How To Stay Agile and Versatile (Even When You’re Big)


This international brand gets candid with us.


You’ve just stepped inside a store. If you didn’t know where you were, you could be excused for thinking you’d stumbled into a trendy inner-city gift boutique that’s all lush Turkish towels, solid marble bowls and brass serving utensils.

But no, you’re in a Cotton On store.

The Australian fashion giant has become just that – a giant – demonstrating that fast, on-the-pulse fashion can be key to staying competitive in a trend-focused industry. Its latest expansion? Homewares.


But like many powerhouse labels – think Nike, H&M and Louis Vuitton – the Cotton On Group kick-started from humble beginnings. Founder Nigel Austin started his entrepreneurial journey at the local markets in rural Victorian town Geelong selling acid wash denim – it was the ’80s, after all.

Upon this first attempt to sell his merchandise, the then-university student realised that despite the quality of product, a lower price point was what guaranteed his market stall to become a success; an intuition that lead Nigel to open the doors of his first retail store just three years later.


As the brand forges ahead, growing bigger and faster each year, we picked the brain of Melbourne-based homewares veteran and CO:Home Brand Manager, Vanessa Ross. Here’s what she had to say about what it really takes to make product that becomes the heart of homes around the world, and on staying agile and versatile no matter how big a business grows.

Anticipate the needs of your customers

“A big part of my role is anticipating what our customers want and reacting quickly to provide them with on-trend, high-quality pieces at affordable price points. We think big but make sure we’re agile enough to move with trends and gaps in the market.”

Keep your key vision pillars strong 

“Having a strong vision and purpose that is supported by values which empower our staff and product is a big part of what makes Cotton On so powerful. Your purpose, vision and values should always be at the heart of your brand and inform everything that you do. My advice to emerging brands would be to find your space. What sort of brand do you want to be and who is your customer? Figuring that out creates a natural connection between you and your audience, and you can pitch from there.”

Know the detail of your customer

“Beyond the initial stages, relying on data, actual sales and customer profiling to inform decisions will be very valuable. Businesses can, and should, evolve.”


Want to start your own homewares range?

We asked Vanessa for her four must-know tips…

1. Build strong relationships. Work with suppliers you trust and have a good relationship with.

2. Start small. Start with a supplier that will manufacture a few goods to get you started. You don’t need to over-commit on stock to get a good read on what the customer wants. Once you have this insight, you’ll then be able to buy more strategically.

3. Never underestimate the value of looking good. Invest in great photography for your product. It will help to set your tone, appeal to customers and keep your social media feed beautiful and consistent with your brand’s look and feel.

4. Everything counts. Focus on the details. Packaging and labels are so important these days. You can have a lot of fun with them and they really add to the brand experience.


Still operating on the smaller side? Here’s how how to launch a pop-up store. 

Nicole Webb

Staff Writer Collective Hub

Nicole is a Sydney based writer, who’s previously written for Harper’s Bazaar and Elle Australia. She has mused about everything from the world of haute couture, the Sydney music scene and newly founded start-ups.


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