LIFE & CULTURE

‘I Ditched A Corporate Career For Entrepreneurship, And Never Looked Back’

It’s actually not as scary as you think.

These days you hear a lot about women in business, and how they’re overcoming the obstacles, being taken seriously and creating great things.

However, according to Deloitte, just 22 per cent of Australian start-ups are founded by women.

While support for women entrepreneurship is growing, it can feel an intimidating climate to walk into, especially when you have a promising corporate career taunting a decent (and regular) salary, sitting as the devil on your shoulder.

It’s a fork in the road that Sydneysider Lia Georgantis found herself at, when her mother’s business required a new owner.

“My mum started Girls with Gems over 10 years ago. It wasn’t until the night before my final law exam, about four years ago, that I decided to take over Girls with Gems and reinvent the business,” she tells marie claire Australia.

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Lia Georgantis, in her element. (Credit: Image: Street and Studio Photography)

You see, her mother was heading to Greece to open luxury boutique hotel ‘White Pebble Suites’ on the Greek island of Milos. The entrepreneurial spirit runs in the family.

Georgantis had two options: continue on her trajectory and move into a graduate corporate position at a law firm, or take over Girls with Gems.

“I mulled over the decision for a long time, until someone asked me, ‘If you don’t take over Girls with Gems will you have regret or if you don’t start your grad job will you have regret?’ It struck a cord in me, leaving behind a business that had so much potentialI would always wonder what could have been,” she explains.

So, Georgantis put her law career on hold, choosing to dive head-first into the world of female entrepreneurship.

In just four short (Covid-wracked) years, she has been able to ensure the boutique has not only continued to be successful, but to actually grow her customer base and demand. These days, items on the shelves at Girls with Gems sell out in hours.

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The Girls with Gems storefront. (Credit: Image: Street and Studio Photography)

Finding Success In Entrepreneurship, From Someone Who Has Done It

Speaking with Georgantis, she believes the success of the business is ultimately because of the team, their vision, and their adept approach to social media.

“Girls with Gems is successful because of our authentic approach to social media. Especially when I was growing up, fashion was all about campaign photo shoots and it all felt very unattainable, to me at least,” she says.

Georgantis wanted to find a new voice, that would actually speak to the customer and their needs.

“It felt wrong to put up these really curated and edited photos on Instagram, and there was born the GWG segments which everyone loves so much, our team speaking to the camera about fashion, wearability of our clothes and everything in between,” she says.

Alongside a more relatable approach to consumers, Georgantis believes that merchandising with ‘up to the minute’ pieces, and a great location (“Double Bay is, of course, unrivalled,” she adds) are key.

Now, they have a dedicated strategy for new clothing drops.

“When we seriously love a product and we build out our social media strategy for that product, it translates. We sell out quickly. In our online videos we will say, ‘Get in quick, it’s going to sell out’ or in-store you would tell a customer, ‘Don’t think for too long, it won’t be here’ and, of course, initially, no one believes that. Until, you’re sold out in a day, or even a few hours!” she says.

“After a while you kind of think, ‘Okay, I should be selling these units for my own brand,’ but also when there is a product you want to bring to the market and the brands you house aren’t making the product, it’s frustrating.”

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Georgantis may have succeeded, but there’s always a new horizon. (Credit: Image: Street and Studio Photography)

When You Build A Business, Don’t Stop There

While it is easy to rest on your laurels, for Georgantis, the lure of having her own label was something that just made sense, especially given the demand.

“The GWG brand is something we toyed with for a long time. Printed items at a great entry level price is how Sneaky Link was born,” she says.

Georgantis’ label, Sneaky Link, is an Australian brand and its ethos is ‘confident and cool’. It features a range of wardrobe staples in inventive and bespoke patterns.

“I LOVE wearing printed items, I love to collect insane prints and it excited me holding on to them for a long time because they become ‘vintage’,” she explains. So, Georgantis had an ‘under the sea’ style print, called the Thalassa, designed into a range of clothing, including shorts, a shirt, a dress and sarong.

“I wore the outfit in Brisbane before we launched it and so many girls stopped me to ask where it was from. That definitely eased my nerves. On day one we sold 300 units of the first drop of Sneaky Link. Literally remarkable, as we have never sold 300 units of anyone’s brand on launch day,” she explains.

“We have now also created SL by Sneaky Link, a streetwear brand. We wanted to bring cargo pants to the market because no one was doing them how we wanted them, so we went into product and we sold 180 pairs on day one.”

Georgantis says there are only more ideas where these two came from.

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Inside the Girls with Gems boutique. (Credit: Image: Street and Studio Photography)

Women In Business: The Struggle Through Covid

While Georgantis works in a mainly female dominant business, and admits she hasn’t faced too much gender discrimination, it hasn’t all been rainbows and sunshine.

“I took over 6 months before Covid, so I had to navigate Covid as a new business owner and make quick decisions to save the business,” she explains.

“The day before we went into a hard lockdown around May, we had two full-time staff members. I just turned to them and said, ‘I want to keep you employed, so every day we are going to show up, we’re going to come up with ways to make money and we’re going to get through this.’”

“We did exactly that, we laughed a lot, we cried a little and we made it out of lockdown thriving.”

The other major problem in the Australian clothing market is saturation, with so many boutiques in the Double Bay area and emerging online.

“There were many times I just wanted to throw the towel in because it felt like every time I would get ahead I would be taken back ten steps,” she explains. “I think in my head I wanted everyone to just be nice and respect each other and each other’s business but that’s not always how business works. That made me really sad and angry, and I guess I was naïve at the time but it created this fire in my belly. I wasn’t going to let anyone else take me down in business, so I just kept picking myself up, dusting myself off and trying again.”

Is Starting Your Own Business Worth It?

Now, Georgantis focuses on all the lives her business has touched, and their overarching success. “The growth in the last four years has been huge,” she says. “I never thought we would have this many full-time staff, an office, our own brands and the social media following and community we have.”

Her advice? “You will never be ready to do things that scare you, your brain will make excuses for you. You have to physically make the decision to do things that will change your life.”

And now, looking back on her decision to leave a law career for this?

“The irony is that I never, ever wonder ‘what could of been’ of my law career, and every day I am so grateful that I took the leap and re-invented Girls with Gems.”

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