We catch up with the Colleen Murray Owner and creative director of Lily Label powerhouse as she unpacks some of the secrets to her company’s success.
When did the entrepreneur bug bite you?
I think I’ve always known I would start my own business, even from a young age, it was a natural progression with both my parents being entrepreneurs. Once I completed my undergrad in fashion, I did my post-grad in entrepreneurship and then proceeded to start Lily. I am a very independent person and passionate about what I do. I enjoy having a hands on approach to business, especially when it comes to creating a sustainable and ethical brand. I love being an entrepreneur and I love that I am producing products I am proud to sell.
Describe a day in the life of Lily Label’s director.
My days start with a morning coffee, whilst catching up on emails and social media, it’s not always the most exciting routine. Right now, with lockdown, there isn’t much going on, so life has become a bit slow. However, this year Lily has taken off internationally and I honestly couldn’t be happier or prouder. Plus, my production team went back to work at the beginning of June and I’ve finally started working on new projects, so I see this as an exciting and positive time for us.
Other than that and now more than ever, I am very conscious about staying up to date with what’s going on in the world. I am very empathic and aware of sensitive cultural, social and economic issues. I am passionate about researching the different ways in which my brand can be a part of positive change. I never want to be ignorant on important matters and I definitely do not want Lily to be seen as an insensitive or ignorant brand. To me, it is unacceptable to be ignorant, there is no valid reason for it, it’s just laziness.
We all have to be held accountable for our actions and it’s our own responsibility to research and continuously learn ways in which we can be better and do better.
How would you describe the essence of the Lily brand?
I would say the essence of Lily is; feminine, fun, creative, vibrant, encourages uniqueness and is for everyone. Individuality is so important and should be celebrated.
We are transparent and strive to be the best we can, in terms of eliminating exploitation and holding ourselves accountable. Additionally, knowing that a person is spending their hard earned money on our products and in turn, investing in Lily, means the world to us. I want to do right by these customers and make them feel proud to wear Lily.
Describe your management style and how has this contributed to effective communication and success within the brand?
My management style would be very much empathetic in nature and generally involves listening to what other people have to say. I understand that a business or a job is a part of a person’s life, but isn’t a person’s entire existence. I try to make sure I respect those boundaries and respect that quality work doesn’t happen overnight. Creative people should be given a lot more open space to express themselves, that’s why I’m proud to say Lily is a collaborative brand.
When I work with people I don’t force my ideas onto them. We work together to develop something really special. I want the people I work with to feel like they can express themselves. More people are willing to work with Lily because of this, and I like to think they are genuinely excited about a brand that not only listens to the customer, but to the people they work with too.
How has the lure of luxury and sustainability worked for your brand?
In terms of luxury and sustainability, I think those are two things that weren’t ever really seen to coexist and when the whole ‘eco-trend’ really took off, it was very much ‘earth-tones’ and ‘fifty shades of beige’ – very subdued colours. I get it, minimalism looks good, but it can also be boring and overdone. It also shouldn’t be the only direction that sustainability can go.
There is no reason why sustainability can’t be fun, colourful, vibrant, expressive, joyful, celebrated and considered. It can be all these things and so much more, we are continuously evolving with what we can do and Lily is at the forefront of this luxuriously vibrant and sustainable trend.
In your opinion, how has Lily Label had a beneficial impact on the local community.
The one thing I’ve always done is trace back to each of the businesses we work with. From the fabric suppliers, our manufacturers, the trimmings suppliers, and embroiderers. I personally engage with everyone in these businesses.
My favourite business that I work with are my manufacturers, I can simply drive down the road and meet with the women making our swimwear. I like having that intimate connection and I think it is important. It is also a great way for me to learn and be better at what I do.
I make a concerted effort to make sure I work with mainly women-owned companies. Currently 90 to 95% of the companies we do business with are women run or owned, which is paramount to me.
What keeps you going in these difficult times?
The fact that Lily is constantly working towards being morally sound and beneficial to our local community and economy. I say “working towards” because there is, and will always be, room for improvement and that’s what keeps me going, continuously trying to ‘do better and be better’. That is really important to me, most of my time is actually spent researching, networking and ultimately finding more ways to stay on track as a sustainable brand.
The fabrics from our Earth Angel Collection are made from ECONYL®, which is 100% regenerated nylon fibre created from fishnets and other nylon waste that allows our swimsuits to have a continuous life cycle. The new packaging, which we are currently working on, is going to be completely eco-friendly, because you know ‘growth’ and ‘do better, be better’. I actually listen to and actively seek feedback from experts, and that results in positives changes – we adapt. I really feel as long as you have the best intentions, mistakes can be forgiven. And I have only the best intentions for Lily, I pour my heart and soul into my business.
I’m also passionate about supporting my local community. I am determined to make a difference in the long run and help people, by offering employment and paying a good living wage. Maybe this is the millennial in me speaking but, everyone deserves to be happy and to have a good quality of life.
What advice and tips do you have for the next generation of female entrepreneurs?
Remain true to yourself, even if no one understands what you’re doing. If you believe in your product, brand or idea, and if it is ethical and sustainable, then I would say, just keep pushing. Success does not happen overnight, it could take you years to make it, but don’t give up, people will eventually see what you’re doing. Keep it as a side hustle until you take that final leap.
I think it’s also important to understand that South Africa is a very difficult market to break into. If you can break into this market you can pretty much break into any market. Times will be tough and you might feel like what you are doing isn’t going anywhere and you may feel like no one sees you or no one understands you, but often, the best ideas come from that type of environment and pressure. If you don’t make it the first time round, try something else. Network and talk to people for critical feedback, but even with feedback remain true to who you are. Be sure to actively explore ways in which you can improve and make changes.
Lastly, I feel as though we are finally living at a point where female entrepreneurs are on the rise. We are supporting each other and lifting each other up. With more females in entrepreneurial roles, I truly believe the world can become a better place.
About Lily Label
Lily Label is a proudly South African and sustainable swimsuit line offering designs that are romantic, artistic, luxurious and feminine- perfect for the modern woman. Each swimsuit is designed for perfection, after months of meticulous planning, in view of the ocean in Cape Town, South Africa. With an acute attention to detail and flawless finishing’s that offer features such as high shaping power and long-lasting quality. Lily Label offers luxurious swimwear made with the greatest amount of attention to detail and with a variety of designs and colours to choose from. From bikinis, microkinis, bandeaus and one-pieces, you are guaranteed to find a flattering style that shows off your most loved assets.
Shop your favourite looks, in sizes SS, S, M, L and XL, online at www.lily-label.com.