Violent Green co-founders Simon and Kim Sun started their independent clothing and accessories boutique with scant fashion know-how. When the entrepreneurial couple launched the store in 2004, they had no experience in retail or fashion, aside from creating a “rough and raw” t-shirt label they were selling at markets as a hobby. Nine years on, they represent more than 50 Australian and international labels across their two Violent Green stores located in Brisbane’s CBD and Fortitude Valley. Not ones to follow trends, they scout for clothing labels they find alluring and intriguing. Proudly, their kaleidoscopic aesthetic is as independent as it is eclectic.
When Simon and Kim met in 2000 they were both studying for careers they would never pursue. Kim was in the midst of a dual degree in business and law and Simon had recently completed his chef apprenticeship. Fashion was a surprise path for the young couple; they stumbled across their passion for clothing and design as students whilst screenprinting their own t-shirt label to earn extra cash.
During Kim’s uni holidays in 2003, they began dreaming of opening their own retail store. It would be a mishmash of styles and offer exciting independent designers from home and across the globe. When an affordable retail space popped up in the Elizabeth Arcade in Brisbane’s CBD in 2004, they jumped at the chance. Suddenly they were designing the fit-out for a tiny nine-square metre space and had a matter of hours to come up with a shop moniker.
“It’s crazy like that,” Kim admits of how spontaneously they delved into their business venture. “An opportunity comes by and you don’t want to miss it, so it pushes you to make decisions. You don’t want to always sit back and work out the pros and cons. If there are opportunities there, you have to go for it and work it all out as you go along.”
Violent Green began stocking just a handful of labels in its petite space. Simon worked in the store full time, while Kim finished her studies and worked in her profession for one year, as well as working on Violent Green at night and on weekends. They were both busy and exhausted but buzzing from the newness of it all.
“Now I look back and I think about how there was so much we didn’t know and that we were just lucky,” Kim says. “But in a sense it was good that we didn’t know about retail because we didn’t follow the rules – well there were no rules to follow because we didn’t have formal training. We were constantly thinking outside the square because we didn’t know any better.”
The shop’s small floor space forced them to think and act creatively. “The tiny store made us really appreciate the space and consider how to display things without being too cluttered. We even designed a counter that folded up – it looked like a cupboard, but when you made a sale you would pull down a door and it became the bench,” Kim laughs.
Simon recalls the most challenging aspect of their launch phase was securing labels to stock on their shelves. They found it tough convincing labels to trust they weren’t a flash-in-the-pan boutique, since it’s not unusual for new stores to bloom and perish within two years. Iconic fashion buyer Paul Maloney, representing major New Zealand label Karen Walker, was one of the first to back Violent Green.
Kim explains, “Paul flew up to Queensland and had a look at our store. At the time we were doing mostly young, unknown designers. We were on the same level – all trying to start something. Paul knew other stores could give him bigger orders but he felt that Karen Walker would fit well here. And it’s amazing how one label can open up so many doors. He saw our potential and said, ‘Let’s do it’. And we still work with him today. We’ll never forget those moments or people.”
Nine years on, Violent Green is going strong, where other independent boutiques have floundered and flunked. Violent Green expanded into a larger store in the Elizabeth Arcade in 2007 and opened its second store at 669 Ann Street in Fortitude Valley in 2010. Simon and Kim’s trick to weathering a competitive industry and shaky economic climate is to be proactive and positive. They also work hard at developing strong relationships with their labels’ designers and count many of them as friends.
“We just launched our online store a few weeks ago,” Kim notes. “We know it’s quiet out there compared to other years. But even though times are tough, we’ve actually been more positive than we have been in years. Rather than sitting back and complaining, we’re more proactive and trying to work out ways to redesign the stores, make things better and get people shopping again.”
Simon agrees and admits that the pair never ruminates about giving up on the business. “I really love what we do. I don’t want to do anything else. The last few years have been a tougher time for us but it hasn’t hurt us at all. You change, you pull back, you play it smart and ride through it. It will bounce back. You don’t sit back and wait.”
Kim believes that Violent Green continues to grow because customers know they’ll find diversity on its racks. The business ethos is to continually seek beauty, be independent and embrace change. The two stores stock diverse styles and labels ranging from classic Karen Walker tailored suits and blouses to pretty and playful Lover pieces and edgy designs by the likes of Romance Was Born and Ksubi.
Simon and Kim also aren’t afraid to back fledgling labels that no one else has heard of. For example, they’ve stocked several new labels from their very first collections – including Stolen Girlfriends Club and Chronicles of Never, which both exude a rebellious flair. Since then, these labels have gone on to enjoy mammoth success. Local designer Ana Diaz’s vibrant label Diaz has also graced Violent Green’s shelves since its debut collection in 2011 – Ana worked at Violent Green for many years.
Simon and Kim agree their greatest achievement is building a happy team of staff. They value their team’s ideas about new labels and ways to refresh the stores. “We are one big family and it’s important to have that loyalty,” Simon reflects. “It doesn’t feel like work because we’re all friends. Our team has a lot of input, which I think is important.”
The short-term goal for Simon and Kim is to keep growing Violent Green and to find a happy balance between their home and work lives. They both find peace at home and are keen to carve out more time to spend with family and friends.
Asked what words of wisdom Violent Green runs by, Simon refers to a quote from the American drama film, The Outsiders. “Stay gold,” he says. “It means stay true. Do what you think is true. Don’t sell out. Stay young. Fashion is pretty fun – it actually keeps you young and creative if you let it.”