What most people see is a beautifully glamorous business, two sisters kicking goals and an amazing team... but what most don’t see is the last ten years of ups and downs.
Throwback to how it all started and we’re gobsmacked we got here! Sitting in our Hobart headquarters, reminiscing on the good old days we are quite emotional. We grew up in a rural beach town in northern NSW, called Hawks Nest. A tiny, ridiculously beautiful, but slow paced town for a family of full-on extroverts. Hannah, definitely the most intense sibling out of the four of us, took a lot of work for our poor mumma. She was highly strung, incredibly driven and sometimes days at the beach just weren’t enough. So at the age of 12 with the hope to calm this wild child, our mum enters Hannah into beading classes. What most would see as an opportunity to express themselves through a creative hobby, Hannah saw as an opportunity to build a mini empire. Slowly collecting glass beads from the $2 shop, Hannah would build her inventory, then set up a makeshift stall outside Bi-Lo the local supermarket. With earrings selling for $5 a pop, Hannah quickly got the taste for business and slowly reinvested her winnings into her little business.
Fast forward a few years and our family made the move to Tasmania! What most people on the ‘mainland’ saw as a tiny island with few opportunities, we saw as a big city with endless avenues to explore. With 6 years between us, we were on different life trajectories at the time. Rachel was still learning how to figure out basic fractions at school, whilst Hannah was on her way to becoming a graduate at University with a Science Law degree. Despite Hannah’s pursuit in the world of suits and corporate chaos, she maintained her passion for entrepreneurship. Supporting herself through uni, Hannah would continue to make jewellery and sell it to local gifting stores.
The shock reality of the wholesale world saw Hannah quickly pivot to direct to customer. Why continue to sell to boutiques who buy the necklaces for $10 and sell them for $70!! Just like that the Salamanca market days were born when Hannah was 16.
A little older now, Rachel would watch Hannah design jewellery in the lounge room every night. Begging to be taught and watching as each piece was tagged with ‘Handmade by Hannah’, the trading name at the time. 18 year old Hannah would slowly upskill Rachel in the design and making process and the team was born.
Time to sell. The Salamanca market was not the easiest environment to sell in, and certainly not the most glamorous. After a week of hand making every piece, the 5am wakeup call on Saturdays would ring and it would be off to sell the dream to whoever would stop - rain, hail or shine. Not having had a permanent site at the time meant the rush to the waiting list! Rachel would jump out of the car, run down to the council waiting list and await the good or bad news. Would we get a spot or was that wakeup all for nothing? On the good days the sun was shining, we had customers and life was good! On the bad days we couldn't feel our toes, it was raining and customers were nowhere in sight.
After a little momentum and building a presence at the Salamanca markets, Handmade by Hannah soon morphed into ‘on trend’ label ‘Francesca’ (the name our mum wanted to call Hannah). Moving away from designs that were more suited to our mum, we did a 360 and began designing for our own dream demographic.
2012 swung around and a young Tasmanian off to NYC seems like something from our dreams. Winning the 2012 global student entrepreneur award for Australia and representing her country was exactly what Hannah did. While she didn’t win the global award, a little encouraging sentence from one of the judges was enough to give Hannah hope that this hobby could become a real business.
Come 2013, Hannah completed her science law degree and Rachel was in her final year of school. Taking the opportunity to get a ‘real job’ Hannah got offered a law position, only to be met with an ultimatum.. She had one month to close the business down or decline the job. With a whole lot of conviction behind her she declined the law position and followed the dream to be a global jewellery brand. Considering taking a gap year, Rachel completed school and worked alongside Hannah and the business full time.
As sisters, we both discovered our own unique skill sets within the company, Hannah the business mind and Rachel the creative. Within one year of working together selling the dream the first Francesca retail store on the outskirts of the Hobart CBD, was born. With banks refusing to give a startup a business loan, Hannah sold her car and funded the mission. Decorating the store on a shoestring budget, with fantastic furniture tables, tissue paper pom poms for the wall and magazine clippings for the walls.
Each day Hannah would build the business plan as Rachel would use her model 0 iPhone to create content and build out the brand. Taking it in turns to serve customers, make the jewellery, and anything else it took to build the brand, we did it together. We built an amazing customer base and within one year we upgraded the store to a beautiful ‘dream store’ in a local centre.
Still without a team or big budget behind us, we decided to skill ourselves in the areas we were passionate about. We would youtube, read books and mimic the ‘big brands’, Hannah acquired the skills it took to be a CEO and Rachel the skills needed to be a Creative Director. Through many learnings, huge mistakes and resilience we slowly learnt the reality of what it took to build a business.
A decade on as sisters and we have built a brand, a company and a team of over 60 women who we call our Franc Fam. Over the years we discovered that true success is defined by a greater purpose in giving back, with nearly $1,000,000 donated to Australian charities through our handmade bracelets. Francesca is now far greater than the two of us and we are incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported us along the way; our team, customers and friends and family.