Carolina Giraldo had a vision to bring clothing and accessories that had been handmade by artisans in her native Columbia to Australia. And it seems Australians quickly recognised quality over mass-produced fashion. What started as a few belts and bags quickly grew into a ”lifestyle label made with love” that now has distribution in stores all around Australia.
Carolina Lifestyle has become the go-to store to head to for clothing, accessories and gifts that are “versatile in function, good quality, well priced and unique against excessive mainstream productions”. As a result they have a massive fan-base. We asked Carolina about life behind the popular label and how she found success in the fashion industry.
What is your background?
“I’m originally from Colombia, South America and migrated to Australia in 2003 to complete an Undergraduate Degree in Business and later a Master Degree. I married a Kiwi/ Australian entrepreneur in 2014, Jamie, and we have two beautiful children, Sebastian age 3 and Camila 8 Months.”
How did Carolina Lifestyle come about?
“When I completed university in 2009, I set out to study fashion retail and took the opportunity to complete a course in London. Upon returning in 2010 I wanted to combine my passion for sales and fashion along with my lifelong entrepreneurial ambition and start Carolina Lifestyle.”
What was the intention behind starting Carolina Lifestyle?
“My vision at the time was a vertically integrated business model to produce leather and clothing in my native Colombia. Supporting artisan workers I’d known since I was a child, and subsequently bringing these high quality, affordable products to Australia as a new lifestyle brand.”
How has Carolina Lifestyle evolved from the first store?
“The evolution of the business has been quite profound. Given the business was being boot-strapping, we started out with a distribution model for the first few years and then decided to start selling via a ‘kiosk’ retail concept in Westfield Bondi Junction. The kiosk concept worked well, and we expanded rapidly which led to investing more in our online store. In 2017, we decided to open our first flagship store in Neutral Bay, which was very successful in showcasing the full lifestyle range. Fast forward to 2020, and now we have transitioned all our kiosks to full retail stores across 8 locations in Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle and have a thriving online business, supported by a community of over 60,000 highly engaged members.”
Where are Carolina Lifestyle’s clothing and accessories made?
“Carolina Lifestyle has a large range of clothing, leather accessories, shoes, hats and giftware. 90% of our products are manufactured by hand in Colombia – South America. Here we have a large team of artisans who translate all of our designs into beautifully handmade products for our very special customers.”
What is most important to you in your business journey?
“As a company and lifestyle brand, the most important thing for me was to produce beautiful versatile pieces that our customers love, but also support our artisan workers in Colombia. In a world of mass-produced products from China and other places, the art of handmade is not widely supported. We feel very proud to support our beautiful team, who to some degree represent an artform which is fast becoming a unique skill. On the personal front, the most important thing for me was to achieve freedom, so I could be independent and have more time with my young family.”
What do you think is behind the amazing success of Carolina Lifestyle?
“That is a good question. I think at the heart of the success, it is the quality and uniqueness of our products. We differ with how it is produced and by whom it is produced. Customers are so savvy with their purchase decisions and want to feel a connection to a brand and its beliefs especially as it relates to the origins of the product. We also create collections and clothing which look beautiful in all sizes. They are wash and wear garments and multi-purpose for any occasion. Lastly, we have spent a lot of intentional effort to engage with our customers and include them in our journey by listening to their feedback in the creation of our ranges.”
What has that success meant for you?
“Well, in the context of the business, creating something sustainable that people love is incredibly gratifying. All I wanted was to be my own boss, and create pieces that customers love, and we achieved that. But for those reading this, it was hard work, it took me and my team 10 years of a lot of blood, sweat and tears to achieve. Nothing comes easy and so I feel very grateful that the hard work has paid off and that the positive outcome is a growing business, amazing team and loyal customers. So, a big thanks once again!”
What is the greatest challenge in your business and how do you overcome this?
“Without a doubt it’s COVID. Imagine being faced with a forced drop of around 90% of your revenue for an unknown period of time. It was quite stressful, and on top of that I was expecting my second child in April, so we knuckled down as a team and used it as a opportunity to re-think our business model, which is what led us to convert our kiosks into stores and spend more creative energy on our online store. The reality is, we’re very grateful for our customers who helped us get through that period. Without their support it would not have been possible.”
What’s next for Carolina Lifestyle?
“Well, based on customer demand, we will seek to open up more stores in key locations, such as Brisbane in 2021. We will look to expand our operations in Colombia and new product ranges that are aligned to our lifestyle label.
Is there anything else that you would like the community to know?
“Yes, to our valued community, a huge thank you for your support once again. You have helped us to keep many workers employed in Australia and Colombia during the recent tough times. Which for some is the difference between eating and not eating. So on behalf of all the Carolina Lifestyle team we are incredibly thankful.”
Carolina Lifestyle, Warringah Mall Boutique
M. 0406 943 967
A: Condamine St & Old Pittwater Rd, Brookvale
(Ground Level, opposite Angus & Coote)
For other Carolina Lifestyle store locations, please click here