When WAVES co-founders George and Olivia Kazma kicked off their side hustle selling new-release sneakers, clothing and accessories from their spare room in 2020, they never dreamed that it would become the go-to destination in just two short years for Aussie lovers of the latest drops in hype sneakers and streetwear. George joined editor Cec Busby on the Flying Solo podcast to share how they’ve managed to ride this wave of success right through the pandemic.
Kicking off a COVID passion project
You wouldn’t know it now when perusing the slick and sophisticated WAVES website and their beautifully curated Insta feed. Still, this influential sneaker and streetwear empire started as a passion project in the spare room of the Kazmas’ home two years ago, with just $5,000 starting capital.
“We started something very small from about 20 or 30 items,” says George. “We started selling accessories and then expanded from there. As time went along, we saw different aspects within streetwear where we just had to tap that part of the market. Now about 80 per cent of our core business is sneakers.”
While business was floating along nicely, George admits that COVID lockdowns prompted a rethink about how seriously to take their side hustle.
“The push was COVID. During Australian lockdowns, we saw a huge boom in eCommerce, and we said, you know what, let’s start going to the next step with our advertising, marketing, Facebook and Google. And that’s when it just peaked.”
George & Olivia Kazma, co-founders of WAVES. (Image supplied)
The challenges of going all-in
Olivia and George quit their jobs five months later, though George admits it was a nerve-wracking decision and not without its challenges.
“We invested so much into that. All our savings went into getting stock and so forth. It was a huge risk. There were so many different challenges.
“Of course, one of our biggest challenges was getting stock. We’ve got guys that work for us all around the world: Europe, the US, London, Paris, Malaysia. And the biggest challenge for us was getting the stock here during COVID – shipping was super delayed.
“That was one of the worst experiences of my life, to be honest. My stock coming from overseas was quicker than shipping local to customers. That was one of the most challenging parts.”
Listen to George Kazma on the Flying Solo podcast:
Going above and beyond for the customer
“It’s super important to give customers updates during the whole process and give the right information,” George advises. “That’s where we shine, is our communication. The upside to that is that customers understood because they saw it over social media; they saw it everywhere. So they understood that it wasn’t our fault.”
“During that time, we upgraded everyone to express postage. We also invested in a same-day delivery service in Sydney Metro, and people have loved that service.
“We’re also one of the only streetwear stores which allow exchanges in Australia. Within this kind of industry, because a lot of these stores work on a consignment basis, they have a ‘no exchange, no size swap’ policy. And that’s where we shine because we’ve created such a business where the amount of stock that we have, we can allow it.”
Combining digital with bricks and mortar
WAVES have become masters of giving customers what they want, even opening a pop-up retail location while other businesses closed their doors.
“Once we opened that retail pop-up, we had people that have been following us for two years come into our warehouse and drop so much money. Knowing that they can touch and feel the item, understand their size and everything, and they could walk out very happy.
“There are some people who come to my store that don’t even know how to shop online. Certain people don’t like online shopping, and they want the items straight away – they don’t want to wait for shipping.”
The power of influencer marketing and social media
Of course, it’s tough to gain any traction for your business online without an active social media identity, and WAVES have that in spades, utilising influencer marketing and social media word of mouth to fantastic effect.
“We’re very live,” says George. “We’re very active on our social media with daily and weekly drops. We’re always live on our Stories and communicating.
“It’s super important for us to be different to any other streetwear online store in Australia. We focus heavily on our content creation – showing people how to wear certain items and how to have confidence in wearing them.”
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George says exposure from social media influencers has given WAVES the added boost needed to step up their sales and operations.
“That’s where we’ve noticed a boom. I would have particular stock for about six months, thinking, ‘what am I gonna do with this stock?’ And then one celebrity will wear it, and I wake up the next morning with tons of orders and think, ‘what the hell just happened?’ And then they show us a photo of Hailey B or Kylie Jenner or someone who’s worn this shoe. And that’s it; we’re sold out.
“Our biggest collab was with [MAFS star] Martha K, and she changed the whole female dynamic of the business, to be honest. Where most of our clientele previous to that was around 80 per cent male, now it’s about 70 per cent female, according to our sales.”
George and Olivia remain humble when asked what their biggest lesson to share with other new business owners is.
“We’re still learning,” says Olivia. “We’ve learned so much. It’s gone beyond our wildest dreams, and we’re just going with it – whatever opportunity comes our way, we’re taking it. Some pay off, some don’t pay off, but most of the time, the outcome is positive, and we’re very grateful for what’s happened with our business.
“A lot of our friends and families throughout COVID lost their jobs, closed their businesses for months on end. And we were fortunate that we were able to work still and still grow in that time. And we’ll never forget that.”
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