When you are an emerging independent fashion label, building your profile and getting in front of potential people, who appreciate and love your product, is hard. About a year and a half ago, a gorgeous entrepreneur reached out to me and said she had a new project she wanted Hills & West to be part of it.
Meet CEO and co-founder of Lustr, Angela Liang. Angela and her co-founding teammates Liliana Ructtiger and Jeremy Vista, had this dream to create a platform that curated the ultimate, independent Australian label ensemble for their users. It was a platform created for the fashionista that wanted to support local, independent, or sustainable fashion, have the ability to pre-order new designs and have recommendations based on their preferences. We had the pleasure to chat with Angela and ask her about her unique and innovative fashion-tech start up. She tells us about what inspired each of the founders to go off into the unknown and make something for not only themselves, but others. Now, you know this is what Hills & West is all about 🙂
1. How did Lustr come about?
I co-founded Lustr with Liliana Ructtinger and Jeremy Vista in 2016. The idea for Lustr was born out of frustration. As a stylist, I was working with so many talented independent labels, I ended up hearing the same problems over and over again. It was clear that these labels lacked the resources and marketing reach (let alone budget!) to compete against large brands and fast fashion. They needed a better way to be discovered by their target market and to understand their shoppers in a more analytical way, in order to actually grow their sales. Labels also needed a way to de-risk their business, combat their eternal issues with cashflow and the difficulties of forecasting what was going to sell, well ahead of production – which itself constantly leads not only chasing their upfront inventory investment, but also contributes to the ever-growing problem of textile waste.
2. What is your vision? Why local independent designers?
Our mission is to help independent labels grow by matching them directly to shoppers who suit their style and values.
Right now, even if shoppers are interested in supporting independent, local or sustainable fashion, it’s just so much easier for them to go downstairs from their office and pop into Zara. We want to make it even easier (and more fun) for them to immediately discover and support Australia’s wealth of independent design talent.
3. Who are the people behind Lustr?
Each of us comes from a totally different background and brings a unique set of skills to the business. I used to be in mergers and acquisitions – but in an effort to regain my soul, I left the investment banking scene to pursue my creative passions. I ended up establishing myself as a creative director and stylist. Liliana’s background is in social research and technology R&D (including 6 years in Silicon Valley), and Jeremy is our wizard tech developer who is behind all the code and algorithms of Lustr (at one point he had Australia’s highest IQ. I know, right?!).
We came together through serendipity and a startup hackathon, which we ended up winning, and then went through a pre-accelerator that saw us on a whirlwind journey through Silicon Valley. We’ve become family and are constantly finding the balance between personal and startup life together!
4. Name some of the brands in the Lustr family and how you discovered them?
Some of the Lustr family labels are designers who I have known personally through my styling work. Among them are some of my favourite independent labels: Extraordinary Ordinary Day (unique footwear), The Rushing Hour (eco-conscious minimalist luxe) and of course, Hills & West (honest!) – all of which are founded by strong women I now consider friends.
Other labels have found us themselves, or we have connected with via fashion events and the Australian Fashion Council. We personally love Adelaide labels Millicent Elizabeth and Autark for Australian-made style that manage to strike that difficult balance between being uniquely fashionable, but still timeless for long-term wearability.
5. For the techies…tell us a bit about the technology?
Functionally, Lustr is an online business-to-consumer (B2C) platform for independent fashion labels.
Our artificially-intelligent “virtual personal stylist” understands a shopper’s personal preferences and matches them to independent labels that suit their style and values.
We also have a focus on crowd-sourcing consumer sentiment from their target market. For example, during VAMFF 2018 we ran a voting campaign in conjunction with the Australian Fashion Council in order to expose a select group of designers to a wider audience, as well as to find out which outfits the public “liked”, “disliked” and “favourited” – which resulted in over 18,700 product votes; valuable data these designers might not otherwise have access to.
6. Any tips for people who want to start their own online platform?
We swear by the Google Design Thinking models, and principles of service design. Know your audience and your competitive landscape (research, research, research, then keep researching some more after you’ve launched). Make sure you’re solving a problem. Test and iterate. All the usual startup hype words, but there’s truth to it all. If your vision is genuine, then the community will form around you. For us, the team is the most important thing.
7. What does the future hold for Lustr?
At the heart of it, we want to use technology to democratise the access to fashion. We are now working on some interesting developments in the physical world; as much as the internet is great for discovery and scale, fashion consumption will always be heavily rooted in the real world. People want to touch, feel and try on…especially if it’s an item that is in a mid to high price range. Watch this space!
Getting personal about the people behind the fashion marketplace…
8. The ultimate day would look like…
Every day is different! A productive day would be one or two meetings, some solid hours working in the office (a great co-working space in Ultimo), and gathering all the co-founders in the evening to go through whatever we need to work on together.
Although now I’m based in Melbourne half the time, so swap out “the office” for any café with wifi, and “gathering” with Google Hangouts.
9. Favourite designers, bloggers and Instagrammers?
I’m terrible, I personally don’t follow bloggers and Instagrammers – we “watch” a bunch for work, but for me, it’s mainly just friends! I’m always watching and loving work from my dear friend and uber talented photographer Cybele Malinowski, and our beloved fashion industry advisor Amy Farrell aka the Fashion Futurist. My favourite designers for classic wearability are the Carla Zampatti / Bianca Spender family. I’m also a sucker for anything Adidas brings out. Lastly, Extraordinary Ordinary Day are the best Australian footwear brand. My silver Ecstasy Loafers are a wardrobe staple.
10. What 5 items can you not live without?
Google Pixel phone, Lenovo laptop, white sneakers, a huge quilted tote bag I bought in Warsaw (it’s my Mary Poppins bag – everything goes in there), my partner’s black puffy Patagonia jacket that I’ve commandeered for myself.
Bonus question… What’s your favourite Hills & West accessory and why?
I’m tossing up between a classic and an exciting new product. The classic is the Bucket Bag. The gold lining is super clever (it provides a reflective surface to light up the inside of the bag – genius!) and the drawstring is so aesthetically pleasing. The new product I am in love with is the Lenny Chevron Belt Bag. I recently spent 3 weeks in Europe at a festival, exploring new cities and sailing coastlines, and throughout the entire trip I was all about the bum-bag. It’s so handy! The Lenny is the classier version.
Wow, are you not inspired now. Angela and the team have been so wonderful to Hills & West. Not only are we reaching new audiences we are about to embark on VIP shopping nights so our audiences can get up close and personal with the products behind Lustr.
How brilliant is it that you can work with such genuine and inspirational people!