Em’s Story: Founding After Eight
This International Woman’s Day, we’re thrilled to be part of Her Black Book’s Festival Of Her, celebrating and supporting the women behind your favourite brands.
If you’ve ever wanted to go behind the scenes of building After Eight and hear about the ups (and downs!) of our founder Emma Petterwood’s journey, we’re sharing it all.
From why we call Tasmania home to turning obstacles into opportunities, plus the best business advice we’ve received.
1. When and how did you know your business idea was one you wanted to bring to life?
When I moved from Melbourne to Hobart in 2016 I was really surprised at the lack of beautiful fashion available here. Over the last five to seven years, Hobart has really established itself as the go-to destination for the best and next in food, art and culture, so there was a perfect After Eight-shaped style gap to fill. It’s also well known that sustainability and Tasmania go hand in hand, so basing After Eight here just made a lot of sense - especially given it was Tassie’s natural beauty that got me thinking about sustainable fashion in the first place.
2. What’s the most memorable piece of advice you’ve ever received about business, and who was it from?
Mid last year I was on a Zoom call with the former CEO of Kmart, Guy Russo, who was sharing his story about stepping into the world of retail after leaving the top job at McDonalds. He said that one of the things he needed to do to turn Kmart around was to learn from others who had paved the way before him. He researched the top 10 businesses in the same industry and reached out to each of their CEOs. The one who he really wanted to meet with was Paul Marchant, CEO of Primark, as he wanted to understand the DNA of selling clothing of which Primark was the golden egg. Guy wrote to him every six months – but it wasn’t until the third year that he finally wrote back and said “Let’s have breakfast tomorrow”.
Guy got on a plane from Sydney that morning to make the breakfast meeting with Paul in London the following day. Paul had no idea Guy lived in Sydney and asked over breakfast “So, where in London do you live?” The story goes on to be a great one but my key take out was to be persistent and learn from people who are smarter than you; those that have the secret sauce to what you are trying to achieve.
3. What are some of your favourite sources (books, podcasts, etc) to look for inspiration when it comes to business?
I’m currently reading Profit First by Mike Michaelowicz (and listening to Dare to Lead by Brene Brown on audiobook)
My go-to podcasts are:
1. Ten Percent Happier
2. Entrepreneurship Elevated
3. Wardrobe Crisis
4. What part are you most proud of yourself for bringing the brand to life?
Gosh, I’m really proud of all of it. Something that stands out to me is the calibre of brands I have brought to Hobart. It’s pretty significant; the designers you’ll find at After Eight are also stocked at luxury retailers including Matches Fashion and Net-a-Porter.
I won’t lie: starting a retail business in the middle of a pandemic was such an intense, interesting and challenging process. In fact, all of our brands' agents turned me away in the early stages of pitching! There were so many setbacks in the early days. It wasn't until I started to share the narrative about Tasmania and its true sustainability roots that doors started to open up and designers started to see my vision that Hobart was missing luxury, sustainable fashion. I’m proud of the resilience I had in these early days and that I didn’t stop until I had a yes.
Since launching After Eight, I’ve worked with incredible Tasmanian brands including the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and Francesca to bring their campaigns to life using sustainable fashion. We also collaborate with Tasmania winemakers, Frogmore Creek, who provide us with the sparkling that we serve complimentary to our guests. I see these as further examples of brands backing and believing that After Eight is part of the tapestry of the future Hobart.
5. What other female business leaders do you find inspirational?
I met one of the HBB founders, Julie, at a League of Extraordinary Women lunch back in 2015 and I remember feeling inspired by her Stylerunner story that I found the courage to chat to her at the end and gave her my business card (I was working on a tech start up at the time)... (Hi, again Julie!) I really have come full circle and I am incredibly grateful to be included in HBB’s Festival of Her.
I am so fortunate to have some incredible female mentors in my life, each of them inspires me in different ways – they’re a mix of mothers and entrepreneurs.
I’ve recently taken Guy Russo’s approach and started reaching out to female founders and leaders in retail/fashion that I’m inspired by and can learn from. I have two incredible women that I am currently working with.
6. What sacrifices did you have to make in order for your business to succeed?
How long do you have….
7. Female founders and their stories can be quite glamourised, was there ever a time you hit a roadblock - if so, how did you find the means to overcome it?
There is no building businesses without several roadblocks. For me it was all about attitude, persistence, finding solutions and celebrating the wins when they come. Two roadblocks that come to mind are:
#1 Each wholesaler I approached about the idea said great idea, come back when you have proven yourself… that was tough to hear repeatedly. My break came when I changed tact and instead of going for the wholesalers I pitched directly to the Founders/Designers. I felt that I could connect on that deeper, more personal level and I was right. The rest is history. The irony is I now work with every wholesale agent who said no to me.
#2 Launching during a pandemic was an interesting play I must say. I, like many, thought it would be over in a year but then faced Delta, Omicron etc etc and continuous lockdowns. Our online offering was suffering but our in-person events in Hobart were thriving, so I jumped on that opportunity to open our flagship showroom in Hobart. It has been the biggest blessing and one that would not have happened if I weren’t faced with the challenge of a slow start.
8. What are four must-haves from your brand right now?
Re/Done 90s High Waist Jeans
Esse Gathered Pant in Black
Albus Lumen Wrap Blazer
9. What’s your go-to work outfit?
I stick to the classics: a tailored trouser, white tank or tee and a well-tailored blazer.
10. What are three things we’ll always find on your desk?
A ceramic dish with an ‘E’ embossed – a gift from my first employee when I opened the Showroom.
Notepad and pen.
An enormous water bottle (lol) – I’m trying to drink 3L of water a day, it’s a challenge!
11. What is one trait or habit that you think has made you successful?
I look for opportunities in almost everything.