Founder / Her Wardrobe
There’s no denying it, fashion is a magnetic industry to be part of. The brands, the shoes, bloggers, muses and, spoken a little less about, the #girlbosses that sell, or in Alex Osmond’s case, lease the brands.
As we near the middle of the school year, most girls in Year 12 will be thinking ahead, to exams and even more so, to their school formal. The dreams of lust-worthy, designer gowns start to emerge and so too does the looming price tag. If this is the case then listening up girl, because today’s #careerstory is for you.
At the age of 25, Alex Osmond combined her love of business and fashion into a stylish collaboration and started Her Wardrobe – a dress hire business for women with a wardrobe full of clothes but nothing to wear. A true renegade of the time, Alex’s business grew rapidly and still continues to flourish today, with only the biggest brands on her books.
Today’s #careerstory takes us back to Alex’s school life at Mentone Girls Grammar in Melbourne, a school that
“She would go back to in a heartbeat”.
We also discuss why Alex gave up an acceptance to Melbourne University in favour of a fashion design course, but the real gold in today’s interview come from Alex’s candid nature and honestly as she opens up about her current role as founder of Her Wardrobe.
Nothing will inspire you more, at this very moment then this fashionista’s career trajectory. She is only warming up, trust us.
Let’s dive in…
Hi there Alex, can you tell us where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are and the career that you are in today?
I grew up in Aspendale (a beachside suburb in Melbourne) with my Mum, Dad and two sisters. Until I moved out a few years ago, I had lived in the same house my entire life. My parents ran a piano moving business for 25 years, often-working 6 or 7-day weeks. I remember spending countless school holidays building cubby houses out of piano boxes with my younger sister at the back of their warehouse. At the time, we would have done anything to be somewhere else. We used to whine, “not the stinking warehouse!” anytime Dad told us we had to go with them to work. Of course, now I can look back and see that witnessing my Mum and Dad’s determination and incredible work ethic day in, day out for 20 odd years undoubtedly gave me the foundation I needed to embark on my own business journey in 2012.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to Mentone Girls’ Grammar School in Melbourne. I absolutely loved my high school experience. Anyone who knows me well will have heard me confess that I would go back and do it all again in a heartbeat! I thrived in the academic environment and I had the best bunch of friends a girl could ask for. We got to hang out with each other every day for six years, with the only real burden hanging over our heads – that final ENTER (It’s now an ATAR) score.
Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and like any student, I struggled with the pressures and challenges that high school brings, but when I look back, the fun, often hilarious, exciting and joyous experiences far outweighed those that were hard-hitting.
That’s awesome that you loved your high school, it sounds like a great place. Did Mentone play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
Yes and no. Throughout secondary school I had greatly enjoyed the structure around study – I excelled in an academic environment and by the time my final years at school rolled around my teachers were encouraging me to pursue the traditional next step of a university degree.
However, one afternoon as I strolled around an exhibition showcasing all the courses offered by universities across Melbourne, I found myself stopped in front of a stall for the Melbourne School of Fashion reading through a flyer for a Certificate IV in Fashion Business. I had always really loved fashion, and my girlfriends would regularly raid my wardrobe anytime we had a special event, but without any real opportunity available to pursue it in the school environment I had never really considered a career in this field.
This flyer was the first opportunity I had ever come across to put my academic strengths to use in a world that I really loved. And just like that, I passed on an Arts Degree at Melbourne University and I enrolled in fashion school.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I completed a Certificate IV in Fashion Business at the Melbourne School of Fashion in 2009. I can honestly say that even at the point of enrolling I didn’t really believe it would lead to my ultimate career – I treated it a little like a gap year – a break from full-time study and a way to pursue something a little more creative. But, as you might have guessed by the end of the year I was in love with the idea of working in a fashion business. And for my final subject at fashion school, I wrote an 80-page business plan for a designer dress rental store.
Since 2009, I haven’t completed any “official” tertiary education, however; I did enrol in a business course with a group called The Entourage in 2014. They provided incredible support to help get Her Wardrobe off the ground. I learned everything from the best website design practice, to marketing tips right through to financial forecasting and how to hire your first employee. It was a really well-rounded introduction into everything you needed to know to run your own business – and it greatly excelled my first year in business.
Sounds like a really well-rounded course with heaps of practical learning. Let’s dive into jobs. Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
I was 19 when I completed my course at the Melbourne School of Fashion and despite having already conjured up the dream I am pursuing today – I didn’t feel I had enough experience to start my own business. So, I began working full time, first in retail at Peter Alexander (the pyjama store). Here I learnt a lot about the importance of branding and spoiling the customer. Peter Alexander was all about a luxury bedtime experience and this was communicated first and foremost through his store design, but also through things like their packaging, which were adorned with a picture of Peter’s pet sausage dog wearing a little bow collar. I now know these bags must have cost a fortune, but they were iconic and spoke volumes to the experience he wanted to create for his customers.
