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From Apparel to PPE: How Fella Hamilton Transformed Their Business During COVID-19

August 26, 2020

With the COVID-19 outbreak rippling through the entire apparel industry and affecting nearly everyone around the world, one forward-thinking Australian brand has seen this as an opportunity to play their part in the battle against COVID-19.

Fella Hamilton is an Australian clothing brand and retailer operating 35 stores throughout the country. The brand was founded 50 years ago and has since grown to become an iconic Australian brand for women. Like many other industry players, Fella Hamilton ceased it’s manufacturing as soon as COVID-19 hit, facing declining sales, store closures and staff to look after. This forced Sharon and David Hamilton, owners of Fella Hamilton to rethink their strategy to not only survive but thrive in this COVID environment. CEO Sharon Hamilton shares how the team embraced this new opportunity and reveals why the Fella Healthwear brand is here to stay.

Switching gears to provide PPE for frontline medical workers

Within a matter of two weeks, Fella Hamilton transformed it’s manufacturing lines and answered the government’s call to produce vital protective wear for the frontline workers. Sharon stated that they were able to repurpose their factories quickly because of their existing operations in Australia and a strong network in the medical industry.

“Since the brand’s inception in 1969, we have been manufacturing garments right here in Australia… Unlike many brands who have diverted 100% of their manufacturing to offshore, we have kept a significant portion of manufacturing in Melbourne and are proud to serve our customers with a range of fashionable clothing that includes Australian Made”

Because of their continued commitment to serve the local community, they can afford to be more flexible and adapt to changes in the market quickly. Sharon believes that whilst margins are better offshore, the total brand value of Australian made is more important to their success.

Providing the community with Australian Made face masks

With the resurgence of COVID-19 in recent weeks and face masks becoming mandatory in Victoria, Fella Hamilton has stepped up its mask production to between 20,000 and 25,000  masks per week. Some bulk buyers of the Australian Made masks include councils, health providers and the Australian Defence Force.

“It’s now full steam ahead in masks” said Sharon Hamilton.

If you’re interested in buying some Australian Made facemasks of your own, check out the Fella Hamilton online store for more details.

Launching the Fella Healthwear brand

In launching the new Fella Healthwear collection, the company redeployed designers, pattern makers, machinists and dispatch staff to focus on a new line of personal protective equipment, saving lots of local jobs in the process.

“Because we have retained a significant proportion of our manufacturing in Australia, we have been able to bring back our staff to work on this project and have turned it around quickly.”

One key learning from manufacturing PPE is that there is no “one size fits all”. Sharon quickly found out that there were specific methods for taking on and off the garments which they had to consider when creating the designs. Therefore they found it difficult to produce in bulk and chose to focus on made-to-order. By doing so, they were able to learn which colours, sizes and styles were the most popular which helped them forecast demand and find the right suppliers in advance.

“If you asked us a year ago what styles we would be producing for Winter 2020, no one would have ever imagined it to be scrubs and gowns for healthcare workers,” says CEO Sharon Hamilton.

Making PPE more accessible and affordable in Australia

Aside from the benefits that come with local production, the brand has found a niche in the PPE space by focusing on durability, compared with the other disposable alternatives that currently exist in the market, as one of their happy customers said:

“Obtaining isolation gowns has become difficult and expensive in this COVID era and your gowns have provided us with an excellent alternative to disposables and in the current  environment are a cheaper alternative due to the multiple uses we are getting out of each gown and the low cost to launder them.”

This is particularly beneficial to not only frontline workers but also other medical professionals such as dentists who are having to wear more PPE than usual during the pandemic. This has also led to Fella Healthwear being asked to produce a package for dentists containing various PPE scrubs, masks and gowns.