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Q&A with July co-founder Athan Didaskalou

Less than two years ago, Richard Li and Athan Didaskalou launched direct-to-consumer suitcase brand, July. Since then, they’ve raised more than $10 million in capital, partnered with retail giant Strandbags and entered international markets. And while coronavirus may impact international travel in the short-term, Didaskalou is still optimistic that the brand has a bright future ahead.

Internet Retailing: It’s been a pretty big couple of years for July since it launched. How would you describe the past year for the business?

AD: The past year for July has been an amazing one. In 12 months we’ve raised over $10 million in capital, sold over 20,000 cases across Australia and the world, opened our first retail store in Melbourne, and grown the team to 20. The response to what we’re doing has shown us there is demand for more considered products in the luggage space, and we will continue to design new products for them. 

We’ve only just begun the journey. 2020 is going to be a big year for us launching some new products, new categories, new locations, and introducing a new colour range. 

IR: What have been some of the most interesting or surprising insights you’ve gathered since launching July? 

AD: Most of our highlights have been happy customers who message us after our trip to tell us about their suitcase. I mean, who does that?! I would have never expected people to love their luggage so much that they take the time to email in and tell us. We share these responses with the team as it’s important every person sees this feedback as every team member plays a role in every case that goes out. 

We have also developed a new format for building out our creative portfolio for paid media. Called ‘Agile Performance Creative’, we have developed a new way to create and test creative on scale. We have essentially shortened the creation cycle down to just days instead of months, and measure the effectiveness of our creative over our paid social channels. It means our customers are always seeing new creative and we’re always learning on what’s most effective. 

IR: What have been some of the challenges you’ve come across?

AD: Our biggest challenges have been navigating through a sensitive retail period. Australians are not thinking about travel at the moment; they’re worried about their livelihoods through bushfires and the coronavirus. We keep seeing some big players in the retail space go into administration, further evidence of the difficult time it has been. We want to ensure we are cautious and not pushing for growth without proper acknowledgement that we’re in sensitive times.

IR: Strandbags invested in you guys last year. How is that partnership going?

AD: The Strandbags investment was a great boost to us in not only helping with working capital, but also with insight into the specifics of the luggage retail environment. While they remain mostly silent, it’s great having a strong support team behind you who knows how to scale a retail business. 

IR: You guys also entered Asia recently. What’s that been like for your business? How has coronavirus impacted your business and what are your thoughts on how the effect it will have on business in general?

AD: We’ve had a positive response from the Singapore market who have fallen in love with July. Asia is geographically important for any Australian business to grow into, and we are committed to the region for the long term. 

Coronavirus has had an impact in the short-term travel market as there have been global travel bans. The biggest impact to the retail sector as a whole is the uncertainty and lack of confidence brought about from an indecisive government and frequently changing rules. Consumer confidence is low because people are worried about their futures. 

We don’t want to add to the negative coverage right now. Once there is some clarity in the job market, the retail economy will bounce back. We don’t predict people will stop travelling, both domestic or internationally, so we are here for the journey with them to help explore new places together. 

IR: July has just collaborated with startup Saba Organics. Can you tell me about that partnership?

AD: In times like these, adaptability is key to creating value for customers. July was created to make people’s lives easier and better while travelling. But people aren’t travelling at the moment, so how can we continue to be relevant to them and help them in their new everyday challenges? 

So we got together with our friends at Saba Organics to help more people easily access their beautiful products. Saba Organics sells most of their products wholesale to retailers who are selling out instantly. We wanted to use our online store and warehouse team to make it easier for everyone to access them. Together we created our Travel Well Kit – organic hand sanitisers and mouth sprays, selling it at Saba’s RRP with shipping so we’re not inflating any prices, and making it easier for people to access this product online in a time where most of it is sold out. 

It’s a great time for a brand like July to experiment and create more helpful moments for customers. It’s great for Saba Organics to have more people using their 100 per cent Australian-made product as much as possible. And overall a great time for brands to connect and collaborate to provide value for people in a changing landscape.

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