Money & Career

Three Iconic Australian Brands Reveal The Moment That Made Them

With a little help from Margot Robbie...

Everything can change in an instant. We asked four creatives about the moment that propelled their business to dizzy new heights.

Elizabeth Abegg and Isabella Pennefather

Spell & The Gypsy Collective

Isabella Pennefather can thank her love of American iconography – feathers, eagles and bull horns – for her brand’s smash-hit piece. The idea for Spell’s Desert Wanderer Playsuit came to her during a creative sojourn at the boutique hotel Raes on Wategos in Byron Bay, where she’s based. “It was one of the first original prints we had created, so it felt so true to our style,” explains Pennefather, who launched the fashion label in 2009 and brought her sister Elizabeth Abegg onboard to manage and grow the business. And grow it did.

Spell & The Gypsy Collective

Founders of Byron-based fashion label Spell & The Gypsy Collective: sisters Elizabeth Abegg (left) and Isabella Pennefather. 

When actor Vanessa Hudgens wore the aforementioned playsuit to Coachella in 2014, they sold out of the style and gained 10,000 Instagram followers overnight. The signature style, which has been re-cut in different patterns (pictured top right) in the years since, has also been worn by actors Margot Robbie and Elsa Pataky and model Alessandra Ambrosio. It’s also one of the most sought-after pieces on the wildly popular Spell Buy, Swap and Sell pages. “It was a huge boost for us in every way, from brand awareness to sales, followers and international recognition. It was an especially proud moment because Vanessa wasn’t a paid influencer, she just genuinely loved the piece. We’ve really built the brand through word of mouth,” says Abegg of Spell, which now has more than 1.1 million Instagram followers.

It’s this authenticity that the sisters credit their success to. “Spell’s always acted from the heart – from the way we design to the way we speak with our community,” says Pennefather. “I think most people who love Spell, really appreciate that we followed our passions from the very beginning and stayed true to ourselves. We hope we can continue to inspire our customers to be strong and be the best version of themselves, and live as best they can for the wellbeing of the planet.”

Maggie McGowan

Magpie Goose

If you head north as far as Darwin in the Northern Territory, you will come across a revolutionary social enterprise called Magpie Goose, which uses clothing to foster a cultural connection. In 2016, founders Maggie McGowan and Laura Egan were debriefing over
a beer after a rough week at work when the idea was born. “We wanted to feature designs by Aboriginal artists that tell stories of country, landscape, people, language, culture, bush foods and traditional and contemporary life. So, we partnered with independent artists and remote Indigenous art centres to develop textile designs into collections,” says the 31-year-old, who traded in her arts-law degree to launch Magpie Goose.

Magpie Goose

Magpie Goose founders Laura Egan (left) and Maggie McGowan (right) model their label’s vibrant looks.

In March 2017, the founders created a Kickstarter pre-order campaign to get the brand off the ground and the ABC contacted McGowan about a potential story. “They were interested because we were doing something new and using the platform of contemporary fashion to take these amazing textiles to a wider audience, while creating huge impact and exposure for our art centres,” she says, reminiscing about the moment ABC journalist Neda Vanovac accompanied her to visit one of their art centre partners on the Tiwi Islands, interviewing her and Egan, and several artists.

The resulting television piece was aired on a number of ABC programs, including the national news, ABC News 24 and Australia wide, boosting the national
interest in Magpie Goose by an unprecedented amount. “It was such early days that we didn’t even have a website or an online store set up, so we had to quickly create one to capture peoples emails and contact details,” says McGowan. The brand had more than 3000 email addresses of people who were looking to buy their designs once the online store was set up.

Watching her business grow – and sharing First Nation culture and stories with the world – has been a privilege for McGowan. But she can pinpoint the exact moment she knew the business had made it: “Magpie Goose was a clue in The Age crossword – that was our crowning-glory moment.”

Charlotte Blakeney

By Charlotte

“It really was just a normal day for me. We were shooting on Hayman Island
in Queensland for a magazine cover and I was doing Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s make-up,” says Charlotte Blakeney, who spent 20 years as a make-up artist for Vivien’s Creative before starting her own jewellery label By Charlotte. “Beforehand, the stylist had asked me to bring along my jewellery, which was my side hustle then. I didn’t think it was a big deal. On set, there was all this beautiful jewellery laid out on the table and Rosie was gravitating towards mine and saying she loved it. I just stood there in shock and started filling
her ears with my little earrings,” recalls Blakeney, recounting the day in 2013 when her label went global – big time. When the magazine came out, Blakeney rushed to buy five copies and was stunned to discover it was not just Rosie on the cover, but her signature Lotus and Little Buddha necklace – a piece that has since been adapted into multiple different styles. “My business took off – overnight my sales tripled – so  I had to act quickly,” she says.

By Charlotte jewelry

Since that fateful day seven years ago, models Georgia Fowler, Miranda Kerr and Georgia May Jagger have worn the delicate, bohemian necklaces, rings and earrings produced by Blakeney, who has opened a flagship store in Sydney’s Paddington. “I started with one other girl and now I have 20 staff members working in ecommerce, PR, creative and wholesaling, and I officially have 100 stockists worldwide,” she says, marvelling at the growth of her label, which she started at her dining table.

Inspired by the mantras of love, harmony and enlightenment, Blakeney lives by the affirmations she shares on Instagram, such as: “Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen.” Like an international supermodel giving your brand the fashion seal
of approval and introducing it to the masses. Wonderful, indeed.

This story originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of marie claire.

Related stories