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Q&A with Elizabeth Abegg of Spell & The Gypsy Collective

Welcome to our weekly Q&A with Internet Retailing’s 2018 Top 50 People in E-Commerce. See our previous Q&As here.

This week, we interviewed Elizabeth Abegg, co-founder of Spell & The Gypsy Collective.

Ranking 13th in this year’s Top 50 People in E-Commerce, Abegg started the Byron Bay-based online fashion business with her sister, Isabella Pennefather, in 2009.

Abegg’s background as a video editor can be seen in the strong imagery and storytelling that has helped Spell & The Gypsy Collective stand out from the beginning.

Keep reading to learn what a typical day is like for Abegg and the unexpected human resources challenge she is facing.

Heather McIlvaine: Before you and your sister started Spell & The Gypsy Collective, did you have any retail or e-commerce experience?

Elizabeth Abegg: I had no retail or e-commerce experience at all. That said, I knew how to sell an idea. I had been a video editor for almost 15 years and telling stories through imagery was something ran through my veins so to speak. All the SEO, digital marketing, HTML and e-commerce knowledge either came later, or, in reality, I hired people years later who specialised in those things.

I’d never go as far as to say that I was able to learn retail, or the numbers side of e-commerce, but I learnt what was important to our customers in those very early years by selling to them at the Byron Bay markets. It was all the same principles after that – just online.

HM: Social media has been really critical to your brand’s success. How has the landscape changed since you first started?

EA: Obviously, the landscape has changed greatly, these days it’s so cluttered. But then on the flip side of that, with the introduction of paid sponsored posts on Instagram and the paid reach that is available through Facebook, the reach can be the same, or greater now that the audience is so huge! It just comes from a slightly different angle. At first glance it feels like the authenticity has gone when you’re posting ads on Facebook, but if the content we post to our feed is still from the heart, then you can hold onto your own brand story that way.

It has been so fascinating to see the landscape of social media change so much, especially when it comes to Instagram and Facebook algorithms, but rather than see it as a hindrance, we use it as an excuse to create even more engaging posts that inspire better engagement and cut through.

HM: What is a typical day like for you?

EA: I’m about to go on maternity leave at the moment, so I’m slowing down a lot, but usually it’s a lot of meetings with different departments in my team. I work very closely with sales and marketing, graphics and business development. I also meet with design and workshop a lot with them from a sales and brand perspective. I don’t go on shoots any more, but my sister Isabella still is very heavily involved in the design and photoshoot side of things. I have an HR manager, which, with a team of 50, is so important. So she reports to me and my general manager. There is really no typical day at Spell, it’s always really colourful though.

HM: Your office in Byron Bay looks more like a resort in some exotic location, than a workplace. What was the thinking behind that?

EA: We wanted the space to feel other worldly and exotic because that’s environment that we design in best. Originally, we used to design our collections in Bali, which was very inspiring, but once we started our families and couldn’t travel as much, we yearned for a space that felt like we were designing in a far-off land.

It’s our intention to create beautiful, consciously created garments for our customers, and when our team is surrounded by beauty and light and space to be creative, it all works together to bring this intention home.

HM: What is the culture like at Spell & The Gypsy Collective?

EA: One of my key roles in the business is overseeing the culture, so it’s an area that is very important to me. We have a very inclusive, positive culture and we value personal and professional improvement immensely. We have weekly TedTalk Tuesdays (our team often hijacks these sessions to share their own personal learnings or experiences with the wider team).

Our team is high-performing and we celebrate our wins and each other regularly. Workplace culture is an ever-evolving thing though, and I have a lot of dreams for the near future, especially having just read The B-Corp Handbook by Ryan Honeyman. I was also very inspired listening to Arianna Huffington talk to Tim Ferris about the open feedback culture at her workplace, and it’s something I’m looking to develop in our own workplace.

HM: You also have a bricks-and-mortar store in Byron Bay. Can you tell us about your overall retail strategy?

EA: Our Byron store accounts for around 10 per cent of our overall revenue, and we love how it acts as a tangible experience opportunity for our customers. But there’s no doubt that online is where our customers predominantly shop, so it’s always our main focus. We used to want to open more stores, but we’re now opting for a more transient pop-up approach to get that physical experience, while still being able to keep our eye on the online ball.

We love having a new collection in our boutique ? Rosa looking gorgeous in store ?

A post shared by SPELL (@spell_byronbay) on

HM: What is your biggest challenge/pain point right now?

EA: We have an almost 100 per cent female workplace. This is not by choice, it’s just how it goes, though we are always looking for more men! But we’ve joked for years that we’re a living, breathing baby bomb. And it’s happening now. So many of our young team are starting families and it’s a challenge to have so many maternity leaves back-to-back, especially because we are committed to being a 100 per cent flexible and supportive workplace for new mothers.

Another big challenge we’re diving into right now is our journey towards truly sustainable production practices, from the fibres we use, to the carbon footprint each garment has. But it’s a challenge we sought out and are loving tackling right now. It has given us great purpose.

HM: What new technology or trend are you interested in exploring?

EA: For the very first time, we’re considering sponsored posts on Instagram. It took us a long time to accept that the platform is maturing towards more of a Facebook model. It’s been interesting watching this maturation, the tap-to-shop function, which just came to Stories as well, gives us deeper insights into what our customers are loving.

We’re also exploring more shop-the-look functions on our online store, allowing people to shop catalogue like visuals, which show full-outfit options.

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