Last week, FELLT Industry mentioned that the Queensland University of Technology incubator Creative Enterprise Australia was about to announce the first fashion recipient of its Creative Enterprise Fund. That’s a A$1.2million fund offering equity injections of up to $25,000 for pre-seed funding for emerging businesses and up to A$150,000 for those with high growth potential which are targeting global markets.
We can now reveal who that recipient is – Sydney-based Nyree Corby and her Fame & Partners venture, a vertically-integrated, personalised eCommerce destination for special occasion dresses, with a special emphasis on the school formal and prom market, which in the US alone is estimated to be worth at least US$6billion.
“Digital disruption is changing many markets and the fashion industry is undergoing significant change with new brands targeting niche client verticals as well as moving from bricks-and-mortar to clicks-and-mortar” said Anna Rooke, CEO of Creative Enterprise Australia. “Fame & Partners have spotted a great opportunity in a high-transaction-spend niche market and are using customised manufacture and digital technology to their advantage to provide a distinctly different offering in an internationally competitive market."
Using a proprietary algorithm to track the latest trends in event wear and then match them to customers, Fame & Partners then enables customers to customise their dress designs and also provides free styling advice to complete the look.
Corby declined to reveal the exact size of the CEA investment, but confirmed it was at least six figures.
According to Corby, this is in fact the third cash injection the company has received from an Australian-based consortium of friends & family and angel investors since Fame & Partners’ February 2013 launch, with the website finally going live in August.
Corby also declined to mention sales figures and site traffic, other than to report that Fame & Partners is experiencing on average 80percent month-on-month growth – with the last month growing 100percent on the previous month.
Within a month of the site's soft launch into the US market in March, to tap the 2014 prom season, US sales accounted for 50percent of revenue, she said.
Corby, now 34, is no stranger to the startup space – or its challenges.
A former advertising copywriter, she launched her first company at 21, a digital marketing consultancy called The Topia Project. In 2004 that company morphed into a new entity called Topia, which would eventually boast a client roster including Sensis, Village Roadshow, Dyson, Centrebet, RM Williams, Speedo, Dyson and Canada Tourism Commission - and A$4million in annual billings at its peak according to her LinkedIn.
In November 2008 Corby was named Telstra Young Businesswoman of The Year.
Four months later, Corby’s business collapsed under debts of A$1.4million.
“We had a Global Financial Crisis, one of my biggest clients got into a lot of trouble and owed us a lot of money, I was young, optimistic and we didn’t account for that type of thing happening, so it forced our company into a difficult spot” said Corby, who eventually entered into a deed of arrangement with her 45 creditors and sold the company name and office equipment.
“The Creative Enterprise Fund committee is aware of the challenges Nyree faced during the GFC” Rooke told FELLT Industry. "One of the most important learning experiences in business is failing and learning from that. We are confident in Nyree’s abilities and the potential for Fame & Partners to grow and succeed.”
Corby spent the next four years working as a business strategist and consultant for companies such as SapientNitro, Air Arena, Crescendo Partners Capital and Spark Capital, honing her skills and making valuable connections in the early stage tech scene in Australia.
"So I was well poised to be assessing where the big opportunities and trends were. That’s where I stumbled across the prom and formal market in eCommerce" said Corby.
“One of the things I say is technology is really my career, but fashion is my hobby, so I’m thrilled to be merging my two passions” she added. “Creative Enterprise’s money is about fuelling further growth. It is about expanding our reach into the Australian market for formals. It’s about being able to deliver an even better product to our customers and it’s about investing in technology into areas such as our trend-tracking algorithm, so that we can improve just how on trend we are”.