Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Bel Sorrentino and I started a sustainable womenswear label called Sorrentino Studios
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I worked in high-end fashion, and was frustrated by the industry’s lack of transparency and care for the environment. I set out to create a label that offers statement high-end pieces, produced ethically and sustainably from conception to design to production, and ultimately to end use, to be cherished by customers.
The idea was to challenge fast fashion and overconsumption by ensuring all designs are well thought out and executed. My designs do not go on sale as it devalues the product, and I want to ensure people think about whether they really want the item before they purchase. This helps to reduce waste and ensures their piece will be treasured and looked after.
My label is centred around sustainability; premium dead-stock fabrics sourced in Melbourne, lovingly made in Australia, minimal-waste processes, recycled/compostable packaging, re-purposed off-cuts that are turned into toiles, a focus on local suppliers and natural, sustainable materials, are the initiatives I’ve implemented so far. In fact, each Sorrentino Studios purchase supports a supplier network spanning 10+ Australian companies – from Melbourne-based pattern makers to Australian-made care labels, stickers and swing tags, everything that can be sourced here is sourced here! In the interest of transparency, I have also listed my suppliers on the Sustainability page on my website.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I actually started my label in mid-2020 – on the cusp of Melbourne’s second wave of COVID. Funnily enough, it was the second wave that gave me the springboard to start my label, in the form of made-to-order masks. Initially these were just ordered through my Instagram DMs, but then demand grew to the point of being “website-worthy”.
Since I was in early primary school it was always my dream to start a label, and the popularity of my masks gave me the funds I needed to buy the fabric and patterns for my first collection ELEMENT 1.0.
The fact that I absolutely hated my job at the time as it didn’t align with my values was further incentive for me to use the extra time in Melbourne’s strict COVID lockdown to create a solid enough foundation to leave and commit to my own business.
I launched the collection in December 2020 and spent Melbourne’s extended lockdown in July 2020 to design, plan, source and produce my entire collection. I wanted all my sizes to be well executed so I outsourced my patterns and spent time working on the fit of each garment.
I then went on to collaborate with Aria-award winning photographer Michelle Pitiris (IG: @sheisaphrodite) to create my lookbook images, website shots and short film. The website was actually designed and created by my cousin who is a web designer. I started posting teasers onto Instagram and launched from there. I began getting orders right away. These began as friends, then moved onto word-of-mouth customers, and now I regularly sell to people I have no links to.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I found that Facebook ads is the best way to attract new customers to purchase, along with endorsement from previous customers. To retain customers I send a follow-up to check on how their piece is going. If you have a great product and create a great experience and genuinely care for them, it builds trust and a relationship, and I find they will likely come back to purchase again and again.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Covid has made customers rethink where they spend their money. I find that more people are wanting to purchase local, from small businesses and most importantly are wanting something sustainably made. Sales have been great despite the extended lockdown, as customers are at home and online shopping. The future holds a new collection, Element 2.0 which explores water, fluidity and gender, and I am targeting more wholesale orders.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have learned that people love to know your story and want more transparency into the businesses processes. It builds trust, appreciation and understanding behind the label.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use Shopify, Google Analytics, Google console, Facebook Ads, Instagram and will soon be launching into Tik Tok for my behind-the-scenes production videos.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The book “In the company of women” by Grace Bonney is an inspiring and empowering book about a diverse range of female makers, artists and entrepreneurs who give advice and insight into their lives and business. I believe it will encourage many women who are thinking about paving their own path.
A great podcast I’m currently listening to is “Grow a small business” by Troy Trewin which has weekly interviews with various business owners and provides great advice, inspiration and their journey to get where they are.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Take time to build your business, do it well and the customers will come!