There’s nothing like a clear gap in a market for inspiring a new business venture. This has been true for entrepreneurs Dijanna Mulhearn and Ljubenka Milunovic, who saw curvy and plus-size corporate women struggling to find stylish, flattering, high-end clothing – and started a fashion label, Sestre, to cater to them. Here, Dijanna shares with us about her inspiring retail venture, including an authentic approach to customer service and bold plans for the future.
The consumer query that sparked a business
As an experienced fashion stylist with years of public speaking about personal style under her belt, Dijanna was once plagued by a recurring question that she couldn’t answer. “At every single talk I would be approached by women, saying, ‘That’s great advice, but where do I get these clothes in my size?’,” she explains. “I was deeply embarrassed that I did not have an answer to that question, so when my best friend, international curve model Ljubenka Milunovic implored me to make her some tailored, high-end clothing, it resulted in a collection, a label and a partnership.”
Dijanna believes that she and Ljubenka’s collaboration is integral to the success of Sestre, combining their complementary skillsets to create a thriving business. Central to the partnership is a shared passion for helping women look and feel great about themselves. “We are passionate about making sure our client is seen as a style leader and feels like she can take on the world in Sestre,” Dijanna says.
Personalisation in plus-size fashion
Personalisation in retail is nothing new, but as Dijanna explains, it’s often sorely lacking in the curve or plus-size fashion arena. “Most plus-size brands deliver garments that are full or boxy to try and encompass many shapes at once, and this is most unflattering,” Dijanna says. “When designing our pieces, I have three size 16 fit models of completely different shapes try them on and only go ahead with the design if it enhances all three,” she says.
The brand also offers a made-to-measure service for truly personalised garments. “The foundation of an upmarket look is perfect fit,” Dijanna says. “We really enjoy making bespoke pieces that are tailored to the client’s shape and will be a staple in her wardrobe for years,” she says. “The only issue with made-to-measure is the wait as it takes up to six weeks for delivery, however, the old saying rings true: Good things come to those who wait.”
Becoming an eco-ethical label
As well as providing the option of made-to-measure garments, Sestre is well on the way to becoming a fully eco-ethical label. “It is said that fashion is the second biggest polluter on the planet,” Dijanna says. “I find this appalling and grossly indulgent,” she says. To help address this, Sestre sources fabrics locally and manufactures in Sydney. “We are firm believers in re-shoring, bringing manufacturing of fashion and textile back to Australian shores,” Dijanna says.
This more eco-friendly approach isn’t without its challenges, including competition from mass and fast-fashion brands. “It’s difficult when customers are seduced by the prices and variety mass brands can deliver because of volume and overseas manufacturing,” Dijanna says. “Being a new brand, Sestre is currently about building wardrobe basics that transcend fashion trends, so our garments will stand up to the test of time with quality, style and wearability,” she says.
Driving brand awareness and business growth
While Dijanna and Ljubenka have been disappointed by the reluctance of some retailers to stock plus-size labels, their online business has been growing steadily thanks to generous media support. They have also embraced the opportunity to get out in market, hosting a series of pop-up styling events across the country to drive brand awareness. Providing shoppers with the opportunity to see and try on the clothes in a fun setting, Dijanna says the pop-ups have been a great success. “They get to see our range with absolutely no obligation to purchase,” she says. “It’s been a great way for us to get practical and emotional feedback from the women we want to create for."
The future of Sestre
Moving forward, Dijanna and Ljubenka hope to grow the made-to-measure and pre-order side of the Sestre business. Creating positive customer experiences will also continue to be key. “We love meeting new clients face-to-face, so establishing studios around Australia is a big goal for us,” Dijanna says.
If the journey to now is anything to go by, Sestre’s future is looking bright. “We have always said that when ‘straight size’ customers come to us wanting our designs, we will know that we are doing the right thing,” Dijanna says. “Luckily for us this is already happening, however there are already millions of labels catering to the ‘straight size’ market and Sestre is just for women who are lucky enough to have curves.”