From teen to titan: how an Australian entrepreneur turns a pretty
after she turned 16, Poppy King searched in store after store for
lipsticks in the rich colors of the 1940s. She came up empty-handed.
Nowhere in her native city of Melbourne, Australia, could she find
those nostalgic shades.
she hunted, King kept hearing about other customers searching for
the same look. "I was getting a consistent reaction. Salesgirls
in department stores said that a lot of people were asking for matte
lipsticks," she says. "This really did set some alarm
figured that a demand so obvious to a schoolgirl would soon be met
by one of the big cosmetics companies. She waited three years, but
at age 19, King left school to found Poppy Industries Inc. Four
years later, she is selling her cosmetics line through hundreds
of exclusive outlets in countries all over the world, including
Australia, the United States, Singapore, India, and Pakistan.
began her entrepreneurial journey by finding a mentor. Knowing that
she needed business advice, a friend introduced her to the son of
a prominent Australian businessman. The man was so impressed that,
along with advice, he supplied $31,000 in seed money.
a frenzied, yearlong odyssey, King developed the company's first
lipstick line. She worked with a manufacturer to develop seven colors,
designed the packaging, and hired an accountant to assist with the
business plan. She also spent time brainstorming names for the colors,
settling on unusual, eye-catching ones like "Ambition,"
"Inspiration," and "Integrity." Then she turned
her energy, to finding vendors.
trekked door-to-door, calling on boutiques in the chic enclaves
of Melbourne and Sydney. The store owners listened to King, despite
her lack of business experience. "If I were talking about a
wonderful new hammer or screwdriver, or about wanting to construct
some retirement village, people would think, `What experience do
you have?'" she explains. "But when you're talking about
cosmetics, people think it's fairly understandable for a young girl
to have knowledge in that area."
the end of her first month in business, Poppy Industries had landed
40 outlets in those two cities. By the second month, Australia's
largest retailer, Myer Grace Brothers, was knocking at her door.
months into the operation, King contacted the American fashion retailer
Barneys, seeking to boost Poppy Industries into the international
arena. "I was perhaps a little bit overconfident," she
says of that trip to New York. "I rung up and explained that
I had a small range of lipsticks and asked if it would be possible
to send them the product." Instead, they invited her to come
in for a meeting.
loved the whole concept," King says. "The story behind
it, the packaging, the look, the colors, the names - the whole deal."
She was asked to supply product for the much-hyped launch of the
chain's Madison Avenue branch.
that opening approached, King and her line were profiled in Vogue,
Mirabella, and Elle. Thanks to the buzz those stories generated,
800 Poppy lipsticks were snatched up on the store's first day.
is now pulling up roots and moving her operation to New York to
lay the groundwork for future expansion. Growing an international
company in Australia, with its small base population, isolated location,
and limited worldwide media exposure, is an uphill battle. This
is especially true in media-dependent industries like fashion.
you have made a name for yourself in the United States, you're much
more able to make a name for yourself in the East," she explains.
"It's very rare that a fashion brand is launched in the East
and then goes to the West. It flows the other way."
Industries has prospered, despite daunting competition from the
giant cosmetics companies, by establishing a focused identity that
offers an alternative to status-quo styles. This strategy brought
in $8 million in sales for 1996. And even though King has expanded
the line to include more cosmetics and accessories, she intends
to stick to this formula. "We're never going to have hundreds
and hundreds of products and colors," King insists. "It's
a very tight and focused little brand."