Celebrating 95 years in business, men’s accessories connoisseurs Buckle | 1922 are one of few Australian businesses that have survived the hard times throughout the GFC, Great Depression and WWII.
And there have certainly been some other challenges along the way – competing with fast fashion and keeping a traditional brand relevant in modern times.
As the name suggests, the company has operated since 1922 and was originally established by a father and son duo, Sandy and Alick Buckle. Fast-forward more than nine decades and the brand still handcrafts their accessories.
In 2013, General Manager Melissa Gibson along with the National Sales Manager, Warren Sanders, put forward a proposal to the fourth generation owners and purchased the business. Within six weeks, they became the proud owners of Buckle | 1922, now operating out of a 1000sqm factory in Stanmore in Sydney’s inner west with more than 25 employees.
How is Buckle | 1922 doing today?
Melissa says there’s always concerns about new international brands entering the market and selling fast fashion, however Buckle | 1922 have seen growth over the past two years which suggests that consumers are steering away from such brands and searching for quality.
“There’s definitely been a shift away from fast fashion with consumers becoming more aware and educated of the impact fast fashion has on an ethical and environmental level. You pay for what you get,” says Melissa.
“Economically, purchasing Australian-made product from Buckle | 1922 not only supports our company, but Australia’s local raw material suppliers – It’s a bit of a knock on effect. We need to purchase raw materials and consumables such as leather, thread and packaging using other Australian companies.”
Melissa says while Buckle | 1922 cannot compete with fast fashion on price, its target market is segmented by a consumer’s value set and the goal to support Australian-made quality.
“Unfortunately we can’t compete on a price with international imports, we would simply go out of business as our labour costs are substantially greater than products coming out of third world countries. Once again, everything comes back to qualities and guarantees. We stand behind our product and we have done so for 95 years.”
For example, a belt from Buckle | 1922 goes through 21 processes before it leaves the workshop with a team of 13 handcrafting the item.
“So, we stamp on the back of our belts the names of our craftspeople to remind consumers that their accessories are handcrafted in Australia,” says Melissa.
What is the secret behind Buckle | 1922’s longevity?
It’s been Melissa’s mission to implement the brand’s two growth strategies; one being focused on product development – building the brand to be the ‘one stop accessories shop’ with retailer support from additional product categories other than belts and braces. The second growth strategy was overseas expansion – in January 2018, the brand will be attending the INDX tradeshow in Solihull (near Birmingham UK).
Another key challenge for Buckle | 1922 has been maintaining the traditions of a 95- year-old business while staying relevant in the modern world.
Melissa says using updated colours and textures, something the business is always researching in local and overseas markets and tailoring to their customers, has been a key strategy to modernise the brand, as has updating the packaging to more sleek modern lines.
“The missing link was also to introduce product styles that were more relevant,” says Melissa.
“We didn’t want to neglect our traditional customers, so we have maintained a lovely range of traditional accessories. However, we also enhanced our range to include other categories that are more contemporary.
“Men’s fashion has become more open and differentiated. A couple of years ago, you wouldn’t have thought to consider categories such as lapel pins or pocket squares. These items were once reserved for a very small percentage of fashion confident men, now they are somewhat mainstream. It is good to see men’s fashion moving down this path.”