Dec 08, 2015 11:42AM

Introducing Slow Waves, Dream Fashion Destination + WIN A $1000 Voucher

Wardrobe goals.

If you're anything like us (always online with a preference for pantlessness), chances are you enjoy a bit of the old internet-based retail therapy. So it's a real treat to find an IRL store that's so great that it actually motivates you to log off and leave the house. Slow Waves is just that: a cool, tightly curated shop in Melbourne's CBD where you can find (and try on!) things you can't really find elsewhere, like sequinned jeans from Belgian-based brand Filles À Papa and weed leaf jewellery hand made in Italy by Jiwniai. Slow Waves stocks Ambush, Jiniwaia, Filles À Papa, Faustine Steinmetz and KYE exclusively, while MM6 and Ann-Sofie Back are exclusive to Melbourne.

The shop recently relocated from a small space in Mitchell House, a beautiful old art deco building home to the studios of artists, designers and photographers, to a shared space in new venture No Order Market. Located inconspicuously above a Michel's Patisserie, No Order Market is almost like a miniature department store, which houses three businesses — Slow Waves, Archive and Shifting Worlds — on its open-plan floor.

Marli Atterton launched Slow Waves a year ago. She had been working in various facets of fashion for over a decade — retail, management, styling, visual merchandising, and as a photographer's assistant — and was dissatisfied with her previous job. She turned 30, asked herself what she really wanted to do, and made the plunge into starting her own business. And she's more than just the founder — she's the buyer, graphic designer, photographer, stylist and sales assistant. She also does the online store, social media and newsletter. We're exhausted just listing that stuff off, never mind actually doing it.

We went into the store and sat down with Marli upon Slow Waves' first birthday to talk about the highs and lows of owning a shop, and how she made a sceptical mum fall in love with a $700 necklace, while our pal Ben Clement took snaps of Folk Collective model/cool gal Scarlet, who recently started working at the store.

Ingrid Kesa: Why did you decide to open Slow Waves?
Marli Atterton: You get to an age where you feel like you've given your best years to big companies. When I was in my early twenties I had wanted to open a store, but then I got sick of retail and thought it would be too hard. I was drinking with some friends and they encouraged me to do it, because the labels and products my friends and I are interested in just weren't available in Melbourne at the time, and it just seemed a bit ridiculous because it's Melbourne. I know it's not New York, but it is the so-called "cultural capital of Australia."

How did you come up with the name Slow Waves?
When I was first coming up with the idea of opening the shop, I wanted to do it with a very good friend of mine. She's probably the only one of my friends with a decent amount of cash behind her, and she's also the smartest person I know. I said to her, "Let's do this. You do the business side of things, the number crunching, and I'll work on the floor and do the buying and stuff. It'll be great, we'll both be happy." We had meetings and I'd have a zillion names and she didn't really like any of them. I was really set on Cheap Date and Law & Order, and then everyone said I couldn't sell expensive items at a place called Cheap Date, and I couldn't call it Law & Order because of the TV show — stupid stuff like that. I suggested Slow Waves — a pattern of sleep, your dreamless state — and my friend thought it wasn't too bad. So I was like, "Fuck it, let's just call it Slow Waves!"

How have you responded to online shopping, and why do you think people would rather come in-store to buy?
With certain labels, I understand that you can get from all these massive online retailers so some of them will also have their own online stores. When something comes in with a recommended retail price, I'll do my research and find out what other stores are stocking it and how much they're selling it for so that we can price accordingly to be price-competitive. I do find, however, we actually buy very different to some of the bigger online retails. They may have bought for an older, conservative market whereas I may have bought denim or something like that. Especially labels like MM6 — the collections are so massive that they might have lots of retailers but we all buy differently. I have found it a bit difficult with this last season as obviously Australia is going into summer but for the past few months, I've been receiving autumn/winter stock, which unfortunately has meant that with some of the heavy things I've just had to put them online and sent them straight to sale. The online store can do quite well, actually.

