Working from the living room of a good friend, Julia Ritorto and Kathryn Forth set their sights on designing a new fashion brand using quality fabrics and finishing.
In 2014 their first brand ‘Acler’ was born, boasting four womens collections a year to the wholesale market in both Australia and the US.
Prioritising hand draping and clever design, Julia and Kathryn sought to keep the customer at the centre of all they designed.
Starting a business as young women, however, had its challenges and at times they had to work harder to prove their legitimacy as serious businesswomen.
“We had to push on and prove that this wasn’t a little side hustle, that in fact this was something we’d put a lot of time and energy into strategising, and had every intention on turning this into a success,” Julia shared.
“Unfortunately, these obstacles tend to compound when women from minorities are approaching the same challenges Kath and I have overcome.
“There are some amazing trailblazers in the industry, breaking down obstacles for the women that follow, but we are excited to see how broader systemic and societal changes to women's perceived value in business will open doors for more incredible women to find success.
“We have been quite fortunate as here in Australia, and in fashion, we’re operating in an industry where women have a stronger representation, especially in leadership roles and as fellow business owners.”
Finding their stride as respected business owners and fashion designers, the women said there is still a long way to go to encourage greater participation of women in business.
“As much as we’ve progressed, unfortunately there’s still an inherent belief from some, that men’s roles in the workplace hold more value and importance than women’s, especially once we have children,” Julia said.
“As a business-owning, full-time working mum, I still find I get a look of confusion and pity when I tell others that I work full time and that I work long hours.
“There is still an expectation that women should be the ones to pull back from the workplace instead of asking ourselves and our partners if other work/life models would better serve us and our families. I’d personally like to see a shift towards 50/50 parenting and more flexibility in the workplace to cater for that.”
The company has now grown to include a second fashion brand, ‘Significant Other’, with a new offering to meet the needs of slightly different demographics.
“Whilst Acler has remained true to its origins of design, the product has evolved overtime as we’ve grown and developed a strong following in Australia, the USA and the Middle East,” Julia said.
“Where Acler is focused on modern feminine design, Significant Other celebrates Australia’s ‘beach to bar’ culture with a more casual resort-wear aesthetic.
“Having two brands allows us to cover a broader demographic. It also gives us a bit of a testing ground, where we can try one strategy with one brand and another with the other brand. This has been particularly important when testing digital strategies and has allowed us to make data-led decisions with our digital marketing platforms.”
Looking back over eight years of operating, the women reflect on the factors that contributed to the success of the business.
“Another factor that played a major role in our overall business success is that we chose our home-base in Adelaide,” Julia said.
“This has allowed us to maintain our focus without getting caught up in industry noise. As fashion is a smaller industry in South Australia, we’re able to keep talent in the state by creating a strong culture and flexible working environment. This also means we’ve been successful at retaining our talent.
“My mantra since day one: ‘Never Give Up’.
“It was given to me in the context that the fashion industry is a cut-throat industry, and that as a new entrant I’d experience as many shattering lows as incredible highs.
“We’re coming up to celebrating eight years in business and reflecting on those really tough early days, where it was just the two of us working in a borrowed front room day and night... I’m so proud we never gave up.”