Pernille Leschly Halle ,32, thought she was going to relax around the swimming pool or go shopping to pass time when she first arrived in Kuala Lumpur with her husband in May 2001… but she quickly discovered that she was not cut for a life without direction and goals.
Instead, her keen interest in fashion and some interesting experiences later has turned her into the owner of a successful international business in fashion when she in October 2004 founded Style Butler (Asia) Sdn. Bhd.
After two weeks by the pool Pernille had enough of relaxing and started to get restless. She contacted Estee Lauder in Denmark and got an appointment to source some of their customer gifts. Her first shipment of beaded bags was almost stopped before she got started when she realized that she needed to have an export company in Malaysia to ship the goods. Instead of seeing a problem, Pernille took it as a challenge and ended up getting the owner of an export company to help out by being the official exporter. Pernille then added sourcing of company gifts for other businesses in Denmark to her list of activities.
Work experience in Asia
It wasn’t long before the owner of the export company saw Pernille’s potential and hired her as a regional sales manager targeting the hotel industry for his company KirkHill (M) Sdhn. Bhd.
“I got valuable experience working for KirkHill”, Pernille explains. “I learned about the textile industry, about doing business in Asia and I also gathered a very good network of contacts by selling linen products to some of the largest hotel chains in Asia”.
During her 3 years with KirkHill, Pernille secured large contracts with hotel groups such as Shangri-La, Equatorial, Hilton and OberoiAccor but by then she felt she had learned enough and needed to do something new.
A busy start
“During my years in Malaysia ideas had been playing in my mind and I was very keen to do something within fashion. I had also regularly been sourcing brooches and accessories for my sister in Denmark and it was by doing this that I early on realized that Malaysia was not the best country for manufacturing textiles in. However, during my travels in the region and China and India I had gathered many good contacts and ideas were beginning to take shape. We decided to start branding the accessories my sister and I were doing and add a line of clothing to it. In October 2004 we booked a stand at the fashion fair in Copenhagen for February 2005. That would give me some months to put together a collection for the show… plenty of time I thought”, Pernille muses but she ran into challenges somewhat more difficult than anticipated.
Pernille is not educated as a designer but is a Bachelor in Law & Economics so she knew little about what to look out for when putting together a complete collection of cotton tops, t-shirts, cashmere sweaters and accessories.
Putting together drawings, working with the factories realizing the ideas turned out to be more difficult than expected. It was learning by doing… day by day! Pernille managed to overcome the obstacles out of pure determination and advice from her sister who is educated as a designer and used to production control but it was a close cut in terms of timing for their first major appearance on the fashion scene in Denmark.
A successful launch
“We had very good response at our first fashion fair in Denmark”, Pernille proudly states. “We were already known for our accessories but the new tops and sweaters got immediate accept as did our new brand name Style Butler. Through that first fair we managed to set up good distribution in Denmark and we assigned agents in Sweden and Norway. On our second fair we expanded the number of styles from 8 to 30 in cashmere and from 8 styles in tops to 20. We also added a line of knitted silk tops and got distribution contracts for Germany and UK”, says Pernille.
Style Butler products are now furthermore sold in shops in Italy, Spain, France, Ireland, Iceland, Faeroe Islands and Hong Kong and their plans are slowly to get a better foothold in all of Europe by appointing their own agents. Pernille and her sister hope to reach those goals by attending fashion fairs in Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin and London this year.
While Pernille set up Style Butler (Asia) Sdn Bhd and is the owner of the brand Style Butler, her sister Cathrine owns Style Butler Copenhagen each taking care of their part of the team work but they both see their companies as one. Pernille designs all the styles, is in charge of production and Development of new markets while sister Cathrine takes care of all handling, logistics, distribution and sales. Together they seem to be developing a brand that you will have to keep your eyes out for in the future!
The secret of success…
The secret to Pernille’s success with a break even in the first year and a significant turnover in the second lays in her niche approach of versatile mix and match wear and the branding strategy. To newbie business owners in Asia Pernille gives her words of advice: “Don’t think too much about it, just do it and accept the learning by doing process. Be prepared to take some hits but do not be afraid of it as it’s just part of the game. And do use your entire network to draw on for advice, contacts etc. and enjoy what you are doing!”
And there’s no doubt, Pernille loves what she’s doing!