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Building a fashion unicorn: Zimmermann

From selling dresses at a flea market in Sydney to building Australia's fashion unicorn from the ground up, the Zimmermann sisters' eponymous label never stops to transform

When Nicky Zimmermann graduated from East Sydney Tech's acclaimed design school in 1990, she spent her days designing garments to showcase her creations at the local flea market. Working from her parent's garage, she used this opportunity not only to refine her style but also to see first-hand how women responded to her work.

Anyone who came across Nicky's stall at Sydney's Paddington Markets instantly spotted the creativity and the signature aesthetic that would go on to become the foundation of her fashion empire. Today, with close to 60 stores worldwide and collections that average at US$3,000 a piece, the brand continues to stay true to its identity, which is why a single glance can tell you that it's a Zimmermann creation.

With a blend of sophisticated femininity, clever colour combinations and delicate original prints, Nicky's creations began gaining momentum in Sydney. Following a two-page editorial in Australian Vogue, she opened her first brick-and-mortar store in the hip Darlinghurst neighbourhood to keep up with the demand for new orders from around the country. In 1991, her sister Simone joined the growing business and together they unveiled the Zimmermann brand.

The siblings have always believed that their relationship has been the cornerstone of the brand's success and longevity. With Nicky's creativity and Simone's business acumen, the brand has cemented itself on the global fashion map and continues to reign even three decades on.

In its early days, Zimmermann offered ready-to-wear tops and dresses to fashionistas in Sydney. But as they continued to draw interest among Australia's savvy circles, the sisters swiftly introduced a swimwear component. This move was particularly clever as it channelled the brand in a new direction, with Zimmermann's Swim and Resort collections now highly sought after the world over. Their unique approach saw them fusing fashion (think intricate lacework, delicate embroidery, flowing silhouettes, vibrant prints, unique motifs, decorative trims and sophisticated prints) with swimwear and proved to be a game-changer for the brand. It caught the attention of Harvey Nichols in the UK and resulted in the first department store order. Then followed all the label extensions, including elegant daywear, evening wear, accessories, jewellery, footwear and a kids' line, which enhanced the brand's burgeoning profile.

Having securely established its presence in Australia with a collection of standalone stores and with demand from international clients growing, Zimmermann opened its first US store in Beverly Hills in 2011, which has now grown to 19 stores countrywide. Stores soon followed in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy and China. When luxury and designer fashion brands were still wary of e-commerce in the early 2010s, Zimmermann became one of the first to establish their online presence by partnering with Net-a-Porter. The move contributed to the brand's international exposure and eventual success with the current generation of savvy online customers.

Taking their label global came with its own set of challenges. With Australia's seasonal changes, aligning Zimmermann's collections with the summer and winter periods in its home country would mean that the rest of the world would only be able to catch on six months later. The brand, therefore, decided to swap its seasons to work with markets in the Northern Hemisphere so that they could sell the same product worldwide at the same time. This move proved hugely successful for the label. And before time, they built a loyal global fanbase, which also includes Kate Middleton, Beyoncé, Kendall Jenner and fellow Aussies Margot Robbie and Jessica Hart.

Despite its 30-year legacy, Zimmermann shows no signs of slowing down. In August 2023, the siblings inked a deal with American private equity investor Advent International to the tune of US$1.75 billion. The agreement gives Advent International a majority stake in the business, with the founding sisters retaining a minority shareholding in the brand and continuing to run the label.

The acquisition has made Zimmermann an official unicorn with a value of over US$1 billion. Further cementing its global positioning, the brand is now also setting up a secondary design office – its first outside Australia – in the French capital, following its debut at Paris Fashion Week in September 2023.


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