Fiona Argyle, the CEO and founder of Globalbabe, believes she can bring sexy back.
Her Singapore-based startup, founded in 2013, seeks to create “stylish, sun protective clothes”. While the most prominent product is retro sun hats, you can also shop around for dresses, shirts, skirts, ponchos, jumpsuits, and accessories like rings and necklaces.
“It’s about bringing a bit of old world chic style back into the universe,” Fiona tells me. “Our mission is to educate people about the sun, because skin cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the world. Plus, cover is stylish, and in an age of tattoos and lots of tits and bums, it’s nice to educate people how to look stylish and be smart.”
The inspiration for Globalbabe started during a stint as the art curator at the Australian High Commission in Singapore. Fiona, who’s lived in the lion state for the better part of 12 years, was intimately involved with art and fashion shows in Singapore and other parts of Asia. Sometimes, she’d be traveling for weeks on end with a new event each day.
“I’d need a new outfit to wear every day, so I started designing and making my own things,” she explains. “And living in a country with one of the world’s highest rates of ultraviolet radiation meant I needed to protect my skin, too.”
Replacing the Umbrella
Due to Singapore’s scorching heat, the everyday practice was to keep an umbrella handy at all times.
“The women [in Singapore] are so beautiful, and so well dressed, and so well groomed, and didn't have a wrinkle, and they all used to do it by carrying these umbrellas around the city,” she says. “They don't do it so much any more, but twelve years ago people used to walk around the streets in the middle of the day with an umbrella.”
The Aussie entrepreneur tried to replicate this approach, but was frustrated after constantly losing her umbrella. Her solution was to design a sunhat - one that would protect your face and throw in your bag when not wearing it. “Kind of like a portable umbrella,” she laughs.
Fiona wants her company to be an extension of her belief in protecting and nurturing the environment around her. Everytime you buy a product on the site, the company plants a tree. So far, over 4,000 of them have been planted. Globalbabe is also validated by the British Skin Foundation and one of its signature products - the Strong Hat carries an Ultraviolet Protection Factor of 1200+, certified by the Australian Radiation Protection Authority.
All products are handmade in Singapore, where Fiona works with a team of local craftsmen to build prototypes and bring the products to market.
Her customers, however, are from across the world. Orders come in from the United States, UK, Italy, and Sweden with a smaller amount in Singapore and the rest of Asia. And that’s despite minimal to no acquisition campaigns that actively target new customers from Europe and North America.
Scaling with Shopify
Shopify’s been a key part of the pie for Fiona. When she initially started out in 2013, her website cost about $6,000 to build and she contracted a freelancer to run operations for a further $3,500.
Moving to Shopify’s platform has been immensely helpful in terms of saving her from operational overheads as well as the support she receives on an ongoing basis.
“It’s a community, we get a chance to network and grow together. Especially some of the things the team has done in Singapore, like getting vendors and meeting people, facilitating talks. It’s wonderful,” she exclaims. “Being a small to medium enterprise, it’s great. Shopify wants you to be a success, they really do. Just actually having a person at the end of the phone is massive.”
Fiona is adamant that her business vision for Globalbabe is to remain an online-only brand but she does say there are a few key things she’s looking to test in the near future.
The first is to launch her own collection as opposed to simply designing and selling standalone products. The aim is to do about four events a year to generate hype and get audiences hooked. Another goal is to find a European manufacturer to help scale the products where they’re already getting traction.
She reveals A-list celebrities like Nicole Kidman and Elle Macpherson have been photographed wearing her hats, which, she adds, was purely organic and not due to any outreach or influencer campaign. In fact, Fiona admits marketing hasn’t been her strong suit and wants to give it a more concerted effort in the months to come.
So what advice does she have for other budding entrepreneurs who might be nervous about following their dreams?
“Just trust your gut instincts and get started. Because I think that asking advice often deters you and some of my biggest opportunities have been lost by asking other people for their advice. So just don't ask for advice, get your hands dirty, and trust yourself.”
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