Melbourne loves its fashion and one of the most beloved labels of the city is Genki.
I first visited Genki’s Cathedral Arcade shop when I arrived in Melbourne way back in 2003. I immediately fell in love with the tiny colourful shop and the adorable aesthetic of their clothing and accessories, especially their ‘I love….’ range of T-shirts (I still own a limited edition tee designed to commemorate the 2006 Commonwealth Games – ‘I love the Games’).
Fast forward to 2010 and I discovered that after a hiatus from the retail world, Genki was reopening with an online store. As I browsed through their collection I realised what was missing – ‘I love cycling’! So on a whim I contacted Chanie Stock, the owner of Genki, and suggested that she launch a cycling t-shirt….and when she did I would stock them in CycleStyle.
Find out more about Chanie and Genki here…
I studied Arts/Law but my true love was always fashion. Even from a very young age I had a very clear aesthetic and dreamed of having my own label. My grandparents worked in the fashion industry so it must be in my blood, but unfortunately they sold the family business when I was just a baby. I got my first job at Portmans when I was only 14 and then continued working in retail all through school and uni and never tired of it.
I decided to leave my job as a lawyer after 2 years to pursue my dream to work in fashion and after a few years as a buyer, I decided to open Genki. Many people though I was crazy as there was nothing like it happening at the time and no one (except the first incarnation of Alice Euphemia) was in Flinders Lane. But I had such a clear vision for Genki – that it break away from traditional retail concepts and be something totally new. I wanted to create a space where it didn’t feel like you were shopping but more like visiting a friend. When I discovered the Cathedral Arcade space I had butterflies in my belly, as I knew it was perfect and then with the amazing design by Six Degrees my dream became real.
I was inspired to sell all the things that I wanted to wear but couldn’t find locally (remember, this was 1998, well before online shopping). The original product mix was Japanese accessories, homewares and clothing, mixed with exclusive UK labels like YMC and US brands, Daryl K and Built by Wendy (which at the time were only available at Genki in Australia). I also tested a few simple styles by the Genki home brand, which to my surprise really took off. So as time went by the Genki label developed into something very special with its own identity and great loyal following.
One of your most popular lines is the ‘I love…’ T-shirts. What’s the story behind how you came to develop that range and your collaboration with Beci Orpin?
This is a funny story which shows how even with a clear business plan things pop up along the way that you never expect.
I had a weird vintage t-shirt from when I was little that said ‘I love talking’ with the strangest illustration of a boy (like those oddball 70s tees that are NQR). At that time I had just started working with Beci, who I met through Misha Hollenbach (who designed the Genki logo and the graphics during the first year). The minute I met Beci I knew she was a kindred spirit. We instinctively understand each other’s language and working with her is effortless and always a joy.
So, back to the “I love..” t-shirts…. I went to Beci with the idea for an “I love talking” tee with a Genki character. It was an instant success. The rest just flowed from there. Soon they had a cult following and even now, 12 years later, people still love them.
When I had the Genki shops, I used to get a lot of inspiration on my trips to Japan. It is a place that truly stimulates all the sense and is an aesthetic paradise. But it also gave me a break from the day to day so my mind would open up to new ideas.
Today I can’t travel as much as I did, but I find inspiration in the simplest of things. Food, nature, films, art, old magazines but mostly inspiring friends. There are some days when I wake up and feel fresh and clearheaded and I know something exciting will happen. I don’t want to get old, dull and boring so I need to keep learning and surrounding myself with innovative people.
You used to have very popular shops in the City and Windsor but now sell only online. What kind of challenges have you faced launching an online store?
Closing the city shop in 2009 was very difficult for me and while it was the right decision I still miss that part of my life. It was such a pleasure to go to work with fantastic staff and wonderful customers and do what I loved most. It wasn’t just about selling fabulous things. We laughed and chatted and built close friendships and a special community. My challenge with the online store is how to preserve some of that magic and create that warmth and familiarity in a virtual space.
It has taken some time, but since I turned the “Genki News” section into the “Genki Blog” so there has been a shift and I sense an online Genki community is forming.
What advice would you give to people wanting to start their own business?
The most important thing is really believing in what your business is about. Be it a product or a service, you must live and breathe it and know it inside out. Following on from that, it must be original and have your own fingerprint or flavour.
Assuming the passion and dedication is there the next step is good planning and discipline. A clear detailed business plan is essential and use the resources you have around you (for example if you have an accountant in the family or someone who has specialist skills). Never be afraid to ask for help.
What are your next plans for Genki?
I would like to develop the Genki Blog to touch on other aspects of life. Not just style, but food, hobbies and funny odd topics.
I will continue producing the “I love..” tees, the striped tees and the basic denim pieces as long as the demand is there. There have been many requests for our fleece hoodies and jumpers so I’m planning to bring them back for winter. My plan in the next 12-24 months is to reach new customers, especially the 18-25 year olds (the most popular age demographic back in the day).