No disrespect intended, but when The Australian Financial Review Magazine meets Argylica Conditsis, the founder and CEO of Babyboo, she looks the polar opposite of the hyper-glam models she’s just spent the day working with.
It’s edging on 5pm and the 30-year-old’s been shooting fashion content for her clothing and accessories e-commerce site in the studio since 8am. Hence, her waist-length raven-black hair is scraped into a messy topknot, her T-shirt sports sweat patches and she’s make-up free, bar an impressive set of spidery lash extensions.
“Back in the day we’d shoot once a month, but now we’re shooting once or twice a week to keep up with brand growth – and next week we’re moving offices,” she explains with an exhausted sigh. “Currently we’re at 45 staff, but we just keep outgrowing our space.”
Sydney’s Baulkham Hills has been the brand’s base for the past five years and the impending move to St Peters is a stopgap while Babyboo’s two-storey waterfront office in Glebe is finished. “When I started this 13 years ago, I never imagined we’d achieve what we have,” she says. “I had no experience in e-commerce or fashion, I had zero funding, no capital, no connections, and I was very naive. I never planned for it to be this big. It just took off internationally. So, we rolled with it.”
“We” includes William, her co-director and 28-year-old brother, who only managed one year of a degree in creative intelligence and innovation at UTS before his sister implored him to help with the burgeoning direct-to-consumer business where he is now the general manager and head of brand.
Babyboo originated when Conditsis was 17 and desperate to find a pair of bedazzled statement heels she could wear out at night. “I wanted some covered in diamantes and rhinestones but couldn’t find any, so I’d make them,” she explains. “Men would stop me in the street and tell me they were the nicest things they’d ever seen. I thought, you know what? I can make a business out of this.”
With $1000 saved from waitressing shifts at Pizza Hut where she earned less than $10 an hour, she had pairs made, popped them on Facebook, and they all sold out. Buoyed by the positive response, she pivoted into clothing with five “bright, sparkly” party dress designs that epitomised her “out-there” aesthetic. “Argylica at 17 really wanted to be that centrepiece,” she laughs. “I thought nothing of leaving the house wearing feather jackets.”
Naming the brand after her boyfriend’s (now husband) nickname for her, Conditsis built the business over the next few years around a direct-selling model that leaned heavily on its social media followings (1.5 million on Instagram; 497,000 on TikTok; 180,000 on Facebook) to drive traffic and sales to their online storefront. Although Conditsis’ design team churns out 50 to 60 new looks every month (“we drop one – sometimes two – collections every four weeks”), she argues this isn’t fast fashion.
“We’re designing six to eight months in advance, so I think we’re more boutique style,” she surmises. “I think we’re more like an Australian designer brand. There’s a massive demand from our customers [so] we just keep on designing to keep up with their wants and needs. They have a lot of occasions they want dresses for.”
Following in the footsteps of other Australian-born fashion-tech juggernauts such as White Fox and Meshki, the use of social media influencers has been an essential part of Babyboo’s marketing mix and proven just as integral to their international expansion. “We’ve worked with Tammy Hembrow, Olivia Pierson, [Kardashian bestie] Khadijah Haqq McCray, as well as [British] reality stars like Samie Elishi and Ella Rae Wise,” says Conditsis.
Many of the pieces are priced to hit that mass-market sweet spot between $99 and $159, and Babyboo’s hyper-feminine designs range from a demure take on dominatrix (think hot-pink vinyl bodycon mini-dresses and shiny red plunging-neckline bodysuits); to outfits that require one to go commando (strappy semi-sheer jersey moulded dresses and stretch-satin curve-hugging goddess gowns with thigh-high splits).
“Our business journey has been rapid from the get-go,” says Conditsis of her company that’s now valued at $60 million. “Revenue doubles year on year [135 per cent-plus] and they’re designs that are resonating with a global audience. America is our next biggest market after Australia, followed by the UK.”
Sales ground to a halt when COVID hit, as they did for many other eventwear brands. However, by diversifying their product offering with the introduction of loungewear, revenue increased 44 per cent by June 2020.
I ask what her parents think of the siblings’ success – her mother is a housewife-turned-schoolteacher, her father is a landscaper. “We’re Greek so of course everyone was shocked when I dropped out of first-year university to do this – and then it didn’t help that my brother followed suit. Everything the two of us have learnt business-wise has come from self-development and self-learning. We haven’t had any inheritance given to us to help – people like to say we have, but it’s not true. We’ve built this from the ground up and all the profits are reinvested.”
Although she admits there’s not a day she switches off, Conditsis still loves what she does so doesn’t consider it work. “I still have a lot of hunger in me, to be honest.”
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