Jo Mercer launches Matilda Life with a bold vision for Australian made products
Entrepreneur Jo Mercer has the bold vision of reinvigorating Australian manufacturing by creating a new, thoroughly Australian brand that celebrates high quality, locally made products at a fair price.
That brand, Matilda Life, launched this week with a curated selection of sustainably made women’s clothing, accessories, shoes and perfumes.
A major player in the Australian shoe industry, Mercer began working on the concept for Matilda Life after heading Myer’s shoe, handbag and accessories division for 12 years and more than a decade after leaving her eponymous shoe label.
Together with former Myer colleague and now business partner Lauren Mastromanno, Mercer had firsthand insight into the challenges facing small Australian manufacturers, some of which had to shut down during the pandemic. At the same time, however, the duo have seen healthy demand from Australian buyers for purchases of Australian-made items.
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Speak with SmartCompany About Zoom, Mercer said this week that this led to the concept for the Matilda Life business, which she believes will create local jobs and help small businesses in the industry recover from the effects of the pandemic.
“It’s really sad that we don’t have so many categories now, but when you talk to consumers and read the surveys, Australians really want to buy Australian-made products,” she says.
Mercer says Matilda Life is 100% committed to making all of its products in Australia and will not be abandoning that commitment.
Matilda Life’s supply chain consists of small, specialist manufacturers such as leather shoe manufacturer Anna Fiori in Melbourne, founded in 1969, which has now reopened its factory for Matilda Life; and Loop Leather Co, which has been making leather accessories for 30 years.
Melbourne denim maker Vince Clothing has also made some of the first Matilda Life range of clothing, while the brand’s fragrances are also made in Melbourne by Metascent.
Mercer, the majority shareholder in the new company, used her 30 years of fashion experience to find the right manufacturing partners, some of whom she describes as “niche companies” that have withstood the significant changes in Australia’s manufacturing industry over the past two decades .
Mercer says it is also committed to helping local businesses along the supply chain where possible. The brand’s organic cotton jersey is knitted in Melbourne, the leather of the shoes is tanned in Queensland, the packaging boxes are made in Melbourne and the stationery is printed in Sydney.
The support also extends to a partnership between the brand and the local Buy Aussie Now marketplace, the founded in 2020 by Mitch Catlin.
Although Mercer recognizes that making all Matilda Life products locally can make the brand’s prices higher than others, she says the company is committed to offering a âfair priceâ that values ââthe craftsmanship and skill that goes into include the manufacture of products such as leather shoes.
“I am passionate about the fact that we have great skills in this country … Our workforce may be a bit bigger, but we have the skills.”
It also means Matilda Life’s margins are âsmallâ on products like shoes, Mercer says, but again it harks back to their overarching vision of creating high quality, locally made products that support the Australian industry.
With a current team of 10 working on the business, Matilda Life will initially sell directly to consumers, but Mercer hopes to build a wholesale branch for the business over time once the supply chain is fine-tuned.
The first Matilda Life range was fully funded by Mercer and its business partners, and they plan to raise additional capital in 2022 to expand into other categories such as men’s clothing, a children’s range and housewares.
Mercer has “worked in small companies, started my own, and worked in large companies,” says Mercer that the successful brands have a clear purpose.
“What do you want to stand for? Be absolutely uncompromising, âshe says when asked for advice for other entrepreneurs.
“Second, make sure that you are not afraid to spend some money and take the time to become profitable.”
Taking this risk can be daunting, but Mercer says it will help to have a deep understanding of who your customers are.