Feathers founder and designer Margaret Porritt grew up surrounded by hats, her mother an inspirational milliner who set up a chain of millinery stores in Melbourne. Exposure to fashion at a young age ignited Margaret's passion for the industry and ensured she developed a sharp eye for design, concreted by the prestigious opportunity to work in London for Norman Hartnell, the Queen's dressmaker, in 1958. It wasn't until 1972, however, when Margaret's personal life shifted and she now had to take control of her and her son's future, that she returned to the workforce and the birth of Feathers began.
At her new job in a city boutique Margaret realised she would be better off as an employer rather than an employee. After six months, the boutique belonged to her, and within a year she acquired a second and had built a strong customer base. These boutiques were subsequently re-named Feathers and stocked only Australian designer labels.
The chain continued through the 1980s, peaking with eight boutiques in the Melbourne CBD and creating a niche that appealed to the city worker. The name Margaret Porritt became a brand in itself. However, the recession in 1989 placed pressure on the business which saw Margaret consolidate the business by retaining only her strongest stores. It was also at this time that Margaret felt it was time to manufacture her own range of clothing, Feathers by Margaret Porritt.
'My shift in focus and creation of my own line of clothing meant the bottom line became secondary – as my customer expected value, quality and primarily, exceptional service'.
And with this new focus and drive this already established business woman created a brand, re-built her chain of stores and continued to raise her profile as a leading Australian designer and retailer. This was cemented when Margaret made a decision to go against tradition and appear in her own advertising campaign. Margaret, a woman who is over 50 and wears a size 14, has created a range for women to relate to, stating: 'I couldn't find them so now I design them'.
Margaret's achievements were recognised in 1998 when she was the winner of the Victorian Telstra Business Owner Award and was subsequently inducted into the Business Women's Hall of Fame. She won the Metropolitan Fair Trader of the Year award for excellence in customer service in 2009, and was a finalist in the Telstra Small Business Awards and winner of a regional award at the Australian Retailers Association of Victoria (ARAV) Awards in 2003. In 2007, Feathers won Ragtrader's Retailer of the Year Award for a Fashion Chain with Under 20 Stores.
Margaret's belief in the necessity of reinvention in moving forward saw the launch of f-line by Feathers in 2002, for which she recruited the expertise of her now daughter-in-law Lanette (then an independent designer living in New York), who assisted in the creation of the directional and dynamic designs. f-line's aim is to provide a diffusion label to broaden the company's appeal.
After 38 years, Margaret continues to be at the forefront of all facets of the business. Feathers currently employs over 55 staff and has 14 boutiques, where you'll often find Margaret serving the customers, gathering feedback and developing new ways to work her business. Designing for the customer is still a prime focus and alongside Lanette Margaret continues to create ageless designs for every woman.
Margaret Porritt travels from Victoria Australia
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