how to become a boutique owner by...marli atterton

Be inspired by the woman building her own "loud, messy and a little unexpected" fashion universe with total love and devotion.

by Hilary Bourke
14 December 2016, 12:10am

A few years ago, an independent boutique called Slow Waves burst onto the scene, adding a positive new dimension to the Australian retail landscape in the process. The woman behind the business is Marli Atterton, who, frustrated with the status quo, created the kind of store she'd like to shop at. Slow Waves is a store stocking hard-to-find favourites and Australian exclusives like Ambush, Filles A Papa, Faustine Steinmetz and MM6, all carefully curated with our seasons in mind. With a background in management, buying, styling and visual merchandising, Marli is continually channelling her many talents and superb taste into her enterprise, all the while striving to keep the high-low balance just right. With Slow Waves' recent upgrade to a new, larger space, Marli shares how she became a poster girl of independent Australian retail.

What I do and why I do it….
"I'm the owner and a-zillion-other-things of Slow Waves, a store that I opened in 2014. I came up with the idea partly out of frustration towards the retail scene in Australia at the time, and also because I wanted to do something that was loud and messy and a little unexpected. Slow Waves isn't a copy of another store. I opened with seven international labels that represented a pretty unique mix of established and emerging designers, and continuing with that original aim, come SS17 we'll have 14 labels on board. I do it because I'm restless, and running a physical and online store is all consuming, which I think brings out the best in me. I'm not one to sit back and chill and think I've done enough, I'm always thinking of things we could improve on or do more of. Apart from a couple of labels, everything is exclusive to us in Australia. This is what Slow Waves is all about and what sets us apart. It's about the discovery for customers and even the staff. For example, currently we have: hand woven mohair, denim mixed with chains, hand painted fabrics and necklaces that stash cigarettes. Over the past two years our aesthetic has evolved but the message remains the same. It's not about wearing a runway look, dressing head to toe in one label and showing how much money you have, it's about throwing it all together and making it your own. Wear a sequin dress over sweat pants, wear whatever you want, who cares really. Sometimes someone will mention a certain label that's getting a lot of recognition and isn't represented in Australia yet, but I will never stock a label that I'm not 100% down with, even though it might be a good seller. I feel like I'm in it for the right reasons, I'm proud of all the labels we carry, I don't look at them and see dollar signs."

A day in My Life…
"Depends on the day…but always starts with me half asleep straight to the computer seeing what emails or online orders have come through over the night. Most of the week I'm working in the store helping customers and doing the boring day to day things like cleaning and admin. I get bored easily so if it's quiet I'll probably pull everything apart and re-merchandise all the different rooms. On the other days when there's a staff member on, I'll go in later in the day to check they're happy, bounce ideas off them etc. Kevin does a few days in the store and is also our in house photographer/graphic designer, so there's always something for us to go over, a shoot to plan etc. I style all our photo shoots and suggest the mood, he takes and interprets that and always comes back with great images. I'm super lucky. On top of that I travel to do the buying, I work on the website, marketing, accounting, emails, handle the online orders, the list is actually endless. My Dad articulates it well when speaking about being your own boss: on a good day there's nowhere else you'd rather be, on a bad day you question everything and wonder why you even bother. Being so hands on, that's exactly how I feel about Slow Waves, and on a shitty day it is hard to separate myself from the store."

The moment that made me…
"I think our recent relocation to Collins Street made me realise that Slow Waves isn't just me anymore, I'm not in this by myself. I have a supportive team and a growing customer base. It was a risky move, but necessary for our growth. Now that we have a bigger space with three rooms, I think people do expect more from us, and I don't want to disappoint them. I want customers to have a good experience when they visit us and enjoy the space as much as we do. Yeah, customers have come in while I'm drinking a beer or even painting my nails but we're not perfect, we're not a department store and we're not trying to be anything that we're not. I think people respond well to that and our slightly alternative approach to the traditional retail experience. Plus now I have a team who care and want to be involved and can help take on some of the workload, where in the beginning it was just me. Their opinion and feedback is everything to me and I want them to feel good about saying, "Yeah, I work at Slow Waves"."

To degree or not to degree, that is the question…
"People respond to things differently. I would take my 14 years of working in the industry over a degree any day, but that's just what has worked for me. My role at Slow Waves is so diverse I don't think anything could have really prepared me for it. You can't easily teach how to open and run a store or how to buy every season, I believe it's more instinctual. I can feel in my stomach if something is working or not, if it's the right time or the right vibe or mix, that's how I make a lot of my decisions. It can be difficult balancing everything and trying to make it work, or having to say no to something, the whole head versus the heart. But at the end of the day it's a business so I have to make my decisions based on that."

What I wish I knew then that I know now…
"Being a good communicator is important, which is something I'm still working on, as is being confident in your decisions. But I think the best piece of advice I've been given is to make my own mistakes, not other peoples'. Everyone has an opinion and I'll always listen to feedback or advice, but I make my own decisions based on what's best for Slow Waves, because no one cares more than I do."

I'm excited by tomorrow because…
"We're getting new deliveries weekly which is always exciting! It's like every Xmas and birthday rolled into one. Seeing the collection IRL, being able to try things on and seeing how people respond is great. At the moment we're all losing it over four special boxes of stock we received from Japan. I actually sent a text to a staff member telling them it had arrived and was so good I was crying. Ridiculous, because I wasn't, but a good delivery is super satisfying. I'm also excited about the arrival of SS17 and our new labels, and overall there's just so much more that I want to achieve. I want Slow Waves to be the best that it can be, in whatever shape or form, that's what drives me."


how to become a
slow waves
culture mm6
filles et papa
marli atterton