From Checklists to Happy Hours, Sarah Saxty's Road to Success

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Our FemmBoss today shares her journey through launching and operating her DTC handbag brand, OVERT, made for the modern woman. Sarah Saxty is inspirational on so many levels, a generous and brilliant woman, evidenced in her very clear step by step approach to building her brand, outlined below. I have asked a few questions, best suited for those who are thinking of going it on their own, and could use a bit of #inspo or #realitycheck.

 

Can you please introduce yourself?

I’m Sarah - most people call me Sax or Saxty which is my last name. A lot of who I am is evident in my brand, OVERT – both on the aesthetic front and in my lifestyle and interests. Being creative, working out, drinks with friends, eating good food, exploring and travelling, learning new things – working and laughing. I have always been a pretty determined person and I thrive on diversity in my day to day and progression (or good coffee and wine).

 

Did you always want to start a company?

My first recollection of retail business, goes back to being a child and pretending I had a fashion line with my cousin. She was the model and I would be the person that runs the shop and designed the clothes. I used to make a pretend enterprise out of basically every activity at home, playing “shops” with my mum and little brother as the customers buying things from me in the kitchen, or creating movie tickets and pop corn to “sell” for our family movie nights. So I guess, it’s been inside of me for awhile…

I truly love the concept of a “brand” and an authentic, clever brand DNA. Building something from the start, I love the challenges it brings, but mostly I love the unknown, being able to take something I’m passionate about and build it from zero.

I also love bringing people together, I’m a natural connector and it gives me so much satisfaction to see relationships go beyond an introduction that I make so OVERT really fulfills that part of my personality too.

 

Tell us a bit about your career trajectory. 

I come from a career designing and producing bags for multi million dollar fashion retailer in Australia, so had the advantage of understanding technical construction and production when creating our first product, The Noho Bag.

After school I wanted to find something that would combine my creativity, with business and numbers, so literally selected the job “Buyer” from the careers library in Adelaide, South Australia library. I did everything in my power to get there over the next 5 - 8 years. I started out on the retail shop floor, and progressed into manager roles with a popular streetwear boutique fashion retailer. We sold Gripp Jeans' “sandblast superflares”, Royal Elastics sneakers, Libertine leather cuffs and many more things that would probably be RIGHT on trend again now!

To cut a long story, I ended up progressing into HQ after moving to Melbourne, with another fashion portfolio group and worked my way through there before being asked to join the company I was at before I started OVERT, Forever New.

I moved to New York working for them, but in a new role I had created in Trend Research and Market Analysis. This allowed me to really dive deep into the US retail culture and consumer trends over the following 3 years, and at the same time, launch OVERT. Eventually I switched to focus mostly on OVERT and work on freelance projects with other emerging brands to pay the bills and support my lifestyle.

 

How did you come up with the idea for Overt?

My Co-Founder and I started to recognize how busy our lives were in the City. It’s not rare to leave your apartment at 7am and not get home until 1am that night. One day, we listed all the things we do in a day and what we carried around with us in our multiple bags – it was excessive and ridiculous! We spent time studying people on their commute in the subway and saw that it wasn’t just us. We knew then there had to be a better way and that we wanted to create products that allowed the ‘City girl’ to transition from day to night with style and practicality.

We launched with the intention of connecting all of the kick-ass women in the city that we often meet, and have OVERT be their common factor. We have been able to do that with authentic connections and storytelling on our digital platform Follow The Girl.

We started with some market research, seeing what was on the market already and identifying our gap. Then we literally took a pile of “daily essentials,” which was exactly what we wanted this bag to carry to get our base dimensions. Then we considered the places you’d go with it, the office, the gym, yoga, a date, a party, traveling and how it needed to look. I started sketching the design and contemplating ways to make this bag truly unique and the ultimate tool for city living.

From there we started googling! Sourcing materials, hardwares, factories in New York, and literally hit the pavement. Countless days were spent running around the garment district from one weird little factory and shop to the other until we had everything we wanted, and a factory in Brooklyn to make our sample. It was essentially perfect from the beginning which is helpful! We actually both nearly cried when we first saw it, it was like our baby being born! We carried it home on the train so proudly.

We made a few changes and then proceeded with our first order. The entire process from ideation to our first sale was about 8 months, which is really quick considering our resources.

 

Can you talk us through your supply chain and what’s it’s been like setting that up?

Hard work and LOTS of research. We spoke to other entrepreneurs and starts up we had met for recommendations and really made sure that we understood all of the variations of what was out there before making the decision. This will be one of your biggest expenses.

 

How did you decide what platform to build your e-commerce site on?

Again, when we started out the “build a brand” thing wasn’t AS accessible as it is now, there are so many tools it’s really pretty out of the box. But we originally looked at WIX, which we quickly realised was not customizable enough for what we wanted to achieve.

