Global Retail   //   July 2, 2024

Australian fashion brands are opening more U.S. stores & distribution centers

More Australian fashion brands are putting down roots in the U.S.

Bared Footwear, a Melbourne-based shoe brand, opened its first store outside Australia in New York in May. Princess Polly, an online fashion boutique popular with Gen Z, is set to celebrate one year of its California store and has three other U.S. locations in the works. And Camilla, a luxury brand from Bondi Beach, opened a boutique in New Jersey in February and plans to have an additional 12 to 15 U.S. stores over the next three years.

Australian fashion brands told Modern Retail they see immense opportunity in the U.S., which is larger than Australia and is ranked first in global GDP, while Australia is thirteenth, per the World Bank. Australian brands have long had an e-commerce presence in the U.S. — Camilla, for example, has had a U.S. website for nearly a decade — but now, more are looking to physical retail to boost their omnichannel business and connect with fans abroad. Some brands, like Princess Polly and the women’s fashion brand Outcast Clothing, are further investing in the U.S. market by setting up distribution centers in North America to serve their customers.

A complement to online

Bared Footwear, which podiatrist Anna Baird founded in 2008, has five stores in Australia and opened its first U.S. location this year to complement its growing online sales there. Digital is still the lion’s share of Bared Footwear’s business — 70% comes from e-commerce in Australia — but the brand is starting to take off more with American consumers, Baird told Modern Retail.

Initially, Bared Footwear hoped to open a store in Los Angeles but found an ideal site in Soho, a New York City neighborhood known for its high foot traffic and popularity with tourists. Some of the brand’s employees relocated from Melbourne to New York to manage the store, which Baird said was important for maintaining the same degree of customer service. Still, Baird hasn’t forgotten about California and hopes to target Los Angeles next.

“We know there’s a tremendous value in having a physical presence, so we’re definitely keen to scope additional locations as we track how consumers respond to the store in New York,” she said.

Camilla, an Australian luxury resort wear brand known for its colorful patterns and caftans, is also making physical retail in the U.S. a larger part of its growth plans. In addition to a website, Camilla has more than 20 boutiques globally and four in the U.S.: two in Florida, one in California and one in New Jersey. Camilla opened its first U.S. store in 2019 and its New Jersey store in February in Short Hills. Camilla is also sold via U.S. department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.

Right now, Camilla is looking to establish stores in areas “where we have an existing customer base and where we see potential,” Rebecca Mansergh, Camilla’s chief commercial officer, told Modern Retail. The brand is focusing, in particular, on Florida, Texas, New York, California and Georgia. Camilla will open a new location in Topanga, California in January 2025. Mansergh declined to share sales numbers for Camilla’s U.S. stores but said they are “performing well.”

Princess Polly, meanwhile, opened its first U.S. store in September 2023 in Century City mall in Los Angeles. In November, Ciaran Long, interim CEO of Princess Polly’s parent company A.K.A. Brands, said that the store had “profitable revenue generation” and a halo effect on Princess Polly’s e-commerce business. In addition, 30% of the store’s customers were new to the brand, Long said. A.K.A. Brands’ U.S. net sales grew 6% year over year during its first quarter ending in March.

Princess Polly does not yet have an Australian store and is mostly online. But in the U.S., the brand is already working on opening three additional stores: one in Scottsdale, Arizona; one in San Diego, California; and one in Boston. Those stores will be larger than the Los Angeles store and thus able to store more merchandise, including accessories.

“We want to… really make sure that we can get that full representation of our product mix and complete the outfit, which we’re so good at doing online,” Courtney Dres, Princess Polly’s chief merchandise officer, told Modern Retail.

Doubling down on distribution

Opening stores is only one part of the equation for international brands hoping to get into the U.S. market. On a practical level, these brands also have to make sure they are set up to quickly send items to those stores, replenish sizes and silhouettes of popular products and tailor items to follow trends. And doing all of that from Australia, thousands of miles away, can be expensive and time-consuming.

With that in mind, more Australian brands are opening North American distribution centers to cut down on shipping times, slash costs and store localized merchandise. One of these brands is Princess Polly. In 2018, Princess Polly opened a U.S. distribution center, and since then, the brand has had “very rapid expansion in the U.S. market,” Dres said. In fact, Princess Polly’s distribution center in the U.S. now has more stock than its distribution center on the Gold Coast of Australia.

Outcast Clothing, a women’s fashion brand founded in 2015, is opening a distribution center in Mexico in October in time for Black Friday. Unlike Princess Polly, Outcast Clothing does not have a permanent physical store in the U.S. Rather, it caters to the U.S. via its U.S. website, which it launched in 2023. Since then, the U.S. has made up 70% of Outcast Clothing’s business. The brand has also tripled its overall revenue since launching in the U.S.

Right now, shipping from Australia to the U.S. can take four to six days, Outcast Clothing CEO Lawrence Lees said. But a distribution center in North America can bring this down to one or two days, he explained. “All the operation is up [in the DC],” Lees said. “It’s just about moving stock in there. That’s obviously a massive process. We want to get to at least at 90% capacity.” Outcast Clothing is also considering opening a distribution center in San Diego, California.

Both distribution centers, Lees explained, could help with Outcast Clothing’s physical retail ambitions in the U.S. The brand held a three-day pop-up in Los Angeles in October, and “people lined up at 3 a.m. every day,” Lees said. “That was kind of our segue into whether physical retail is suitable for us. And we found that it definitely is.” Outcast Clothing is now eyeing a pop-up in Miami.

Pop-ups like Outcast Clothing’s can be a great way for brands to dip their toes into new markets like the U.S., Melissa Gonzalez, CEO of The Lionesque Group and principal at MG2, told Modern Retail. “I think there’s heightened expectations from the consumer around a pop-up, but they’re still more modified than from a permanent store,” she said. “So it gives brands a lot more runway.”

The equator equation

There are some nuances when it comes to buying patterns in the U.S. versus Australia. When it’s cold in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s warm in the Southern Hemisphere, and vice versa.

Australian fashion brands are finding different ways to navigate this shift. Bared Footwear, for instance, moved its Summer 2025 collection forward to offer it to U.S. customers first, in tandem with its New York store opening. “The range in the New York store is extensive, and while we don’t have every style there, what isn’t in the store is available online,” Baird said.

Princess Polly, meanwhile, has become “very good at flipping the seasonality on and off,” Dres explained. “We can choose what’s working right now in the Southern Hemisphere and use that as our reference point for what we book for the Northern Hemisphere.”

Doing this, Dres said, allows Princess Polly to work simultaneously on both collections. For example, Princess Polly is finding that lemon yellow is doing well. So, in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s using that color for summery dresses. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s using that color for cardigans. Red is also a popular color, so Princess Polly is using red for knitwear in the Southern Hemisphere and tops and shorts in the Northern Hemisphere. Leopard print is performing well on both sides of the equator, too.

A few years ago, Dres would have said that Australians were quicker to pick up trends. “We felt our Australian customers were much more trend-driven, whereas the U.S. customer took maybe a little bit longer to pick up on new trends,” she said. But, she told Modern Retail, that’s not the case anymore.

“We can really translate all of our trends for both seasons,” Dres said. “It’s just about making sure that the product itself is seasonally appropriate… I think that’s a reflection of the strong creative direction of brand identity that we’ve built.”