INTERVIEW: Seafolly CEO Anthony Halas

Seafolly chief executive Anthony Halas talks to Kat Slowe about the extraordinary success of the family swimwear label and reveals his astonishing plans for the company over the next few years.

Seafolly chief executive Anthony Halas’ childhood dream did not feature him as the boss of a swimwear company. His primary ambition, on graduating from university, was to make it as an actor. Several short years later his enthusiasm for acting had waned and Halas’ true talents found their natural focus. The global swimwear market and Halas are indubitably the richer for the thespian world’s loss.

Seafolly, a private, family run business, was founded in 1975. “I grew up with the business,” says Halas, nostalgically. “I spent my school holidays working in the warehouse. packing boxes and doing things. I always felt like it was part of the family. So, once I got that acting out of the system, it really felt natural.”

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Halas joined his father’s company in 1996 and, just two years later, made the first of what proved to be a series of life changing decisions. He bought out his father’s partner and re-directed the company’s focus from supplying private label swimwear for the discount sector to producing its own label products. A new CEO was born.

Now, 14 years later, Seafolly owns 35 to 40 percent of the market share in its native market of Australia. Its closest competitor has just seven to eight percent. Over the past three years, the business has doubled in size and, in the last 12 months alone, has increased its sales by 17 percent. Yet, according to Halas, this is just the beginning.

Seafolly also operates the country’s largest chain of multi-brand swimwear stores, called Sunburn, and recently opened its first own brand Seafolly flagship outlets in Australia and Singapore. Retail is a very fast growing part of the company’s business. Non-existent four years ago, it now accounts for a quarter of overall sales. The vast majority of these 35 outlets are Sunburn stores, but Halas is determined to increase the number of Seafolly flagships over the coming few years.

“We have beautiful Seafolly flagship stores,” he says. “And, we are going to be bringing some of those into the international markets over the next 12 to 18 months. We are looking at the US and a few locations in Europe.

“I am very excited about opening up our amazing flagship stores in these key strategic locations. We find, by opening up flagship stores, it doesn’t only benefit the store itself and our company. Stockists in the region benefit because demand for the brand goes up so much.”

Halas attributes much of Seafolly’s recent success to the growth of its international business. The appetite for the swimwear label’s products was aptly demonstrated at last month’s Mode City show, at which Seafolly hosted a series of daily catwalks.

“We were very, very busy for the whole three days, beyond expectations, really,” Halas says. “We picked up quite a lot of new retail accounts, mostly in France, but also in some other parts of the world, which is great.”

This achievement was all the sweeter for not being anticipated. The swimwear market has not been without its challenges over the past few years and Halas had predicted that these would negatively impact on interest at the event.

“I think just coming from Australia and viewing all this doom and gloom in Europe, you sort of don’t know what to expect,” Halas says. “I was sort of thinking ‘well, maybe we are not going to be quite as busy this year’ but, instead, we were probably busier this year than we ever have been before at Mode City.

And, Halas is determined to continue growing awareness of the brand in Europe and around the world. While Seafolly is a household name in Australia, supplying surf and swimwear products to the country’s many independents and department stores, the CEO still recognises that there is significant work to be done elsewhere to increase brand recognition.

“Internationally,” Halas says, “we have got a long way to go in building awareness. We are putting quite significant resources into that for next summer. There will be campaigns running in some key markets and we will be doing quite a lot to build that awareness.”

It is not only the aura of doom at gloom that Seafolly has had to overcome to gain a foothold in Europe and the US. As an Australian company, Seafolly has also had to combat the difficulties of a strong Australian dollar.

“The weakening of the Euro, the weakening of the pound and the weakening of the US dollar has really devalued the value of our exports to those countries,” reveals Halas.

Consistent bad weather has also played a major role, with many of Seafolly’s key markets suffering from poor summers over the past few years. Halas claims that the UK seems to have been particularly heavily hit. Though Seafolly’s online business in the UK is still very strong, he states the bricks and mortars stores have suffered ‘quite significantly’. The brand’s other European markets have also been impacted to varying degrees. While there has been solid growth in Germany, France has reportedly suffered from the poor weather.

“I guess it is a big world,” says Halas, “and, no matter how good or bad the economic conditions are, there always are these weather factors. Certain markets really have a great summer and others don’t, and in the balance there is a trend that you can follow. I think we are so broadly spread that, on balance, we are quite well protected.”

In an attempt to further protect Seafolly, Halas has put a lot of attention into diversifying the label’s product offering, placing emphasis on clothing and accessories. “We are selling that in our international markets and we are seeing quite a good acceptance of that product in our international retail accounts,” claims Halas.

Seafolly is now present in about 44 countries around the globe and counts Russia, and South Africa, as the most recent additions to its international portfolio. Eventually, Halas hopes the name Seafolly will be as recognised around the world as it is currently in Australia. And, when that happens, who knows what the future could hold? Could it even see the company being taken public?

“We are getting to a size now where maybe something like that would be on the cards,” says Halas. “In another three to five years…”



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