By the time we were 19, most of us were trying to figure out how to pass freshman exams after spending afternoons at the varsity bar. The same cannot be said of Glenn Coleman, who already had greater ambitions.
Just a year after graduating high school, Coleman was splitting her time between college and two part-time jobs when she realized there was a gap in the premium streetwear market. Wanting to offer something more interesting than what was offered, she founded the clothing brand Nana Judy. Fast forward to today, and with annual sales in excess of $30 million, Nana Judy is a shining example of Australian advertising and design talent on the world stage.
Nana Judy is a rare international brand that remains Australian owned by Coleman and available at the world's leading retailers, has walked the runways of Fashion Weeks from Sydney to New York and is the name behind some of the parties most epic of the last decade. you still have control of the label with 100% ownership. Though she has reached heights few dare dream of, Nana Judy's story is not well known.
It was 2006 and Glenn Coleman was working part time at a local surf shop. He understood the dominance of typical skate and surf brands in the Australian men's scene at the time, but believed men wanted more.
Bolstered by confidence in what he already knew about the clothing industry, Coleman set the wheels in motion to start his own clothing brand. He sold his car, emptied his savings account, and ended up naming the brand after his great-grandmother's adorable Dalmatian. With a guaranteed bank loan, Nana Judy was born.
"I remember thinking, 'It's now or never,' because I was totally into it at the time," Coleman said. "The first year I worked seven days a week and late into the night packing orders and trying to keep up with demand."
Immediately after launch, the first Nana Judy collection sold out everywhere it was stored. His thesis that Australian men are no longer content with the same basic clothing proved correct and prompted him to push Nana Judy even further.
"When you're still so young at 19, you can take a lot of risks," he explains. Working out of the garage, Coleman made all the sales and managed to raise $2 million in his first year. "I think because I lived it and breathed it, represented it myself, and was so passionate about the brand that retailers were really receptive."
“We ended up tripling our inventory in the first few years,” he said, referring to the brand's exponential growth. The company continued its rapid growth, surpassing $10 million in sales in just a few years.
With young Australians already excited about what Nana Judy had to offer, Coleman turned his attention abroad. Mastering the intricacies of international markets, the pressures of trade shows, and the logistics of selling to large department store retailers, Coleman began to travel extensively.
“I was 21 years old and I started selling all over Europe. I spent a lot of time abroad, and interestingly, when I was successful there, demand increased in Australia as well.”
With a joint signing from major European markets, the growth of Nana Judy has only accelerated. “At the time I was making 15 sample kits for our overseas sales teams and selling to major retailers in the UK, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands.
“We host trade shows in Berlin three times a year, which really opened my eyes to the world of fashion and how big it can get,” recalls Coleman. “We were lined up alongside household names like Tommy Hilfiger and Adidas at these shows. Just looking at their setup inspired me to big goals where they would spend hundreds of thousands on their booth and have everything from stacked shipping containers to swimming pools.
"It taught me a lot and shaped the current position of the brand."
With a strong presence in Europe, Coleman is turning its attention to the other side of the Pacific. In 2015, Nana Judy appeared in the US on American Rag and Fred Segal in Los Angeles, among others. This laid the foundation for the brand's growth in North America, where it is now sold by Nordstrom, Nieman Marcus and Bloomingdales.
The highlights came almost too quickly for a proper celebration, but a few moments stand out for Coleman as pivotal for Nana Judy. As well as debuting at Sydney Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week, the scale of the European shows also taught Coleman what was possible when it came to working with the world's biggest celebrities.
"You have to find fun and exciting ways to get your brand out there, because you don't have the big ad budgets that big brands have," he explained. Fun and excitement is exactly what Nana Judy did. Long before the wave of micro-influencers now dominating festival-goers, Coleman recognized the unique opportunity such cultural events presented.
He was able to generate a frenzy of excitement and interest in Nana Judy by hosting some of the best events in the industry.splendor and grammarForCoachella. Everyone from Rhianna and P-Diddy to Leonardo DiCaprio and Paris Hilton wanted to be seen at Nana Judy's Coachella event.