I then worked as an office manager for a co-working space in Melbourne, where I met a lot of fantastic people who inspired me to follow my dream of running my own business. When I launched Her Wardrobe in 2014 I took a part-time admin role at a company called Mexia Consulting. It was here that I saw first hand how incredibly important culture was to a fast-growing business. My boss Mat taught me so much about what it takes to run not just a profitable business but also a business that inspires and cares for its employees. I was really fortunate to have the support of my colleagues as I started to create my own business.
How did you get the job that you are in now?
In 2011 whilst working as an office manager in Melbourne, I reconnected with a lecturer I had at fashion school and together we began working on building a designer dress rental store.
For 3 and 1/2 years I continued to work part time whilst spending every other waking hour building my dream business. Unfortunately, from the get go we were faced with many obstacles. Our first web developer bailed half way through the website build forcing us to engage a new development firm and start again from scratch. And as time went on new business ideas were introduced and what had started, as a pretty simple dress rental business became a monstrous fashion platform that would house fashion news, career advertisements and even a directory for fashion creatives.
I watched on as my business partner’s existing business prospered while our dress rental dream stayed stagnate in a mess of horrid design, dysfunctional web development and a mish-mash of ideas that deep down I had no real passion for.
As we neared the 3-year mark, now 23 years old, I realized I needed to take the reigns and push forward with the business if it was ever going to get off the ground. Sadly, this was not a move my business partner was willing to support and despite her having little to no time to invest in our business she remained adamant a 50/50 partnership was the only way forward.
Before long the partnership soured and I was forced to spend the next 3 months fighting for a business I had invested the past 3 years of my life into. Sadly, I did not win the fight and in fact I can still remember the very morning I made the extremely tough decision to walk away and sign over my rights to the business to her.
In that moment I went from a budding entrepreneur building a fashion business to a 23-year old with no university degree and a part time job in an office with the business partner I just cut all ties with. It was the most defeated I have ever felt.
I spent the proceeding few months considering what to do next – I thought about going back to full-time study, or pursuing another business idea but nothing felt as “right” as the dress rental business I had dreamt up back in 2009. And so, just like that I registered a new business name, uploaded 20 of my own designer dresses on Facebook and Her Wardrobe was born.
What is the hardest part of owning your own business?
Gosh where do I start! I think the hardest part is maintaining the belief that all the hard work is going to pay off. There’s a quote that floats around social media a lot that says
“do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Well, the truth is when you do what you love you often end up working 12 hour days, 7 days a week, with little to no tangible reward. And whilst I do absolutely love what I do, there are days when just like everyone else I don’t want to get out of bed and go to work – and it’s in those moments you have to rally all your inner strength to keep going, because at the end of the day the only person you’re going to let down is yourself.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
This question is always so tricky because I can honestly say it changes so much from one day to another! I wake up at around 6.30am so that I can walk my dog before heading over to the warehouse I run Her Wardrobe from. The first thing I try to do each morning is reply to all customer emails from the night before. By 10am I will usually have my first customer fitting. I have anywhere from 2 – 6 customers come through each day to try on dresses in our showroom.
In between these appts I will pack online orders and get them all ready to go out in the post run at 3pm. At lunchtime our dry cleaning is delivered and this gets unpacked, inspected and put back on the racks so it is ready to go out for the next customer. In the afternoons I will often attend to last minute dress requests, check all deliveries are running on time, and try and do some marketing activities such as our email newsletter, Facebook posts, blog posts or anything else that might be on the agenda.
Between 6pm – 7pm I might have a few more customers come through for fittings before I tidy up the showroom and head home for the day. On more exciting days I might get to visit a designer and see their new collection or spend the whole day on set shooting new pieces for the website – it varies a lot day to day.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
My Mum. I know it’s a bit of a cliché but she is a super woman! She had my eldest sister when she was 18, and shortly there after moved from the country to Melbourne to build her a better life. In 1991 (the year I was born) together with my Dad she founded a piano moving company which went on to move over 150 pianos across Melbourne every week!
Despite frequently working six days a week, she raised three daughters, built a beautiful home, put dinner on the table every night, attended every school concert, sport day, or piano recital we ever had and told us each and every day that if we dreamed big and worked (really) hard we could have everything we ever wanted. She has been there every step of the way throughout my own business journey, and I know for a fact I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
The thing about running your own business is there is no real “course” or set of steps that if you follow will guarantee success. I think the best advice I can give is if you have ever dreamt of running your own business – seek out as much education as you can. School, university, online courses, business books and even YouTube will all aid your business journey. And then even if you don’t feel like you have enough “experience”, do it anyway. I have learned the most from just digging my heels in and having a go!
Tell us your favourite resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration.
- Favourite Blogs or Websites: marieforleo.com, ted.com, inspacesbetween.com, stylerunner.com, and net-a-porter.com
- Books: Unprofessional by Jack Delosa, The One Thing by Gary Keller, Girl Boss by Sophia Amoruso
- People: Lisa Messenger, Sophia Amoruso, Natalie Massenet, Rachel Zoe, Jenny Fleiss & Jennifer Hyman, founders of Rent the Runway
- Others: Instagram is my bite-size, convenient, quick daily dose of inspiration. I get SO many of my ideas for marketing, fashion trends, new designers or just general business tips and tricks from social media.