Does the physical store or the online store bring in more business?
It really varies, but if the online store is making money then the physical store needs to be pulling its weight as well. Some of my best customers are not in Melbourne, they're in Tokyo or Seoul, and they'll be the ones buying the winter stuff, so it's not like it's all just sitting out the back, which is great. It's nice to know that there are people overseas who are repeat customers. I've always thought it was funny when people make such a deal about "support your local" but now I'm realising that it's so true. It would be great if I had more of a Melbourne customer base.

Do you have customers who are really loyal to a label and will come in searching for specific items?
Not really, no. With some of the labels I have taken a bit of a risk. They might be big overseas but have no recognition in Australia, but I like them, support them, and think the product's great, and they've been around for a while. It's just about weighing it up and educating the customer about what the label's about. It was funny, a lady came in a few weeks ago shopping with her son. She was looking at a necklace by Ambush, and it was the most expensive piece of jewellery I was stocking at the time, it was $700. She looked at the price and was all like, "So… Is this necklace $700?" And I was like, "Yes. It's by this Japanese label called Ambush, all of the pieces are made in Tokyo." And she said, "So if it was made in Japan, it's more expensive than if it was made in Paris?" — which doesn't even make sense — but I was like, "Well, you know, Rihanna wears their stuff, and both of the co-founders are famous in their own right. They've done collaborations with labels like Undercover, they're massive." We just started talking and she came around and started to think that it was great. Two days later, her son came back and said his mum ended up loving the necklace so much that he was going to get it for her for Christmas.

That's something that wouldn't happen online either. You can read a million bios about a brand, but if someone's there telling you about it…
Exactly. It was one of those pieces that I knew was expensive but I thought, you know what, it's a signature piece from the collection and I'm going to get it just to have it in the store. I didn't actually expect it to sell, but when it did I was like, "Well, there you go!" It's small moments like that that make it worthwhile.

What has so far been the biggest challenge so far in owning your own business?
Time management — knowing when to call it a day and knowing your limitations. There's always something to do. Especially with emailing later at night, it's better for international labels. Scarlet has been here for close to two months, and I'm still here everyday but it's good when she's here because it takes the pressure off. I can run errands or be out the back. I'm really shit at marketing and Facebook; it would be great if Slow Waves was at the stage where I had someone who could help out with that. When I was in retail ten years go, it was different but obviously the game has changed so you have to move with it.

You're also only a year old! It's not like you've been around for ten years.
There's still hope! I guess my attention is split between the floor, the online store and the social media stuff. It means that everything's done but it's not done 100%, because it's just me and I don't have enough time. I tend to beat myself up about that a little bit sometimes.

I notice that online you've been doing mini editorials and also shooting the product yourself.
I'm not one to wear head-to-toe of one label, it's just kind of boring. It's more interesting to mix things. So I like to style the product myself and mix the labels, in more of a Slow Waves way, rather than the label's way. Surprisingly, when I do travel and meet with the designers and the sales agents, they are like, "Yep, we like your shots," or, "We like your Instagram," so that's nice to hear.

What are the biggest perks of your job? Buying trips?
I've been to Paris three times this year. They've always been quick trips, and there's always been problems with the flights — delays, jet lag. It's great to see the new collections and how the label has moved on from previous seasons, but it's actually not glamorous. It's kind of like, "Fuck, it's that time of the year again." Maybe because Slow Waves hasn't fully found its feet yet and is a lot of work, I hope the perks will come later. At the moment, it's the small things, like someone coming in and having a bit of a connection with them, or someone buying something that they really fucking love. With the clothes, people always ask me if I have one of everything, but it's like, I would't want one of everything and it's not about that. I didn't open a store so I can wear something different everyday. Every now and then someone will come through and know the labels and say it's cool, and that makes me happy. It doesn't happen a lot but when it does it's nice.

Photography: Ben Clement
Text: Ingrid Kesa

To celebrate all of the above, we're giving away a $1000 voucher to one lucky winner to spend at Slow Waves! All you have to do is enter your deets below, and answer the very straight-forward question: "If you had $1000 to spend at Slow Waves, what would you buy and why?" Note that by entering you agree to receive Oyster and Slow Waves' email newsletters. Entries close December 15 at 11:59pm AEST. Click here for full terms and conditions.