Deciding to put in endless days of planning and thought on a brand new start-up business is not often on the top of most married couples’ list of desirable ventures.
However, Lia-Belle King and Lotte Barnes, the two creative minds behind the travel-inspired lifestyle concept brand Worn., aren’t your ordinary business partners. “Lotte and I are a partnership in business and real life. We met when I hired her to produce a show I was PR-ing for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week,” Lia-Belle says.
“Lotte was the complete opposite to me; a surfer and super grounded, full of ideas and running a boutique creative agency ‘Black Bear Folk’.
“ When we started dating more seriously my priorities changed, personally and professionally. I found myself bored of fashion and wanted to be doing something different with my life. My consciousness changed and I became quite focused on meditating and working towards generating a better quality of life,” she says.
The joint founders of Worn. see their venture as an organic development from a conscious decision to leave Australia and do something different with their lives. Their individual pursuits came together in a range of joint projects such as campaign shoots and creative directing for brands.
“I’m really into design and branding and love to bring a concept to life – it’s my passion. I also really love working with Lia-Belle as she understands my creative thought process and has a way of expanding my capabilities when we collaborate. So when she said she wanted to start something, we organically started building it together,” Lotte says.
“For us worn. is more than just a brand or a store, it represents a quality and way of life that took a long time to achieve and one we’re both incredibly lucky, and happy to now be living.”
Like many successful brands before them, Worn.’s initial concept was born from unique items the couple had found on their travels. Their collection of ornate antique silver anklets from India, men’s cotton working shirts and women’s Saris and traditional kaftans – all items that are unique to a particular place – were the catalyst for their rapid success.
“When we started to furnish our home in Bali, we had two chairs made for our bedroom, one of which I posted on Instagram. The response was overwhelming and in one day we received over sixteen orders of what is now the SLING chair and the business is now focused on furniture,” Lia-Belle explains.
The entrepreneurs’ focused approach to their brand shows how two different passions – and two different personalities – combined can often create a unique type of professional magic. However despite early chemistry, both within and outside of business, both owners agree that investing in Worn. was still always a risk.
“When we started Worn. we had capital but like starting anything, the degree to which you choose to invest is always a risk, and so you have to ask yourself first, is this what I want to be doing for the foreseeable future, and second, is there realistic potential to make enough money to sustain my life and allow the business to grow,” Lia-Belle says, reflecting on what is one of the biggest hurdles for start-up businesses.
“Worn. isn’t something that will be instantly profitable, but it is something that will allow us to maintain our work/life balance whilst we nurture it to the point of being our sole income.”
“The sourced bags and hats sell extremely well so we will be building more on that area of the business, we’re also going to launch a clothing component to the brand. All of these small chapters to the brand need to be built and launched in a particular way so that Worn. maintains its balance,” she says.
Both owners’ philosophies are deeply rooted in the quality and high standard of craftsmanship, and the element of exclusivity that each customer receives. They describe Worn. succinctly in three key words: ‘quality, desirable, affordable’.
“Our brand ethos is about delivering high quality products that are desirable, accessible, and affordable. We don’t want to price ourselves out of the market, flood the market with our products, or create a business where we have to work so much we lose our work/life balance, so we’re constantly reflecting back on the ethos,” Lotte says.
Going back to the start of their business, each founder has a slightly different perception of what their major challenge was as a new business owner.
Lia-Belle says the quick launch of Worn. was unexpected and really highlighted where the business was underprepared.
“We didn’t have a full product range, we hadn’t worked out the costs of shipping everything back to Australia and we didn’t have a website. It was also November so we had to hustle our makers to get everything done so we could send before the New Year,” she says.
“Having to catch up was stressful but of all the problems to have when starting a brand, more orders than stock available is a good one.”
When asked the same question, Lotte reflects on the relationship between their personal life and their business.
“I’d say juggling our personal life with trying to launch the business has been quite difficult. Worn. launched at a time when all of our family and friends were coming to visit and I found it really difficult to take time away from our loved ones to focus on the business.
“I suppose that comes with taking a more organic rather than strategic approach to launching a brand! But since Worn.’s positive launch, we have taken a few steps back to slow down, review and create a sustainable brand model so that it lasts the test of time,” she says.
For others who don’t know where to begin working on their own aspirations, the founders of Worn. have some well-seasoned advice to pass on to new entrepreneurs who are without the same level of business experience.
“ I think we’d both agree by saying having a business plan, mapping out your key values and purpose and obtaining sound financial advice is integral to a successful business,” Lotte says.
“I know that sounds generic but it’s actually true, especially for us ‘creatives’ as we do like to brush over the numbers thing. But I’ve learnt that you have to place time into the ‘back end’. If you can’t afford to consult a professional ask your parents’ friends who are business owners, contact someone you admire and take them to lunch and ask for their advice,” she says.
Doing something for yourself and investing in an idea that doubles as a lifestyle has certainly paid off richly for both of the creative minds behind the Worn. brand.
“I’m turning 32-years-old this year and I am thoroughly enjoying bringing all of my years of experience in media, retail, fashion and PR together to build a successful business. After putting so much time, energy and emotion into other people’s businesses, it’s fantastic to feel that this time, I’m doing it for me,” Lia-Belle says.
“The constant feeling of planning and creating your day with your own set of rules and boundaries; having that freedom is my daily fuel,” Lotte says.
“I wake up with a fire in my stomach to make the most out of my days and it stems from the openness of doing my own thing.”