We had the privilege of speaking to one of Australia’s trail blazers in the sustainable business space: Dale McCarthy, Founder of Bondi Born, Australia’s first luxury swimwear brand. Bondi Born is BCorp certified and Dale has built the business from the ground up, achieving incredible success both overseas and here in Australia.
Upon founding Bondi Born, you tested, launched, and cemented your company internationally – in Europe and the USA. Exporting before selling at home was a novelty idea – can you let us in on how you came up with it?
It was certainly a strategy rather than a novel idea. Having worked in digital businesses for 12 years I knew that if I started a new business it didn’t have to be constrained by geography, so I set out to build a global brand. I also knew that the world loves Australia and that Australian swimwear is perceived to be the best in the world. I also believed that there wasn’t a truly luxury Australian swimwear brand, so that was the what I set out to create.
With a background in Film, Communications, Philosophy and Finance, which of these areas of expertise contributed most to your success in the fashion industry and why?
I think entrepreneurs draw on many aspects of their education and work history. Philosophy enhanced my ability to think strategically, my career in advertising taught me how to build brands and my time running businesses & doing M&A at Fairfax gave me the knowledge and confidence that I could build and run a business.
Taking an environmentally friendly stance is an ambitious and often expensive route for clothing manufacturers. What inspired you to prioritize the planet above all and obtain a Certified B Classification immediately upon founding your own business?
It actually wasn’t my original goal, but it ended up being an amazing destination we’ve arrived at. By deciding to create a luxury brand I believed that uncompromising quality was a fundamental requirement and this remains our top priority. We researched swimwear fabrics for three years which culminated in our Sculpteur® fabric. The Italian mill that makes it for us happened to be the one of the most advanced in the world in terms of sustainable stretch fabric production and so we can ensure quality control, we make every garment here in Sydney.
Three years ago people started saying “Oh! You’re such a sustainable brand” and I’d say “Really?” It made me feel good about what we were doing and that people loved these choices, so it snowballed from there. We then went about considering every part of our supply chain and operations and always asked ourselves, and still do – “what can we do better?” Then we started asking “what else can we do?” and now our belief is that fashion has a voice in the world and that if our business can be a force for good – in even the smallest way – then we should. We became B Corp Certified in November 2020 after a rigorous 18 month vetting process. I went to that extra step as there is so much green-washing out there and I wanted us as a business to have both validation of what were doing but also a higher authority that we are accountable to in this regard.
Did you initially expect Bondi Born to be the success that it has become?
I have always followed my passions in my career and because I loved what I did I enjoyed working hard and did well. So I was actually supremely confident I could make my business work. In fact, it has been one of the most challenging rollercoaster rides of my life and significantly more difficult than any job I’ve ever had. I was on the brink of failure numerous times as a growing young business often takes more capital and more time to succeed than you anticipate, I didn’t realise how complex and difficult luxury fashion really is and raising capital in Australia as a female starting a fashion brand was surprisingly tough.
Thankfully I have a very supportive group of investors and an amazing team at Bondi Born who have ridden the rollercoaster with me. So I’m incredibly grateful we’ve reached this point in the journey where we can start to enjoy and build on our success.
The pandemic has been a difficult learning experience for all; a unique experience that has changed the face of retail to be more online oriented. Do you see the industry continuing to shift more online?
I think bricks and mortar will return in strength once the fear and uncertainty of Covid abates and the two will continue to co-exist. Shopping in person is a very different experience to shopping online. It’s more of a social experience and an outing and for many people it’s a great pleasure they won’t want to give up.
Did you learn anything unexpected or unique from running a large, international business whilst in lockdown over the past couple of years?
Expect the unexpected. Problem solving and lateral thinking are essential to survival, and I will cherish every international holiday and fancy restaurant I go to for the rest of my life.