Just imagine Harper & Harley, only in physical, tangible form: sleek, chic, minimal clothes that you can buy (and you will want to). Stocking an intelligent edit of local and international labels, in Donaldson and Martin’s preferred colour palette of black, white, grey and neutrals (with a sprinkling of denim for good measure), it’s basically the dream wardrobe of any classicist. Launch designers include cool girl favourites Christopher Esber, Georgia Alice and Natasha Schweitzer, as well as international brands like Charlie May and FRAME Denim.
For anyone thinking this is a part-time thing, a side project or the dreaded H word (‘Hobby’), think again. “There’s a lot of skin in the game,” Martin laughs, when we catch up for lunch. The two have a CFO, they are expanding their staff to include team members who will oversee despatch, and they are launching with a full complement of big-name brands. And although she will continue to juggle both the online projects, Donaldson doesn’t miss the good old glamorous days of full-time, 100% dedicated blogging one bit.
“I remember reading an article and it was like, do you want to create a hobby job where you just work and have fun with it, or do you want to create a real business?” she says. “This isn’t a hobby. We’re all in.”
We sat down with the pair to find out their secrets to success, their best business advice, and how their friendship has survived the perils of working together.
MARIE CLAIRE: Why did you want to start your own store?
SARA DONALDSON: We are constantly online shopping and we found there was a massive gap for a site where it was really tailored and niche.
GEORGIA MARTIN: We both wanted to create something that was new and ours and something we could own.
MC: What is the niche that you want to fill?
SD: It’s definitely based around colour: black, white, grey and neutrals. It’s also very much a trend in fashion: going back to basics. The UNDONE is very much about adding pieces to your wardrobe that you will have forever. And because we’re about the simplicity of the colour palate it’s all about the attention to detail and it’s all about a little twist here or a little embellishment there, nothing that’s too trendy.
GM: Someone asked me the other day, ‘Oh, but don’t you think it’s a bit boring to have that?’ And my response was…
SD: You’re not our customer. We have nothing for you.
GM: We’re not against people who dress colourfully or brightly – that’s individualism and a sense of style and that’s great. But we’re not trying to appeal to that person, we’re appealing to the person who [dresses] essentially like us.
SD: When a little spaghetti strap is the most beautiful part of a garment, and you can wear a simple black dress but you can be the most chic woman in the room… That’s what we’re looking for.
MC: Do you remember the first thing you ever bought from an online store?
GM: That’s a good question! I think mine was probably something like ASOS or something. Growing up in a rural town I feel like I was quite quick on online shopping. Once I worked out how the debit [card] thing worked.
SD: I would buy all the designers on Ebay.
MC: Did you find it hard to switch from being friends to being business partners?
SD: We’re in a unique situation where we’ve passed a few friendship tests already. So we lived together, and that’s a hard thing for friends to survive. And we’ve also worked together on Harper & Harley, and we found we had a really great balance there.
GM: We both have a lot of respect for each other. We have a personal relationship and we have a business relationship, but it’s still us.
SD: 9 times out of 10 we’re on the same page.
GM: We haven’t had any major issues. Talk to us in six months.
MC: What’s the best thing about working with Sara?
GM: I can be a little hot-headed at times. I’m very opinionated. I think working with Sara it balances that out because she can calm me pretty quickly and then give me another approach to solving an issue.
MC: What’s the best thing about working with Georgia?
SD: I think because she has so much passion –
GM: My mum calls it my gusto!
SD: She just gives it 100% always, which is really exciting and inspiring. We share the same entrepreneurial spirit. Nothing is going to stop her.
MC: What are some of the most important things you need in order to succeed in our startup culture?
SD: You need to believe in yourself, because people will always question what sets you apart, why is this different, why will yours succeed, blah blah blah. And you have to answer that with so much confidence.
GM: One of the best skills I ever learnt is that it’s okay to ask for help and to ask questions and to get those people around you who are really strong in their fields to help you.
SD: Be open-minded. Ask for help when you need it. Don’t think that you’re the smartest person in the room.
MC: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
SD: Don’t make the same mistake twice. But you can learn from your mistakes. I like to turn every problem into a solution.
Be open-minded. Ask for help when you need it. Don’t think that you’re the smartest person in the room.Sara Donaldson
MC: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
GM: Staying in a job you don’t like. Know what’s not right for you. And also know your worth. I mean, I’ve been told multiple times ‘you’re too young for that role’. But it’s like, well, no, I know my worth, I know what I can do, I know my limitations as well. Make it work for you.
SD: Just know when you need to stand up for yourself. We’ve all been in a job where we’ve been taken advantage of, right?
MC: What’s the one thing you’re sick of hearing in business meetings?
SD: We get the whole ‘you’re so young, you’re young women, how are you doing this?’
GM: I get the young thing constantly. I actually have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it and I think it’s getting worse because I don’t tell anyone my age anymore. I let them sit there very confused and bothered sometimes, but I don’t tell them.
Head to StyledBy marie claire to read about Sara and Georgia’s thoroughly modern approach to workwear and what power dressing means to them.