Women love shopping, so it should be a girl’s dream to be buyer for a cutting-edge alternative fashion house, especially one with the wide brief Little Red Vamp owner Belinda Marchant sets herself. But the reality for this 31-year-old entrepreneur is quite different. The hard work’s in the actual sourcing of a variety of quality goods, and price control. Once the stock’s in, it walks out the door.
I opened the shop, in the Galleria, last year, selling alternative clothing and accessories for guys, gals and kids – shoes, bags, jewellery, hosiery, belts, buckles, makeup, hair dye, art, magazines and more. The fit-out’s classy, opulent and edgy: red chaise longue, chandeliers, flock wallpaper, shag rug, gilt mirror – it’s hot! Our target market’s 12 to 40, but there’s items for everyone.
I moved to Port with my parents and two sisters in 1987, aged 10, when we started our family’s wholesale foods business. In 2001 my parents sold up and started a similar business in Melbourne, then retired here in 2007. I married my childhood sweetheart, James, who runs his own wholesale foods business now. We’ve been together 14 years. We all moved to Melbourne to start the business there. In 2005 James and I were married in Las Vegas. In the States we fell in love with a shop called Hot Topic and dreamed of having a similar store.
Starting it was a massive challenge. We saved, and borrowed from our families. After months of searching I finally found the right store. Decorating it was an eclectic task: locals did the painting, fitted the racks. Shelves, display cases and mannequins were bought online. A local supplier quoted 6-8 weeks for wallpaper: I ordered it from Germany; it got here in three days. I called four upholsterers for a leather panel: three wouldn’t give me the time of day. The fourth did a great job. Our signage was done in Wauchope; our logo and website were designed by a girl we went to school with, by email. Originally we picked the name The Red Lodge, a reference to Twin Peaks, but it was taken so we came up with Little Red Vamp.
Most of my buying’s done by internet, with stock coming from overseas. I look for anything that’s unique, different, falls within the alternative/rock category, doesn’t exist in Port, and is value for money. There aren’t many quality alternative suppliers so my wholesale price is much greater than for mainstream items. I’m always searching for new suppliers. I went to a retail expo in Melbourne but there wasn’t much there in alternative clothing. I really need to go to Las Vegas when they have an event there in February.
It can be scary buying stock: in the alternative genre there are no seasons or trends to follow, so you have to rely on your own eye. Probably my most unusual item’s been a straight jacket: padlocks all over it. I got one in to see how it went, people loved it, so I ordered a few more and they’re all gone now. I’ve had some vinyl underwear. I have some vintage-style dresses straight out of the 50s: flattering the curvy womanly shape, pure class, and a huge success. The biggest hurdle is correcting people’s perception that I’m an emo or gothic shop. That’s just a small part of what I do: I’m constantly evolving to keep people interested. I always stay within the alternative market, but mix it up a lot. The decline in the A$ was a bit of a setback for me, but it’s on the rise again now.
I’ve been surrounded by small business all my life, so I know it has its pros and cons. I work six days a week from 10 till 6 and do the bookwork for my husband’s business too. The best thing’s having to answer only to yourself; meeting people from different walks of life; seeing people wearing something I bought – that they loved enough to spend their hard-earned dollars on! The worst aspect is not much free time and being unable to go on holidays: we both run our own businesses and it’s difficult to get away together.
Businesswise, I’d love to open a few more LRVs in other places. My personal goal’s to buy our own place and start making babies. I may even look at producing my own LRV clothing label.’