The bold and the beautiful
kylie watson had an epiphany when changing a flat tyre which led her to creating la bella creations. marion gerritsen talks to the woman behind this successful jewellery business.
la bella is a combination of the names of kylie's two daughters, lakeisha (five years old) and keirabella (three years old).
“my girls like to help with stocktake, organising the administrative cupboards and packaging. they are also reliable little testers for durability of the designs.
“my staff all know that they might be interrupted by children (or the cats) and all work flexible hours.”
the company uses over 10 testers who trial all of its creations before they reach the market and test them for durability, wearability, fashionability and practicality.
“i like to imagine women in amazing landscape settings wearing our jewellery, for example a tropical beach setting, rainforest and rugged desert terrain. then i think about how that might adapt to helping in the classroom, going shopping, coping with breastfeeding, giving a work presentation (and then coming home to hugs and smooches from vegemite smeared fingers) and teaching handstands. i try to design each piece so that it goes with a variety of outfits, as not all women get time to work out what goes with what in the morning,” watson explains.
“i’m also a fashion junkie. i trawl the latest fashions from the catwalks of europe and i subscribe to nearly every fashion magazine. i like to see how i can keep the beauty and fashion alive, but make the jewellery more practical for women to wear.”
watson still works from home, which with a growing business might seem an odd choice, but as watson was looking to rent a warehouse office space, sir richard branson made her change her mind.
“i met sir richard branson last year and he told me to work from home as long as i could. i was about to rent a warehouse office space close to home but he suggested i was better off changing more of my rooms over to the business or moving to a bigger house until my youngest was at school and then considering the warehouse option. he also said he’s always worked from home which inspired me,” she says.
branson wasn’t the only source of inspiration for watson as she has met some interesting people along the way.
“i also met motivational coach anthony robbins and having poppy king as an early mentor was fantastic—i simply asked her and she said yes.”
however, she says not giving up, being brave enough to try new things and surrounding herself with an energetic positive team who all want to see the business succeed has been the real secret to her success.
as a result, watson won 2009 chamber of women in business best new business and was a national finalist in the 2010 australian marketing institute best new product category, but she says running a business is hard.
“don’t assume you will be an overnight success. you need to be resourceful, there are lots of hurdles, sometimes there are sleepless nights, sometimes you wonder how the heck you are going to make it, but hang in there, remain positive, schedule in ‘fun’, continually seek advice and have passion for what you do,” she says.
“expect acceptance with humility. i was told to assume that people liked you and that what you were doing was a good thing and to only question it and adapt if you received strong signals otherwise.
“this has helped me with confidence so i can walk into a crowded room and not be shy, through to assuming that my ideas are just as good as anyone else’s. but the importance is to avoid being brash with it and to make sure you value everyone else’s contributions equally.”
so what does watson believe is essential for successful retailing? you need to think about what the customer wants and what benefits them, she says.
“we like to add the personal touch such as nice packaging, handwritten notes with the orders and a follow up phone call about a month after purchase to make sure everything is okay.
“a lot of people seem to forget this very basic approach. we apply this to our wholesaling and are always customising to meet their needs. we have three different ways to display the products each suited to different retail preferences,” she says.
that doesn’t mean she hasn’t made mistakes along the way. when she first started la bella creations she originally organised the manufacture and importation of thousands of dollars of products from india without using an agent or going over there herself to supervise the process.
“none of the products were the same as the designs i sent over, none of them matched the samples exactly and none were suitable.”
with la bella creations being the australian success story it is, watson still has plenty of ambition left.
“i see la bella with our own accessories fashion show at australian fashion week, dedicated la bella sections in national baby and department stores and having expanded to provide strong fashionable jewellery for all women. i’d like our manufacturing to be kept in australia as much as possible.
“we have a 2011 goal list and a 2015 goal list that everyone has pinned up above their desk,” she says.
however, nothing is more important than the reason she started la bella creations in the first place—her kids.
“personally my highlights have been building a business where i can now pick up my children from school every day at 3pm and can volunteer for kindergarten reading without worrying about what my boss thinks.”