Champagne Lou Lou began as a stall at the local markets, where at just 16 Maddie O’Leary would sell her handmade pieces. “My dad realised that it could make a bit of money, so he gave me a very small loan of 3 grand and I started up my first shop. It was a coffee shop with another girl that does vintage and from that I just learnt so much.”
That experience taught Maddie a lot about what to do and not what to do when running a business. “It was learning how to be smart with certain things and to be one step ahead and just to be careful with everything you do, you never know what’s going to happen. But it definitely gave me the confidence to be able to open up a store on my own.”
Champagne Lou Lou opened as its own shop front in Yandina in 2018 and is known for their designer, one-off and vintage clothing, handmade cowhide handbags and home crafted linen.
“I think what sets us apart is that we’re not like most vintage stores on the Sunshine Coast. What we’ve got, you’re not going to be able to go into another boutique that’s vintage and find the exact same thing. We’ve got that point of difference of always having something different.”
Having grown up in the business environment with her dad owning a tire and mechanical shop, Maddie felt like she was always going to follow in his footsteps and create her own business.
“I did a corporate box at our cross country when I was in grade five and charged people $5 to get in. So I think I’ve always had that bit of savviness with money, and it’s been good working with my dad because he has so much knowledge in the business industry and I’ve always got that person behind me backing me up. I don’t think I could do it on my own or without that support.”
The design process is an incredibly important part of creating her handbags, as Maddie designs every one herself. “I can get ideas at 2 o’clock in the morning. So I just create a vision board and then I write down what I want this collection to stand for, is it going to be bags that are easy to use when you’re travelling or bags you use when you’re going out clubbing. I really focus on that,” she explains.
“Then I’ll draw a picture and send that over to my tailor and designer. He will draw it up on the computer and add in measurements and send it back to me. I tweak it if I want to, then I send it back and sign it to confirm that’s the design I want and then they make it.”
Maddie works closely with her manufacturers in Bali to make her handbags exactly how she wants them. Instead of looking at the final version of the products through a computer screen, she visits Bali to see them in person.
“I did just look at the products on a screen when I first got into designing but I learnt a massive lesson by not actually going over there and looking at the handbags in person. I got a whole heap of bags that were just painted hide, which is horrible so I’d never make that mistake again.
“I double check everything, nothing can be wrong with them. I actually had to send 16 bags back about 2 months ago because the stitching wasn’t right. You have to make sure because who you’re selling the bag for, you need to make sure it’s 100% quality for the customer.”
Sustainability and ethics are core values for Maddie and everything she does with Champagne Lou Lou. “We kind of started out as an eco-friendly company, because we had always sold vintage and secondhand clothing. When I started the bags, I really wanted to have some sort of value in there. So we make sure that the guy that gets all of our hide goes to a place where they have leftovers and old hide goes before it gets ruined and we use whatever we can salvage from there for our bags.”
“I think in this day and age, especially in the fashion industry, unless you’ve got that niche or are sustainable and ethical, you’re not going to make it. People are starting to get so into where their clothes and products are coming from and where the money is actually going. So if you’re going to open a store or do anything in the fashion world now, it has to be sustainable or ethical.”
For Maddie, while it was a challenge creating her own company has been incredibly rewarding. “One of the main reasons I started Champagne Lou Lou was because no one would hire me because of my medical condition. I actually suffer from anxiety based seizures, called FND (Functional Neurological Disorder). So that with the stress of the business, that’s probably been the hardest thing to overcome, because running a business is stressful and what causes it is stress.”
“I went to a market and I was walking through with my sister and I had 3 different girls who were selling their stuff know that I was Champagne Lou Lou. That for me was like holy s%*!, that doesn’t happen all the time. It was like people are recognising who I am and what I do.”
So, what’s next for Champagne Lou Lou? Maddie would love to sell her cowhide handbags in different stores, but she is just taking it one step at a time.
“I’d like to keep having a shop front and maybe in 5 years have another shop on the Gold Coast and Brisbane. Kind of like what Dissh have done with their brand, but a lot more unique. One day I hope it’s an empire.”
Images provided by Champagne Lou Lou
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