We had the chance to chat with fearless leader of The Shirt Muse and long-time supporter of She Lion, Jennie Geisker.
Like many great businesses, Jennie founded The Shirt Muse through a personal struggle to find what she needed. Feeling confident in a French cuffed business shirt and cufflinks, Jennie found the industry lacking in feminine options. The opportunity to create a range that would support working women to feel fierce and feminine was there and The Shirt Muse was born.
“I thought there is an opportunity here, a gap in the market, I considered the idea for about a year before I decided to give it a crack. That was 10 years ago now.”
Our conversation was informative and eye opening and interestingly it surfaced an amazing opportunity for another fierce person to adopt and scale the incredible business Jennie began.
I was working in corporate full time in facilities at the Star Casino, arriving early and leaving late and hardly seeing daylight when I founded the businesses. Over the path of 6 (intensely long) months I found myself wanting to spend work hours on The Shirt Muse and felt it needed my full attention if it was to thrive.
One bad day at work promoted me to resign and that was that. As it turns out, about three or four months after that I moved to Melbourne so I would have resigned anyway. Fate, good luck, or just good timing? Either way it was the right decision.
I formally launched the business in Melbourne in July 2011.
I started out with my shirts being made in Hong Kong via bespoke tailors. I had always wanted the business to be Australian made but initially I struggled to find a manufacturer here. It took a lot of research and interviews, but it was worth it to find one locally and we moved production to Australia in 2013.
I launched with eight French cuff shirts, they were gorgeous Italian cotton and a select few cufflinks on offer.
(Image of one of the shirts available at launch.)
I am not entirely Australian made. It’s extremely hard to be as we just don’t have the materials here in Australia. My fabrics are sourced from all over the world. It is hard to find all the trims here, but the core designing, pattern grading, making, cutting and sewing, all that is done here. I’m very proud of that.
My dad was a partner in the business at the time, he came down from Sydney to help with the launch and we were at Flinders st Station during the morning peak handing out flyers and I was just thinking, "Oh my gosh, all these women are going to go back to their office and buy all of my shirts and I'm going to sell out.”
Ha-ha. It just wasn't the case.
I did have my first order the day after launching. I perhaps naively thought that all the networks I'd built over the years through corporate would support me and buy one, but they didn’t.
Reality hit in those first weeks. I recognised that I’d need to slowly build a loyal customer base and steadily introduce new products based on feedback and lots of research.
One notable change in the early days was recognising that my customers struggled to understand the name of the business. Initially called “Geisker” I re-branded toThe Shirt Muse and noticed a dramatic increase in turnover and brand awareness. Being flexible and listening, it’s essential to success.
That's the tagline for the business, it's all about how wearing a button-up shirt, in particular a French cut shirt can give you confidence and courage. Going back to the philosophy about why I started, I would wear a French cuff shirt to work and I just felt more confident in meetings.
On any day that I had a big meeting or presentation I would always wear a French cuff shirt because I felt empowered. It was a little bit of extra armour for the day.
The concept of 'Collars, Cuffs, Courage', is all about helping women feel confident. Even if it's just psychological, positive self-talk. Putting on a shirt and just feeling like you've got this.
I'm actually in the process of seeing if anyone wants to take over The Shirt Muse.
A couple of reasons as to why, firstly I'm moving to America in early February 2021 and logistically it's going to make it a lot harder to run an Australian local business. This is a good opportunity to sell an Australian made business to a fellow Australian.
Secondly, businesses can sometimes benefit from fresh blood, fresh eyes, fresh enthusiasm. Maybe someone who's been working in the corporate world who wants a change, who wants to use their creativity.
I created my dream job for myself. When you first start a business, you have so much energy and excitement and after 10 years I feel like I’m ready to take on something new.
The opportunities are endless. The products have never ever been sold at wholesale which is a massive way to get the brand in front of more eyes, even farther than our dedicated local following. The customer base are amazingly supportive, something I’m very proud of.
I have also started another business with my sister-in-law called Calma Koala. Another all-Australian business, but in a totally different industry. Children’s toys. This is a new adventure I’m excited for!
Have a really niche product, don't try and expand too quickly.
Focus on that one product and have really good branding and a story behind your product. I almost feel like you could go to market with one product if it's really good and the branding is good as opposed to trying to feel like you need to sell 10 different things.
I was in the process of pulling everything back this year, to focus more on the shirts because I lost my way a little bit and got excited about expanding with a suit and skirts and different styles of dresses and resort shirts, and I just got to the point where I was like, "I've lost the core reason why I started and what I'm known for which is shirts for women in the workforce."
You have to find your North Star and pursue it.
We were blown away by the opportunity presented by Jennie for an incredible person looking for a new business adventure.
Jennie exclaimed "There is amazing opportunity here and as I'm sure, there are a lot of women in corporate who, like I was, want to expand their horizons and start their own business. This could be their new dream job.“
Does this sound like you? Reach out to Jennie by email to have a chat. We can’t wait to follow this story.
We sat down with the CEO and Founder of design-led innovation company Naked Ambition, Fiona Triaca (Fi). Fi works tirelessly to create unique and creative experiences that support her clients to make the changes they want to see in their companies. We were more than a little inspired by our chat.