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Bruno Schiavi from Jupi Corporation exports the Pocket Sock

It’s one thing to take a niche product to the mainstream market, but exporting a niche is something completely different. Bruno Schiavi, from Jupi Corporation, shares his secrets to exporting the Pocket Sock.

It was a sock that got this business on its feet. But with success that has been underpinned by quality and innovation, Bruno Schiavi’s patent was anything but typical. A sock that doubles as a pocket for keys and loose change—aptly named the Pocket Sock—was initially snapped up by Gowings and went on to become a bestseller in major Australian retail outlets such as Target, Kmart, and Myer, as well as selected stores in the US and much of Europe.

Today, the Jupi Corporation, headed by Schiavi, is a booming business that has extended its repertoire to include men’s underwear, women’s lingerie and children’s shoes. Having already taken Australian shoppers by storm with progressive ranges that provide luxury goods to average income earners, plans are now underway to expand into the UK and more US markets.

With a background in marketing and business management, Schiavi says that success wasn’t easy, especially in light of early criticism regarding the Pocket Sock. “In the beginning it was tough because I didn’t know a lot about manufacturing or distribution,” he explains, “a lot of people said ‘oh my God, a sock with a pocket in it—that’s pretty weird.’ But it worked!

“I travelled to China to have my product made and soon had a shipment arriving in Australia. This first shipment was sold through mail order from my mum’s garage. From there we moved on to an international distribution centre in Los Angeles, and a warehouse in Melbourne and Sydney.”

Humble about such rapid expansion on both national and international levels, Schiavi puts it all down to a single philosophy: providing affordable garments that never compromise on quality.

Niche Business

His first venture into undergarments was with MensFit, a line of underwear designed for fashion-conscious men. The garments are made from quality DuPont fabrics and are exclusively ranged through Target stores nationally.

“I found a niche in the market because men’s underwear is so expensive. You look at Calvin Klein [underwear] and they are $30 a pair. Guys still want to look great, but they can’t afford to spend that sort of money on a pair of jocks. I thought, hold on a second, there’s a little gap in the market here. So I created MensFit.”

The success of MensFit equipped Schiavi with the time and finances to delve into other product categories, and in August 2002 he launched the Annabella range of women’s lingerie. Embracing similar principles, Schiavi personally sources the finest Italian and Egyptian laces to create sumptuous garments that are finished with meticulous attention to detail. The look and quality of the collection would not be out of place at a Paris fashion show, but with prices starting at $9.95, they’re certainly more accessible to the average shopper.

Buoyed by record sales in women’s lingerie, the Delta by Annabella collection was launched in October 2004, exclusively for Kmart. Co-designed by Delta Goodrem, a friend of Schiavi’s, the size 6 to 16 range has already been a winner in the local market, in just eight months it has become the third biggest-selling lingerie brand at Kmart.

While acting and singing sensation, Goodrem, has helped to generate added brand awareness, Schiavi says that a celebrity face is certainly not the only factor in maintaining a strong brand presence. “The customer is too smart. Unless you have a very good product, the customer will know—no matter whose face you put on it.”

When it comes to stability and success in the Australian market, Schiavi says there are several other components necessary for steady growth: “You have to maintain quality and style, as well as a strong advertising campaign and a good distribution channel.” All of which are components that Schiavi will be taking with him to the UK this year when he launches the Delta range at Debenhams department stores.

“We’re going to be using exactly the same system we’ve used in Australia. Our message is to empower women and that’s why we have larger sizes up to 16DD.” Schiavi believes the global lingerie market is saturated by advertising campaigns that suggest women need to be thin to look and feel beautiful: “We’re basically telling women that it’s okay to be a size 16. You don’t have to be a size 6 to wear beautiful lingerie, which is what a lot of the big brands tend to do with their advertising campaigns. What I am doing is different, but I like to do things differently and take a few risks.”

Approach to Export

Although risk-taking has resulted in rapid growth for the Jupi Corporation, which has a staff base of about 10, Schiavi stresses that his business ventures don’t extend to plunging blindly into overseas markets. Choosing the US and UK markets was a given for Jupi’s global expansion, as Schiavi says they were a natural transition point. “I am very familiar with both cultures and that helps when creating new collections,” he explains. “You have to know your market really well and do your homework. So I had to research who my exact targets would be in the UK.”

With a strong market edge in quality and affordability, Schiavi is optimistic that he’ll succeed in winning over British women. “The UK customer is going to be totally different from the Australian customer. When Delta and I create a collection it’s not going to be exactly the same as the ones we’ve launched in Australia because you have to consider their climate and other brands already out there. In Australia, we’re a bit spoiled because it’s a smaller market. In the UK we’ll be competing against established Italian and French brands, so we’re really being thrown in the deep end.”

The US is another market Schiavi feels confident about re-entering. Having already had an established presence there with the Pocket Sock, he is currently setting up a US base for the marketing and distribution of MensFit as well as an exclusive range of homewares.

“We closed our US office a year ago simply because we wanted to concentrate on the Australian market. The US consumer is, again, totally different, and so I’m going back there to adapt to their way of thinking. We’ve got a lot happening that I can’t talk about yet, so let’s just say there are some exciting projects coming up with US celebrities.”

Of the projects that are not top secret, Schiavi says his homeware range will again adhere to his company philosophy of quality goods at highly competitive prices. This attitude is a common thread running through all Schiavi’s endeavours and is particularly echoed in his children’s shoe range, Junior by Jupi. Accentuated by bold colours and trendy designs, the affordable range was initially declined by buyers for its point of difference. A later agreement was made to stock the collection through Myer stores nationwide and it sold out in three weeks. The footwear—a line Schiavi says will appeal to trendy mums who want to feel great about their kids—has since maintained a similar sales momentum.

“The more someone says no to me, the more I want to get there,” Schiavi says of his persistence in the face of rejection. “As a society, we’re conditioned to think a certain way, and we don’t like to get out of our comfort zones. So when someone is challenging you, you should be thinking: hey, that might actually work!

“If you have a vision and goal of where you want to go, you should keep it. Sure there are barriers, but I can’t think of one time that I thought: no, it’s all too hard, I’m not going to do this anymore.”

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