When intuition and taking risks pays off

“One big lesson we've learnt is to always trust our own instincts. You can get lots of external advice but I think at the end of the day you've got to follow your own intuition and your own gut instincts to make those big decisions that will affect your business,” Danielle Pelly.


Dani Pelly and Tim Wilkins, founders of fashion brand Ena Pelly. Image: enapelly.com.au/

Starting a successful fashion business in the basement of your house sounds like a far-fetched dream in an industry famed for its fickle nature and rapidly changing tastes.


But that’s exactly what the founders of local fashion brand Ena Pelly – Danielle (Dani) Pelly and Tim Wilkins – have achieved. And from those humble beginnings their expanding range of clothing is sold across Australia and internationally and is stocked by more than 90 retailers.



Ena - a strong and stylish woman


In 2014 Dani was working full time in the fashion industry and Tim was plying his trade as a carpenter when the idea for the business first came to them.


Dani had a stall at South Melbourne Market selling printed silk items under the Ena Pelly brand – named after her grandmother Ena, a strong and stylish woman who worked as a nurse during World War II.


In 2015 while on a trip to Bali the pair spotted a gap in the market for high-quality leather jackets and decided to back themselves to add reasonably priced jackets to their existing product range.


It was a game changer for their fledgling operation and they have not looked back since moving themselves and the business to the Surf Coast town of Torquay, Victoria in 2016.


Dani says they started the brand with four leather styles: two leather jackets, a leather skirt and a leather pant. “We placed our first big order to our first supplier overseas and then had the stock arrive at our new home in Torquay.


“We had no stockists and no major retailers, so I guess it was a big risk taking that first big stock order,” she says.


“I was working at Cotton On head office full-time and running this business on the side with Tim. We set up our online store and Tim would rush home from work to pick and pack the online orders and get them to the post office by 4:35pm,” she adds.


“It's sort of like I had two lives, the day was at Cotton On and the night was working in our little home office in Torquay.”

Future fur: the brand has created a range of faux-fur jackets made from 100 per cent recycled PET plastic bottles. Image: enapelly.com.au/


The turning point came when Ena Pelly secured some significant orders with major outlets like David Jones and The Iconic. The cashflow from which gave the business higher volumes and enabled the next step of its development.


The couple knew they’d have to “choose a path” between their day jobs and their side hustle. And so, two days before they were to be married, Dani resigned from her job and their side project became full time.


Future Fur


In 2017 they established an office and warehouse and the business grew significantly as they introduced new categories and shifted focus to sustainability and fabric choices.


This included the launch of a range of faux-fur jackets made from 100 per cent recycled PET plastic bottles. Each jacket is made from about 60 plastic bottles that are collected, chipped, melted and spun into yarn which is used to make the faux fur that the pair are calling “Future Fur”.


It took some time and several trials to ensure the material had the right texture, weight and thickness.


“Traditionally leather and fur go hand in hand but obviously we didn't want to use real fur. So we found a faux fur supplier and using recycled plastic was a natural progression,” Tim says.


“It took about 12 months to develop the material to the point we were happy with it. Then we launched it the year after and it's just gone really well,” he adds.


In March 2021 Ena Pelly had recycled more than one million plastic bottles to make the faux fur for the 12 month period.


Shift to online


The COVID-19 pandemic has made the last two years “challenging and tricky to navigate” as Dani and Tim found new ways to adapt.


The company faced shipping and logistical issues including delays at congested ports. They responded by adjusting their production calendar to allow more time for shipping as a safeguard.


“In the beginning, I think everyone felt the world was about to close in and we were all going to go bankrupt,” Dani says.


February and March of 2020 were the most stressful for Dani and Tim. “I think by the middle of March we had realised it was going to be okay. Not everyone was cancelling their orders and sales were moving online,” Dani says.


“It has actually been positive for our business because it's made our online store grow quite significantly and it has allowed us to explore new categories. Thankfully, we have good relationships with all of our suppliers, so our supply chain already existed.”


The company has grown to 12 employees from three at the start of the pandemic and the make up of its sales has changed significantly.


Before the pandemic, about 30 to 40 per cent of sales were online and the remaining percentage came from stores like David Jones, The Iconic and other independent retailers. Now that ratio has flipped and more than 60 per cent of sales are online with the remaining going to retailers.


“That's a win for us,” Dani says. “Our key objective is to keep our online store running at 60 per cent of sales. In the future we may open our own retail stores in Melbourne and Sydney. We also want to grow our market share in the US where we are already stocked with Revolve and Anthropology.”


Ena Pelly opened a flagship retail store in Geelong in February 2020, just as COVID-19 hit Australia.


As the business shifted to online sales, they converted the store into offices and warehouse space.

Being surrounded by nature in their Victorian Surf Coast home has informed Ena Pelly’s focus on creating environmentally conscious fashion. Image: enapelly.com.au


Trust your gut


As the business changed and adapted, Dani says ANZ was there as a partner and to provide the support that enabled the brand to grow over the years.


“We've been working with ANZ from the very start in 2015. There's always someone there to help us change our structure with new products and customer service. It's been fantastic,” she says.


For Tim the most surprising thing about moving from carpentry to the fashion industry was the pace of change and how you must adapt so rapidly. This was true of the company’s inventory and management systems.


Initially he and Dani stored all their stock in the storeroom at Torquay and the inventory system was a piece of paper with crosses and marks to represent how many jackets were in each box.


“Going from that to setting up our own inventory management system, which is linked to our warehouse, which is linked to our website, which is integrated to our US warehouse as well. Everything works seamlessly, that's been a huge change,” Tim says.


And at the end of the day, sometimes you just have to trust your gut.


“One big lesson we've learnt is to always trust our own instincts. You can get lots of external advice but I think at the end of the day you've got to follow your own intuition and your own gut instincts to make those big decisions that will affect your business,” Dani says.

Related Articles

Businesses focus on what matters

Businesses have learnt much from the pandemic and many plan to incorporate those lessons as they move into the next phase.

The uniform lady

Through her passion for people and drive for success, Maria Grossi has been able to overcome her insecurities, and now shines with confidence both personally and professionally.

The future of self-storage looks bright

Ben Cohn, Taxibox chief and ANZ Business Growth Program alumni shares his insights on self-storage, innovation and the growing pains of starting a business.