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Sydney's Retail Royalty: Belinda & The Corner Shop

In terms of retail power in Sydney, Belinda Seper truly is royalty. With her innately skilled eye for fashion and brand mix, she has long set the benchmark within the national buying landscape. Her stores – particularly Sydney’s Belinda and The Corner Shop – stock some of the most coveted items for any fashion-lover’s wardrobe, with many pieces unable to be sourced anywhere else in Australia. The stores’ reputations have, at times, succeeded even the brands that are stocked within, making them the aspirational yearning for every mid to high level designer. After all, with Belinda’s Midas touch, the term “up and coming” is hastily removed as the suffix and designers become royalty alongside the queen herself.
We chatted to Belinda about how a simple idea became a retail empire.


Belinda

1) I know you were a model and Army Reserve captain once upon a time. When and why did you eventually decided to open up retail stores?

I had an idea and I just knew I must pursue it. It sounds very simple but it’s true!

2) What was the beginning like?

The beginning was very scary, it was such hard work and I had reoccurring nightmares of failure!
I also had a six month old baby and the juggling was incredibly taxing.

3) What is the biggest lesson you have learnt in the time you have been a retail owner?

To always trust my instincts. Always.

4) How did you progress from one to nine stores?

The progression of expanding the business was gradual, and each step was taken by market segmentation and when we were ready. On reflection it was quite a natural process to evolve to what we have today – nine boutiques but four very different brands.

The Corner Shop

5) What would you say has been the key to your success?

I think my response to this question changes every few years, but at the moment it would have to be diligence, perseverance, lots of courage and of course, amazing staff!

6) What are you looking for when you decide to pick up a brand?

How the brand ‘fits’ within the existing brand line-up of a store is very important. When we decide to pick up a new brand it has to tick all the boxes; price, quality and point of difference.

Every season we refresh the brand line-up within each of our Belinda and Corner Shop boutiques to keep the flow of trends current and a little left of centre. Naturally we have our staples such as Lanvin, Dries Van Noten, Givenchy, Alexander Wang and Isabel Marant, but we like throw in a bunch of hot new labels every season to spice up the mix.

7) Who do you have design the interiors of your shop? What is your inspiration/design process?

I design the interior of the stores myself with help from architect Kelvin Ho who is incredible. The design process always tends to be quite vague and I usually run on instinct. I find inspiration in really odd ways, as Kelvin will tell you!

The bits and pieces inside each of our stores I source myself from markets and antique fairs around the world. I enjoy using furniture in ways it wasn’t designed to be used for and mixing themes together in-store is fun and adds a creative feel to the space.

In our new Belinda Paddington store we have incorporated tall antler lamps with retro armchairs covered in bright green leaf print. In the middle of the store we have an amazingly huge framed photograph of a gothic chandelier by photographer Bartolomeo Celestino.

Belinda

8) Why do you think all your stores have found such a huge following?

Our customers are bright, engaging and like to be challenged on all levels. There is an expectation of the substance of product we offer through the store, but they never know what is coming next. We love to surprise.

9) What do you like to do in your down time?

I don’t have a lot of down time but I have a beautiful garden and I secretly love cryptic crosswords. I also love trawling through junk shops and flea markets.

10) What are some of the most difficult parts about opening up a store? The best?

The most difficult thing would have to be the consistently unreliable tradesmen. It is always a roller coaster of pushing, begging, pleading and basically freaking out!

The best thing is when you get to see the customer respond to your vision with enthusiasm and delight.

11) Any exciting plans for the future?

At the moment we are focusing on helping to build the relationship between our customers and the new line up of brands that will enter each store around March/April. The nurturing of this process is very important, and very fun.

12) Tell us something about you and your empire that might surprise people.

I am most comfortable living a very quiet country life. I also have a side line business, Twigg and Blossom, which is all about flowers.

Belinda Seper


words: Seema Duggal

2 comments:

May 19, 2010 at 1:17 PM emma milikins said...

she is an amazing woman. have not seen all 9 stores yet but definately on my list to do when in sydney town next .

January 31, 2012 at 8:31 PM become a fashion buyer said...

Although this sounds like a fashion lover's dream, it can involve more than you think. Essentially, being a fashion buyer means being responsible for choosing all the various clothing items that will be sold in a certain store.

 
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