work well unless we were collaborative."

"There's infinite benefits to being nice."
"If you put your blinkers on (while) on social media, then it's not really social."

It's not hard to see why the new generation of makers in small business are using social media to build their brands. It requires less start up than a market stall and it's easier to connect.

"There's no pressure when you go on Instagram," Clare said.

"It's a lot less scary."

It's a platform that also offers young women working alone a sense of community. She has used Instagram's story feature to choose product colours in the past and is increasingly comfortable with being the face of the brand.

She is now looking at relocating from her home studio as the business grows.

"We'd be stupid not to plan," she said.

Pine & Apple Australia

Kelly Fraser runs Pine & Apple Australia out of her home in the Lockyer Valley.

The handbag label takes '90s icons like Bubblo' Bill or trendy motifs like flamingos and dinosaurs and turns them into brightly collaged clutches.

The bags, which she continues to sew by hand, were an almost immediate success when Kelly made her first one five years ago. 

 

She was already a maker and sold soaps and candles at market stalls. But an ever-growing fabric collection and a desire for change led her to make her first purse. 

"They took off really fast," she said.

She's now made hundreds of bags, including custom orders and collaborations with other makers, and upgraded to a heavy duty sewing machine last year.

Instagram has taken over as the primary social media channel for Pine & Apple, thanks in part to its emphasis on the visual and its use of stories.

"People love to see the process, how something is made," Kelly said.

The brand now has more than 3,600 Instagram followers and notches up more than 70 likes on posts.

It's a big audience for a little brand and like plenty of other makers, it's a one-woman show. Kelly's website isn't open permanently. It operates when she's able to keep it stocked, and recently shutdown sales so she could run a stall for the Brisstyle Twilight Markets. 

It's been a little while but Little Bill is back 🤠 #bubbleobill

A post shared by Kelly - Qld, Australia (@pineandappleaustralia) on

Kelly said she worked on the business every day, although not all day. She fits it around her part-time job (she has since become a full-time maker since being interviewed) and parenting her three children. 

Her future plans include fresh collaborations with brands like Jericho Road Clothing, who she has already worked with to create matching clutches for two of their best-selling patterns.

She's also ready to design and print her own fabric.

"I've got a massive list I want to tackle," she said.

 

Concrete Jellyfish

Social media audiences reward bold choices and Rene Skelton's creations are a keen example.

The statement earrings of her brand Concrete Jellyfish celebrate colour with an Australiana bent.

The business is less than two years old and already has more than 11,000 fans on Instagram and a swathe of loyal buyers.

Wattles, coral, koala and bird-based dangles that stretch down to the shoulders have netted her an audience that is happy to fork out for a bit of resin decadence.

 

 

Rene said her love for Australiana developed after a stint in Europe, where she met her husband. Now back on Aussie soil and a married mum of two, she said the unique landscape inspired her art.

"When you come back (to Australia), you have this real fondness for it.

"Nothing seems to look like here… the foliage, everything."

"It's mesmerising."

Like other makers, Instagram has become the major social media network for her business. She said more than 80 per cent of traffic on her site came via her Instagram page.

"Facebook is lame now," she said.

"I love Instagram. It takes a lot of time and effort though.

"To be competitive you have to be on top of your game.

"I've got small kids so my time is limited."

Working within this online world also offers something else - a sense of community.

"It can be isolating to work by yourself in a studio all day," Rene said.

"It (social media) makes you feel like you're part of the community.

"I think that's one of the beautiful things about Instagram.

"Everyone supports each other."

Concrete Jellyfish has taken part in at least five collaborations with other makers and Rene is planning more. She has also just branched out into making handbags, with the help of her mum, an avid sewer.

 

 

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Kelly Fraser had two children.