What’s summer without a little splash of Vamastyle? Fresh and full of vigour, the swim and resort label is the perfect summer companion for the fun and free-spirited. A quick scroll down Vamastyle’s Instagram feed (@vamastyle) will say as much. As your eyes roam over soft sand beaches and azure palazzo pools to bronzed goddesses clad in sultry bikinis and floaty resortwear, the call of wanderlust is almost impossible to ignore. Aussie-born, Hong Kong-based designer Kaitie Manani suffers from the same travel itch so many of us share and Instagram is just her way of fueling her wanderlust. Much to our delight, of course.
With such Instagram success, we couldn’t help but wonder what it takes to build a digital brand and audience. So we went right ahead and asked Kaitie Manani up straight…
Since its launch in 2009, Vamastyle has received global success in a short span of time. Tell us how you started?
When I moved to Hong Kong for the first time in 2007, I had an instant urge to start my own fashion label. After 5 years in London, I was so inspired by the plethora of accessible and affordable fashion available on the high street — something that I felt Hong Kong sorely lacked. In Hong Kong, you have the super high-end boutiques and the ‘cut label’ shops (designer rip-offs from China) and not much in between besides H&M and Zara. Vamastyle hopes to address that gap in fashion. I started with dresses and tested the fit and styles on my friends. This was before the Internet and social media really took off… but people started hearing about my trunk sales at home and things just shot off from there.
You’ve a background in graphic design, was it a big leap into fashion and swimwear?
I was a graphic designer for fashion labels in Australia, then in the UK, for brands such as Marcs, Zimmermann, Whistles and Elle Macpherson Intimates, so the jump into my own fashion label wasn’t that big. But of course, I had zero experience in production and manufacturing. Being based in Hong Kong has been pivotal to the success of the brand as I’ve been able to grow slow and steady and make my mistakes on small sample runs during the initial period.
What is your current business focus?
Our primary business focus is to continue to drive our online boutique. We’d already had such an incredible response to our newly launched SS16 Saltwash collection across Asia and Australia. We look forward to continuing this success across America and Europe for the upcoming Spring/Summer seasons.
How has living in Hong Kong influenced your style?
It’s certainly given me access to a far broader range of brands across Asia. I love mixing things up over the winter (when I can’t wear Vamastyle) and combining little treats I’ve picked up from boutiques specialising in Thai and Hong Kong labels in SoHo and pairing them with my high street faves.
You’ve a sizeable following on Instagram (@vamastyle / @katiemanani) with 28k followers and growing. What made you start ‘gramming?
First of all it’s super fun (not to mention, addictive) and I enjoy it more than Pinterest to be honest. It’s fast, effective and punchy! I don’t hire any PR agencies so I thought it made sense to start building up my own brand profile! I love Instagram for the fact that it’s so easy to do on the run — a godsend if you’re always running around after 2 boys!
What role has Instagram played in your journey?
Our online growth has tripled over the last year. We put this down primarily to our strong and consistent Instagram marketing.
How do you stay relevant and inspired?
As an Aussie, I’m naturally drawn to everything and anything that hints at summer… so it was only natural that I started a year-round swim and resort label. I’m inspired by everything around me but as a graphic designer my eye is drawn towards beautiful tile-inspired prints from around the world and whisper-soft summery solid colours. Hopefully I will stay relevant for a bit longer! (laughs)
What are some of your favourite hashtags?
#staysalty. #followthesun. #wanderlust.
How do you foresee social media changing the way businesses connect with their audience?
Instagram has been a complete game changer for small to medium businesses. It allows us to connect and engage directly with our global customers — a feat that previously would have required a PR agent across different countries to try and acquire significant reach, while being well beyond budget for most startups. I love seeing which products become our hot sellers — each week we have different ones based on the social media posts from ourselves and bloggers. Through social media channels, I can connect directly with the girls and build relationships with key influencers — something I would have never been able to access pre-social media.
What advice do you have for others who are trying to build a social following?
(Be) slow, steady and consistent. I plan out my posts the day before and check if the images sit nicely together. I also write the copy the day before in my ‘notes’ section on my phone for the 3-4 daily posts. This saves me a lot time through the day, rather than wasting time trying to come up with a catchy post!
You really need to create a story about what your brand is, and try and include colors, textures and inspiring images that reflect your brand, not just post products from day to day.
What’s the secret to keeping people captivated by your feed? List your top three tips for Instagram:
1. Pools and palm tree posts always get a high engagement and attract the wanderlust followers
2. Mixing up your bloggers (across multiple countries)
3. Reply to comments!
What’s next for Vamastyle?
I love the idea of adding a little Vamaliving angle to the brand: cushions, throws, beach towels etc… I think the prints would work beautifully across these products.
Images courtesy of Kaitie Manani.