Friends With Frank Founder Julia McCarthy Opened Her First Store During a Pandemic


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With its classic silhouettes and high-quality materials, luxury outerwear label, Friends With Frank, has earned a dedicated following and repeat customer base.

Founder Julia McCarthy has operated her business online since 2012, but had decided to bring her label to a bricks and mortar location in Richmond, Melbourne, in March 2020.

As fate would have it, McCarthy’s plans were somewhat foiled by COVID-19, but instead of postponing her store opening indefinitely, the entrepreneur made a strategic pivot both to the way her business operated online, and to her plans of operation in-store.


“Our big AW20 launch collection came about two weeks before Australia went into
lockdown. We are only human, so of course, we freaked out. But, just like other small
businesses, we’re adapting. This tricky time will pass and we are committed to coming out
of this stronger than ever,” says Julia.

We caught up with Julia to find out more about her agile way of working around a global pandemic to realise her dreams of opening her store.

TheLatch— Thanks so much for chatting with us, Julia. Tell me the story of Friends with Frank and what gets you out of bed in the morning?

Julia McCarthy: Friends with Frank was born out of my frustration of not being able to find a classic luxury coat for an affordable price. I began with the search for the perfect classic handwoven rabbit fur jacket.

Once I had one made, I had a lot of my family and friends wanting one for themselves so before I knew it I was in the beginning stages of my own business. Since then, FWF has grown into a wide range of styles and materials, all classic outerwear pieces that everyone needs in their wardrobe.

All of our pieces are designs that I am proud to wear, and it gives me great satisfaction knowing I’ve got loyal customers who have supported the brand from its infancy and who buy a new piece from our range every season.


TL: The pieces really are so classic and stunning. How has your business been affected by COVID-19?

JM: The main challenge we’ve faced as a result of COVID-19 is the impact it’s had on designing our future ranges. In a pre-COVID world, we would visit our production team every year.

This trip would involve us taking the time to source new quality materials, as well as design our range in person with our team. Due to the inability to travel overseas for the foreseeable future, we’ve had to design the range at a distance, which is definitely less hands-on than we’re used to! Plus the back and forth of multiple rounds of sampling adds that extra time to the process.

TL: I can imagine… Did you have to put any plans in place to pivot your business?

JM: Luckily for us, we already have an established online boutique. As a team, we have implemented a few new features to our online store to ensure the customer experience of shopping online with us is as seamless as possible.

We’ve added a live chat function so that we’re available to converse with our customers directly when they are browsing the site. We have also started offering free returns for Australia and New Zealand customers as well as a comprehensive online sizing chart. All of these new features have been received really well!

TL: Quick thinking there. Now, you opened your retail store during a global pandemic. What was that like! Tell me about the decision to press forward with this plan.

JM: Our first retail space has been in the pipeline for us for around 12 months and was due to be a big milestone for FWF in 2020. We had planned and fitted out the space, and we were due to open at the end of March with a big launch party.

However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 began to worsen, we made the call to postpone the launch. Soon after that, the Stage Three restrictions were put in place, which confirmed our decision that postponing the opening had been the responsible thing to do.

This was obviously a big curveball for us, and all our plans to open the store were put on hold. It was daunting not having any idea when our launch might be! Luckily for us, the restrictions eased in early May and we chose to open our space with one-on-one appointments.

We’ve actually found that having appointments has offered a great tailored experience for our customers. It allows them to have the whole space to themselves for the duration of half an hour, and the ability for us to give them our full attention in assisting them with purchasing their forever coat.


TL: What an amazing way for customers to really get to know your pieces. We want to know, how can people support your business right now and in the future?

JM: As a small business, we find word of mouth so effective. If a customer of ours owns and loves their FWF piece, telling their friends and network about us means a lot.

Even if you are not in the position to buy one of our pieces this season — but love our brand and what we are about — by simply telling a friend, you are supporting a small business like ours a lot more than you may realise.

“By simply telling a friend, you are supporting a small business like ours a lot more than you may realise.”

TL: How do you think your business, or the industry in general, will evolve from here? Will your short-term pivots change how you operate?

JM: I’m excited by the talk of late that the industry will be working towards more realistic seasons. Friends with Frank has always tried to go against the grain and work more to the actual seasons, as opposed to the fashion calendar, however, this would always put pressure on us to go on sale during what should be our peak selling months.

The constant churn of newness and then heavy discounting isn’t sustainable, not for the industry or the planet. It really feels like a global reset is needed, and we’re already feeling the shift in the mentality of our consumers.

We’re finding more and more that customers are beginning to appreciate the craftsmanship and quality materials that go into each piece; and are therefore seeing the value in investing in a classic piece that will see them through multiple seasons.

“It really feels like a global reset is needed, and we’re already feeling the shift in the mentality of our consumers.”

Shop the Friends With Frank collection now or visit Julia in-store at stunning new Melbourne location at 2A/30 Wangaratta Street, Richmond. 

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