So we went with Squarespace, they were the leader at that time for beautiful templates and pretty easy to learn coding. Shopify wasn’t as aesthetically developed at that point. After the first year we migrated and redesigned a site on WordPress to cater for the launch of our digital content, since we are so heavy on digital media publishing we needed something to support that, AND commerce. I don’t think Shopify has still really mastered a nice looking blog component for their templates. It all requires coding and customisation, which is expensive!

 

Take us through a typical day for you.

A perfect start to my day, is waking up naturally before my alarm, around 6:45/7 next to my wonderful husband and best friend. Working out together, outside in the park if it’s sunny and sitting down for a 10-15 min meditation.

I try to not look at my phone for messages, emails etc before I officially start the day - which will be when I’m showered and ready to go as if I was going to the office, and sitting at my dining table at home with a coffee, and have planned out my day in my Self Journal. I also try to listen to the NYT The Daily podcast while I’m getting ready.

I love a good list, so I start making my way through emails, that could be from customers, our fulfilment centre, my interns and people I’m networking with to arrange meetings etc. I operate the entire business, so really it could be anything from social media planning, to planning a marketing event and thinking about new products.

The best day is one where I have a good amount of computer time to feel on top of things, but also a couple of great meetings with inspiring people to break up the lonely days on my own! And ends with a happy hour with some girlfriends or a new connection and a healthy dinner at home on the sofa with my husband, usually planning out something exciting together, a trip for the summer, a weekend away, social activities with friends, goals for our life...there’s always something.

 

You make this sound so approachable! What have been the challenges of starting your own company?

Cutting through the noise has been a challenge, since we started it seems like “starting a brand” has become a real trend. Especially with the popularity of “instagram brands”. Consumers are shopping in such a different way, I’m glad we always had the mission to be a “friend” brand because they are the ones that are surviving right now. It’s hard to go back if you don’t establish that in the first place.

Keeping up with trends is another challenge (again, mostly due to digital enhancements), and with that comes the tough decision making - what is the “right” thing to do? What will give the best ROI, what will move the needle, etc.

I always read the first business is the hardest, but the most fun too - I can see how that would be true. When you FIRST start out, you are naive, and that is a blessing. You’re not as risk averse, because you don’t know what they are!

 

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a company of his/her own?

Engage with a start-up legal consultant or firm, and an accountant that knows small business. Set up your business the right way, and make sure you check their hourly rate and agree to a scope of work before you engage - we learnt that the hard way, OUCH.

Know your mission, have a strong brand DNA. It’s like creating a person, commit to that and use it to guide your decisions.

If you’re launching a product, make sure you understand production timelines and technical details or get someone that does to help you on a project basis.

Make sure you also have a strong and lean marketing campaign set up to support the launch and convert the inventory into revenue as quickly as possible. Again, if that means hiring a project consultant, do it. It’ll be worth the investment. Saying you’ll get Gigi Hadid to wear/use your product isn’t a marketing strategy either PS.

Everything else, do it yourself. Take lessons online, listen to podcasts, lean on your network, speak to friends about their expertise, and cook them dinner, take them to happy hour in return for helping you out.

Unless of course, you are giving birth to a funded baby. Then you can buy your way!

 

Know your mission, have a strong brand DNA. It’s like creating a person, commit to that and use it to guide your decisions.


Can you tell the future FemmBosses out there how you stay motivated every day?

Surround yourself and always be networking. Learn how to be confident in your business as soon as possible. Practice introducing yourself to new people, and give them your pitch.

Then, I’ve also loved creating my own little entrepreneur circles, a whatsapp group, a monthly dinner, whatever you can, but a group of other women going through the same or similar to you really helps.

 

How do you find a work/life balance?

I am always trying to stay fit and healthy, and making time for me and my friends.

 

What is your platform of preference? : Where can you make your voice heard & where do you get your news?

Podcasts! My library is overflowing with entrepreneurship, business and investing podcasts. I love to listen to them at the gym or commuting on the train.

 

What’s next for Overt?

My goal is to scale our reach, to help more women discover the powers of the Noho Bag! I am going to continue to design new products that evolve to meet the modern demands of city living, and for now, that means including customization and technology to the next “perfect backpack”. The OVERT community of City Girls will also always be a priority for the brand, so networking, and creating content will be the other focus.

I’m also applying to get into an accelerator program and meeting angel investors and founding team members to join me on the journey.

 

Finally, what a FemmBoss means to you? 

Collaboration not competition. A woman that shares, and grows together with her fellow entrepreneurs. She is eager to learn, and is able to see through the BS. She is persistent and dedicated. She loves a good happy hour.

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Thank you so much Sarah!! We'll spend happy hour or a list making session with you any day.

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