Black Milk Clothing: selling online internationally

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Black Milk Clothing: selling online internationallyAustralian fashion brand Black Milk always set out to do things differently, and has found a global audience along
the way.

How does a brand that’s never paid a cent in advertising develop an audience that spans 600,000-plus Facebook fans from every corner of the globe? For Black Milk’s Head of Sales and Marketing Cameron Parker, it’s a frequently asked question.

“The first thing I have to emphasise is that it’s zero dollars in advertising,” says Parker. “Of course, we have a marketing budget for shoots and things, but we’ve never spent a cent on affiliate marketing, online banners, print, radio or TV ads, nor have we ever paid for a Facebook like.”

A unique product offering, genuine engagement across 12 social media platforms and an ability to remain real and authentic to customers are keys to Black Milk’s popularity.

Integrating international orders

Designer James Lillis founded Black Milk five years ago, and Parker estimates that in that time, they’ve shipped orders to more than 139 countries.

“From day dot, we shipped internationally,” says Parker. “Back in the early days, it was painful because of our manual systems. We continue to use Australia Post for Australia-wide distribution and standard international delivery, but we added a premium service, because delivery can take one to three weeks, depending on where you are in the world. As the business grew, we added a priority Fed-Ex service of two to four days, depending on where you’re located.”

Did you know?

Black Milk Clothing delivers non-urgent international orders with Australia Post Airmail. You’re able to send orders to 190 countries worldwide, with standard delivery times of three to 10 business days to metropolitan areas of major cities*.

American expansion

Today, says Parker, half of Black Milk’s sales come from overseas and half from Australia. “Our biggest overseas market is Northern America,” he adds. “That’s the beauty of being online, being open
365 days a year, 24/7, and the power of social media – we can ship anywhere.”

Such is the brand’s popularity in the US, Black Milk is soon to launch a distribution hub and headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. Parker and Lillis agree that California’s down-to-earth, outdoorsy, fashion-forward lifestyle is reminiscent of Australia’s east coast. The brand
will find a comfortable home in a city where people regularly make statements via their choice of outfit.

“Our strategy is to ship products to LA, pay the duties and taxes ourselves, and then ship from there within the US,” reveals Lillis. “This will mean customers can buy from a US website, in US dollars. Customer service will be open during their hours and we’ll have free returns and free shipping, making it quick and easy.”

What’s not been simple is deciding on pricing for the US market. “We’ve hired KPMG to help, but it’s a big area of debate right now – what the US dollar value will be for a AU$75 pair of leggings,” says Parker.

Customising content and products for international markets

For the first time, Black Milk’s communication strategy and product mix will change, too.

“Up until this point, the way we communicate with customers has always been the same,” says Parker. “And, with the collections, we consider ourselves trans-seasonal. There’s a range of items, like bodysuits and leggings, in every release. So, we’ve never fully considered marketing a mix between northern and southern hemispheres. But once we have the US distribution hub, we will. We’ll probably tailor the US website during November and December and feature our warmer goods.”

Leveraging international pop culture

Being in close proximity to Hollywood’s major film studios will also benefit the brand, which, via product licensing deals, has cultivated close relationships with the likes of Lucasfilm, Warner Bros. and HBO. It began innocently enough, when Lillis designed a Star Wars-themed swimsuit featuring robot R2-D2 on the front. The design made its way to the internet and, according to Lillis, “the next thing you know it’s exploded, it’s on every geek site around and we get a cease-and-desist letter from George Lucas.”

Despite a huge demand, Black Milk stopped production on Star Wars-related garments for 12 months. And then they noticed the items were selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Lillis and Parker sniffed an opportunity and placed a call to Lucasfilm, to see if it wanted Black Milk to manufacture the items, “for real”.

Notoriously protective of its IP, Lucasfilm said yes. It was a huge confidence boost for Black Milk. According to Parker, “we felt like if we can get Lucasfilm on board, we can get anything”. With the Star Wars range back in production, customers began asking about other genres – everything from The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter, DC Comics and, more recently, Game of Thrones.

Black Milk approached the television studios and film companies to seek licensing deals, all of whom were impressed with their work.

Harry Potter [Warner Bros.] was by far the biggest we’ve ever done and our relationship with HBO [Game of Thrones] has been really successful, too – they loved what we did with the Warner Bros. deal,” says Parker. “We have a strong relationship with those guys now, and it’s been integral in getting us international exposure, because it ends up on media sites and blogs around the world.

“In terms of overall sales volume, licensing doesn’t result in the majority of our sales; it’s still our original designer products that perform the best. But to help with growth and gain exposure – particularly since we don’t do any advertising – it’s helped drive brand awareness. And girls walking around in crazy leggings are walking billboards.”

The girls Parker refers to are generally aged 16 to 30, but, with a combined social media fan base in excess of 1.5 million, women – and men – of all ages, shapes and sizes can be seen showing off their latest Black Milk purchase online. It seems the world can’t get enough of the Brisbane-based label, which continues to exceed even their own expectations. 

Black Milk’s Head of Sales and Marketing Cameron Parker shares his thoughts …

… on postage

“The beauty of our product is that it’s great to ship – it’s not breakable and it’s lightweight. A pair of leggings weighs 110 grams so it sits in a 500-gram satchel. It’s nice, easy and economical.”

… on international orders

“The US Government doesn’t penalise customers for ordering online like the European countries do. In the US, you can order anything under $200 and it’s shipped duty and tax free. You can buy two pairs of leggings at $75 each and it’s happy days – it’s well under the taxable limit.”

… on celebrity endorsements

“It’s never been a big focus for us. I know with fashion, celebrity endorsement is a big thing, but it’s not something I spend a lot of time and energy on. Some stylists send us requests for shoots with celebs, but it’s not something we actively seek. We’re more interested in seeing our customers in our clothes and doing things like shoe collaborations.”

Tools and resources

Black Milk Clothing sells leggings, swimwear and dresses in a unique range of designer-printed fabrics.

* Australia Post International Airmail disclaimer: standard delivery times between metropolitan areas of major cities; excludes time in customs if applicable and may be subject to delay due to causes outside of Australia Post’s control.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and the interviewees, and not of Australia Post.

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