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The business of creating a brand

08 May 2017

Westpac new wardrobe and Carla Zampatti

More than 7000 Westpac bankers across Australia are wearing the new Westpac wardrobe. In branches, ConnectNow sites and Premium offices the wardrobe is being worn to celebrate and take the company into its third century in business in style. The collection designed by Westpac customer, Carla Zampatti (above forefront), is about creating confidence and looking stylish. Significant feedback from staff has ensured the designs have been finalised with diversity in mind, including our variable climate.

Back in March 2011, I met with Carla Zampatti for a Ruby business woman interview. It was the day after she was presented her Companion of the Order of Australia, the country's highest honour, and she was already at work. Inside the company's timber-floored warehouse headquarters, sitting at a large wooden country-style table and surrounded on all sides by racks of the latest collection, we began with the business of fashion. Bianca Spender, Carla’s daughter joined us, and was quick to point out how important a sound knowledge of business and being professional in business is in what they do. That's not to say that design and the fashion take second place, but both mother and daughter believe, to push boundaries and to deal in something as 'fickle' as fashion you need the discipline of a strong business sense and ethic.

All three of Carla's children grew up in business. They spent school holidays working with her and it has given them a healthy respect for what it takes to succeed.

“You can only stay in business if your product is relevant to the public. Certainly my design decisions are intuitive. I have a particular handwriting developed from an understanding of my customers' needs and lifestyles,” says Carla, acknowledging the part Bianca’s collection plays in broadening the company’s reach.

For Carla, diversity of thought plays an important part in how she sees the business grow and meet challenges. Just like the collections she and her daughter produce separately, they must meet customer expectation but also introduce those same customers to new thought, new ways of seeing and being.

"You can't keep the same model going over and over. You must excite, be unique in the marketplace as well. It's finding a balance between creativity and business efficiency to deliver those wonderful ideas,” says Carla.

The shape of things to come

Having successfully navigated her business through three recessions, acted as chair of the SBS broadcasting board for 10 years, mentored many women in business, and spent four years in Paris as the wife of Australia's Ambassador to France, John Spender, Carla Zampatti is in a unique position to offer her thoughts on the future of business and retail. It’s why she was asked to be one Westpac’s 200 Businesses of Tomorrow mentors.

She doesn't mince words: “Business will be tougher. Costs are climbing all the time and a new level of professionalism is needed in every aspect. Online is the future – and it will continue to have a profound effect on bricks-and-mortar style retail.

“The shopping experience has to be a really good one. If it’s not, the customer will choose one of the many other options available to them. Our lack of time also means the shopping experience has to be a simple and pure pleasure," says Carla.

For those working in retail, this means having strong people and sales skills, being well-briefed and able to offer a more personalised customer service than ever before.

“I always try to learn from mistakes. We all make mistakes. I’ve made lots of them. The thing to try and do is not make the same mistake twice,” says Carla.

“I think people must stretch beyond what they think they can do, especially women. You need to take risks because without them you can’t succeed. The people I’ve met who’ve been successful have all, at some point, taken a risk.”

Carla’s own risks have taken her in unusual directions. She was one of the first Australian designers to introduce swimwear into her collection, was commissioned to create the first designer eyewear for Polaroid's range, produced two fragrances and redesigned a car: the Ford Laser.

 “The attitude, I see today, is that if a woman wishes to do something she can. Education and examples of other women have helped that happen

“I live the life of my clients. I know what a difference it makes if you are wearing something you love. It makes you feel your best and then you can go off and meet any challenge that comes your way,” finishes Carla.

It’s one of the thoughts she kept in mind when she began the business of designing Westpac’s collection back in 2015. Two years on and the collection is now on the ‘high street’ making waves and taking Westpac forward into a new century.