Founded in 1938, Oroton began life as a fashion fabric company trading with Asia. It diversified into army supplies to help defense efforts in World War II, before producing a powder puff â made in Germany â that would launch the brandâs specialty line of luxury cosmetic products.
The brand became a retail phenomenon across Australia, claiming something of a cult-following for its Paris-inspired purses, clutch bags and brush, comb and mirror sets. By the 1970s, Oroton mesh evening bags were so in-demand that the brand was asked to produce a limited-edition purse especially for the opening of the Sydney Opera House.
By 1987, the Oroton Group was a listed company with an expanded product range selling through 50 stores across Australia and New Zealand. Select items have been sold in Hong Kong and Europe for years.
Asiaâs Fashion Capital
Group CEO Sally Macdonald said the wholesale business, which also includes the Polo Ralph Lauren brand, had been âbuilding nicelyâ overseas. This led to the decision to open Oroton Hong Kong in the ifc mall, Central, last September.
âIt has always been our intention to open Oroton boutiques in Asia and, possibly, London and other parts of the world,â she said. Hong Kong, as the fashion capital of Asia, was a ânatural stepâ for this offshore expansion.
âWe have a warehouse in Hong Kong, a Hong Kong-based designer who helps with quality control, and Hong Kong is our business hub for some of our hardware and packaging. When weâre travelling to Europe, the United States or South America, or wherever we go, we always go through Hong Kong, so it was a market we are all very familiar with.â
It is also a ânatural gateway to China,â where 60 per cent of the brandâs products are made, the rest produced in various countries.
âAll of our products come through Hong Kong,â said Ms Macdonald. âAt our warehouse in the New Territories, we consolidate stock and wait for the seasons to turn. We find it a convenient hub, at a reasonably low cost. We have a really good, service-oriented partner who runs it, so weâre very happy. We looked at Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai, and settled on Hong Kong as the most logical place.â
Early Mover Advantage
As for why now, Ms Macdonald asks: why not now? During the global financial crisis, when others were struggling, Oroton retained its strong financial position. âIt made sense for us to look around at a time when others might have been less confident about expanding. âWe continue to believe,â Ms Macdonald added. âOur Chinese customer base in Australia continues to grow. We looked at our competitors in the Hong Kong market and, while they are many, we believe our product is beautiful and wonderful value for money as well.â
Availability of prime retail space at the prestigious ifc mall was another plus. âIf people donât know the brand, they need to understand what it is by the company it keeps,â said Ms Macdonald. âIfc is a very fashionable mall, but also has a good base of office workers, which has traditionally been very much our market â somebody whoâs aspirational, who wants to be groomed and polished at work.â
Asian Expansion Plans
Since opening in Hong Kong, Oroton has also opened a boutique in Singapore, with a further three stores planned for Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and is considering other sites in Southeast and North Asia as well. The brand is âvery seriousâ about its long-term commitment to Hong Kong, an important market in its own right, with many tourists coming from around the world, especially the Chinese mainland. âHong Kong is an important place to be; it is the place people talk about,â Ms Macdonald said.
The company is currently talking to several landlords about possible sites this year, with potential for nine stores in Hong Kong and Macau. âWeâre ready now. Itâs more about getting the right rental deals and locations,â she said. âWeâre a brand thatâs been around for more than 70 years, so weâre not going to try to do it all in five months either; itâs got to be at the right pace.â And the right place.