However, things have not always been easy for Nana Judy, as challenges loom around every corner. The fashion business is a tough business, especially for a brand based on the other side of the world from most of the other more established names in the game.
Despite the ever-present tyranny of distance Coleman faced, he weathered the frequent storms, using each turning point as an opportunity to learn the trade and hone it.
"One of the hardest lessons came when we placed a million-dollar order with a UK distributor just before it went bankrupt," he recalls. "It was a great lesson in not only losing that kind of money with a merchant we've worked with successfully for a number of years, but also how to make sure something like this doesn't happen again."
"But this is business. It's not easy and it taught me that in business there are ups and downs, wins and losses. It really taught me not to put all my eggs in one basket."
"Many local brands are focused only online or only in Australia, but for me I really wanted Nana Judy to be on the world stage, which comes with its own specific challenges."
It's never easy to thrive in an industry with so much upheaval and burn, but Coleman credits his long-term success to longer-term planning and an objective approach to making business decisions.
“One of the most important things is to remove the emotion, play the game, and properly treat your brand as a business. When you start a business, it's very easy to get too attached, which is why it's so important to take a step back and look at it objectively.
“I think with all these brand decisions, you think long term to stay ahead, because setting goals for year one, three, five and beyond is very important to creating a roadmap. Then you can plan how to get there, but when you have a big vision, it's really important to think long term.
While many Australian fashion designers have come and gone since Nana Judy was founded 17 years ago, Coleman also attributes part of her brand's success to knowing what her customers want.
“Always put the customer first. That's what drives the business and sometimes people forget that."
However, in the early years, while you're still building your regular customer base and learning what they want from your brand, taking risks is the next best thing.
“It helped me a lot to take risks from the beginning. You just have to sit. Business is a game and it's about winning and losing."
Success breeds more success, and as the company continued to grow, several opportunities arose. A particularly special moment for Coleman was when Disney explored the possibility of working with Disney101 DalmatiansFranchise.
Having named his new fashion label after his grandmother's Dalmatian, nothing could have prepared him at 19 for a day working with the world's most famous brindle dogs. “Disney reached out to us, which was really special when they heard the story of how Nana Judy was named after my great-grandmother's Dalmatian.
"We created thisCollaboration at New York Fashion Week, and we sell the collection in the United States, Canada and Australia”.
While the pandemic years have hit all businesses hard, Nana Judy's strong presence in online retail has meant that the Coleman brand has been sustained without an overall impact on sales. With a strong focus on established comfort staples riding the loungewear wave, Nana Judy has now recouped and enjoyed the brand's biggest week leading up to Christmas 2022.
The two years of disrupted planning and the inability to travel have also given Coleman time to reflect on the business he's built over the past decade and a half and to consider what's next for Nana Judy. He recently also welcomed his first child with his wife Elizabeth Jones, who works at Nana Judy as head of design and production.
“From the beginning, our mission has been to inspire confidence and be a leader in the world of men's streetwear. Today, we are committed to creating a legacy for children and ensuring our brand culture is something future generations can look up to,” said Coleman.
“That's why we're committed to mentoring kids and have such a great partnership at Myer stores across the country.AIME, the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience. They support First Nations and marginalized children in Australia.
"Young people have an incredible future ahead of them, and at this crucial time in their lives, it's important that they have the right people and access to support networks to help them succeed," said Glenn Coleman,
Nana Judy's environmental impact is also important to Coleman, an area many fashion brands don't take seriously. “We are certified as CO2 neutral,” she confirms.
“We want to be seen as an industry leader in this area. Last year, we hired consultants who measured our company's footprint, from working with us to packaging, electrical, and shipping logistics. Being able to go carbon neutral now is great for us and a good step in the right direction. We are definitely doing more in this area.”
With the imminent launch of Nana Judy's first children's collection and a focus on more premium pieces in its core men's collection, it remains a brand that can offer men well-made clothing, regardless of age and stage of life. life. While Nana Judy has spent over a decade and a half in Australia and on the world stage, Coleman has more energy than ever to take the brand in new directions.
“The next chapter will be exciting for us. We want to be recognized in the world of menswear for having a positive impact on children around the world. That's where it all started when I was young and that's what got us to where we are today."