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Sonya Mefaddi, founder of Fashion Palette

“I just couldn’t see myself working a 9-5”: Sonya Mefaddi tells how she launched her biz

While it may seem like Sonya Mefaddi has already kicked some serious goals over the span of her career, the savvy business woman is just getting started and currently has a number of exciting projects in the pipeline. 

Fashion Palette is celebrating ten years of business, and not only will Fashion Palette showcase for its 8th year at New York Fashion Week, Sonya also launched her very own swim label this July. Sonya Swim launched on the runway at Miami Swim Week.

Sonya recently became a household name after appearing on Channel Seven’s My Kitchen Rules. However, long before her days as a reality TV star Sonya had already established herself as a prominent business woman in Australia.

The Jordan born entrepreneur developed fashion agency Fashion Palette in 2009 to help Australian fashion designers expand their businesses via annual runway platforms by connecting designers with industry professionals, consumers, media and buyers – something which Sonya says had never been done before in Australia.

Prior to the birth of Fashion Palette, Sonya was working for a wealth creation company based in Sydney, specialising in marketing, when she found the inspiration to start her own business, which she describes as her ‘dream job.’

Over the past ten years, Fashion Palette has evolved rapidly and currently stands as a high-end, all inclusive and trusted international springboard, focused on helping independent Australian labels connect to the global market.

Now working in both New York and Sydney, Sonya has showcased hundreds of designers over the years, including Toni Maticevski, Sass & Bide, Bec & Bridge and many more!

So just how did she do it? Sonya credits her motivation to her incredible success in business. We found out more about how she built Fashion Palette, the behind-the-scenes of the business and the challenges she has overcome over the years.

What is the elevator pitch for Fashion Palette including the core services and paint points you address?

Our point of difference and elevator pitch is our all-inclusive package which we offer to Australian brands. We manage and execute all aspects of the show, freeing up the time of showcasing designers to focus purely on their collections. We handle everything on behalf of the designers from casting models, inviting and seating guests, securing lead-up and post event media coverage, managing the production – both front and back of house, dressing influencers and celebrities, to hair and make-up.

We also provide designers with US buyer contact lists made up of top tier buyers from leading department stores through to online boutiques, which adds a lot of value. Our package saves designers both time and money and is by far the most affordable and well-rounded runway option for brands looking to showcase internationally. In addition, showcasing brands are eligible for the EMDG Government grant, providing 50% back on costs related to the show which is a

What is the company’s origin story?

I have always been in the creative industry working as an Art Director and a tutor/lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and have always had a strong appreciation of fashion and design. Between 2004 and 2008 I was working in Circular Quay and would walk past Australian Fashion Week each year, and in 2007 I was at a stage in my career where I wanted something new and exciting.

I just couldn’t see myself working a 9-5 job for the rest of my working career which motivated me to try and come up with a business idea and I remember walking past fashion week and looking up at The Overseas Passenger Terminal and thinking to myself for someone who loves fashion there were absolutely no fashion events in Sydney. In that same month I was then at a design conference, Semi Permanent at The Sydney Convention centre and again thought to myself, that there were no fashion conferences held and that was how Fashion Palette was born.

Can you quantify the company’s success?

Fashion Palette started from my bedroom, it was a side project I worked on for 2 years before launching our first event in 2009 at the The Sydney Convention Centre. Fashion Palette started out as a 2-day conference, sharing the stage with a range of local and international fashionpreneurs who gave insights into their creative techniques and processes and shared their stories to success.

Alongside the conference, I also ran an afterparty event, hosting a runway show made up of various local up-and-coming fashion designers from right across Australia. Within 2 weeks we had sold over 500 tickets to the runway show. I saw this as an opportunity and so the following year, I then launched Fashion Palette Runway at The Overseas Passenger Terminal, showcasing a total of 30 emerging local talent.

Fast forward to today, Fashion Palette is not only producing events in Sydney, but we’ve expanded our platform for Australian brands to New York and Miami and over the past decade we have worked with many leading Australian brands. Alongside Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, Fashion Palette is the only production agency providing a runway platform for Australian brands to share their collections both locally and internationally.

Starting the business off the ground, I personally took out a $60,000 credit card and just hoped we would generate enough ticket sales to make that money back plus more but we didn’t. Instead of giving up after year one, I knew the following year in business I had to quickly tweak the business model and work on producing a show rather than a conference and this was the turning point for the business. Year two we broke even and year three I was able to cover my debt, by year four I was starting to generate a salary for myself after launching into New York.

What key strategy (or two) has fuelled the company’s growth?

I’ve always looked at how we can constantly improve our services and offerings to our clients. Always tweaking and refining the business. As simple as this may seem, the key is to always stick to your beliefs, follow your intuition regardless of what others may think and have a clear vision.

You don’t necessarily have to know how you’re going to get there –  you will find you will just attract everything and everyone you need to make it happen. I have always known that my business will benefit the Australian fashion community and even though I could write a book about all the hurdles I’ve gone through to get to where I am today, when you’re incredibly passionate and focused about something, you’ll be determined to see it come to life. That’s the fuel to growing.

What was a key challenge in the startup phase and what STILL challenges you?

The key challenge in the start-up phase was getting the business up and running financially without any investors. As a new business, your learnings and mistakes can cost you some serious dollars and it’s not until you’ve put all of your hard sweat and tears into the business that you start reaping the rewards. From the startup phase to this day my biggest challenge has been selling sponsorship packages, it’s always taken a backseat with me in terms of where I would rather spend my time. The company has a lot more potential to work with some global sponsors and it is something I need to really start working on.

What has been a defining moment in your growth trajectory – why?

The defining moment for the business was launching into New York Fashion Week. For many Australian brands, it is a dream to showcase on the international stage and launching Fashion Palette in 2012 was a huge moment for the company. I don’t believe Fashion Palette would have survived past year 3 if it wasn’t for our New York expansion.

What mantra or advice do you live by in business? 

Lead from your vision, If it feels rights then go for it! Don’t let the expectations or advice of others veer you off your path. You are your own greatest teacher.

Looking ahead, how do you plan to continue growing your business?

Looking ahead, I will continue to look at adding in new platforms around the world to help Australian brands grow. Dubai is our next stop which has been scheduled for April 2020.

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Loren Webb

Loren Webb

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