✨🎉❣️It’s hard to believe that La Sierra has just turned 4! ✨🎉❣️
When I first started this business, it was as a hobby to keep alive my connection to South America. I had no idea about what it would become and how much it would mean to me and shape me as a person.
The idea of La Sierra was born when I was volunteering for a friend’s business in Panama, in my very first retail role.
I would sit in the chair waiting for customers to come in, staring out over the Caribbean Sea. At that time, the island where I lived wasn’t very busy, so hours would go by with nobody coming in. I could go into the shop, pick an item out to be worn that day and then kick my shoes off to start 'work'. My days in the shop were spent arranging clothes, listening to Spanish music, doing my own Spanish study and working with no shoes on, all while eventually dreaming up my own brand and what the next chapter of my life would look like when I returned to Australia.
When a customer came in, I would greet them and then practise my Spanish on them. A lot of the time they would end up buying and I thought it was amazing that, despite being a beginner speaking Spanish, I could still help and guide the customer into something they loved. I thought it was the best job I could possibly have had at that time. Both my boss and my best friend gave me the confidence to dream of starting my own thing, my mother gave me the support I needed, and my partner was the inspiration behind it all.
I wanted to share the Alpaca textiles from South America with my home country, Australia.
I wanted to bring beauty to people’s lives through comfort, quality and luxury items. Everyone deserves a bit of luxury in their lives!
I asked my Mum to start this new business with me. She is always such a great support and I couldn’t imagine working with a more reliable, intelligent woman. She didn’t take much convincing and we started to get planning.
I told my partner René the idea and he liked it. He also thought up the name: La Sierra sounded perfect, as that is what the locals call the Andes Mountains, the native lands of the Alpaca.
La Sierra was initially put together in a couple of months.
Looking back now, I would have put more time into planning in that initial phase of development. We have been playing a lot of catch-up over the years of developing our brand and re-doing a lot of things from those early times. Some more planning and knowledge of the industry would have helped in the long term. However, Winter was approaching, and it was going to be the perfect time to launch. So we set up a website, a friend designed my first Logo and two friends of mine did my first shoot (thanks Ellie and Brittany).
La Sierra started trading in the SO:ME Space at South Melbourne Market in May 2016.
This location had been recommended by a friend’s brother (thanks Joe) and, safe to say, it went well for us. There was a great response to our first small collection.
For a couple of years I continued to do what I loved to do - travel. René and I spent more time together in Australia and in South America, lived in Byron Bay for a bit, and travelled to Indonesia. Winter time was spent in Melbourne with the business, but it was becoming harder to close the business over Summer and re-open for Winter - it was like starting from scratch again every time.
I loved running La Sierra, and I saw how much people loved the products we could bring. I finally knew I had to devote more of my time to La Sierra and it was time to get serious about actually running it as a real business.
Armed with new designs, we went back to South America. René travelled with me through Ecuador and Peru, finding and meeting new artisans to work with to expand our product range. It was such an exciting time, seeing so many possibilities for design and what we could create. It was so important being with someone I could trust, with local knowledge and much better language skills than mine. René has played a big part in getting La Sierra to where it is today. He really gives his heart in helping me, and without his knowledge, support and time, La Sierra would not be the same.
Luckily, after that trip I was accepted into an amazing corner store location at South Melbourne Market. It was the first place where we could have a little more say over the design and look of the shop, and it was so much easier to close the door and lock up instead of packing everything away every night.
It was when I was in this store, during 2018, that we really started to develop as a brand.
It was the first year I was working La Sierra full-time and I was able to focus a lot more on who we are as a brand and the message I wanted to put out there. I worked with a few local graphic designers and did a big re-branding and built a new website. A huge thank you to Maysie, our amazing graphic designer/ photographer / saviour of my life. I feel like this was such a big, important step as it really upgraded us as a brand and gave me a clearer vision of what we are and what we do!
After a nine-month stint, the time in the corner pop-up was coming to a close. However, the stars aligned and another shop became available in the SO:ME Space. I was so happy when I got the news that La Sierra had been successful in securing a permanent store!
However, those happy feelings evaporated when I was faced with signing a three-year contract. I was signing my first ‘adult’ contract - my first really long-term commitment to something! I was so scared and nervous about it because it meant changing my lifestyle of traveling so much. I also had plans to move up North, so this was going to change things around. Hands shaking (literally!), I signed the contract and, fortunately, have not looked back. It was definitely the right decision for me personally, and for us as a brand.
This permanent store has given us an ideal location to keep improving, to keep connecting with our gorgeous customers and keep building as a brand. I am so grateful for every single person who has taken the time to walk into the shop and have a chat with me. It still makes me so happy to hear back from all our wonderful customers about the joy our products have brought them and how they use them in their lives. One of my favourite stories is when a customer emailed me that she took her favourite La Sierra large throw back to the US with her, and ended up birthing her baby with it!
One of the main lessons that stands out for me during this four-year journey, is that a brand can only grow as much as its founder. I have a lot of responsibility to keep evolving as a person, and to keep developing and learning new skills in order for my brand to be successful. I love working for myself - it is sometimes so hard, but also incredibly rewarding!
Another major lesson is that it takes a team of people to build something. I am so so grateful for the support I have had around me, especially during this time. If I was doing this by myself I might have given up a while ago. The people by my side, my mother, my partner, my best friend’s mum and a few of my other friends have all helped me so much on this journey.
What do I want for the future of La Sierra?
I want to grow our online store. I want to get more involved in wholesale as a way to keep spreading the beauty of our products to other parts of Australia and hopefully the world. I want people to know that Alpaca is truly one of the most amazing natural fibres in the world and I am committed to sharing the beauty of this fibre, as well as supporting Indigenous artisans in South America by sharing their traditions and skills.
I’ve rambled on a lot here! If you have stayed with me through this whole thing, I thank you. It’s nice for me to write a more personal reflection to remember the series of events that got us here, and to see how far we have come in the last four years. I am feeling more focused and have more direction right now than I have through La Sierra’s entire existence. I am hoping to be able to bring you all more happiness in the form of our lovely, quality products! I value all your support so much.
What a journey it has been so far. Here’s to hopefully many more happy years ahead of us, growing and continuing to offer products to make you feel comfortable and warm and happy!
So happy 4th Birthday to us!!!