In 1990 Sacha Alagich and her friend Emma designed, made and sold tropical flower decorations to sell to guests at the Sheraton Fiji Resort.

At the time, she was just seven years old.

Little did she know that this childhood venture would ignite a lifelong passion for creating a business that captures the essence of paradise.

Sacha launched homewares brand Escape to Paradise 12 years ago while working full-time in the advertising department for a mainstream women’s magazines in Sydney. “After a trip to Hawaii, I was inspired to bring the beauty of island living into people’s homes,” she says.

During her spare time, Sacha channelled her creative energy into designing a collection of handbags, beach bags, and cushions and got them made overseas. “I was living at home with Mum and Dad, and that first delivery of stock filled our house,” she chuckles.

Each weekend Sacha sold the products at Bondi Markets, but Sacha soon realised she needed to change up her business model to sell the stock much faster.

Changing the business model

Attending trade shows opened doors to collaborations with wholesalers, paving the way for Escape to Paradise’s presence in retail stores, resorts and hotels. “Some of the bigger chain stores won’t take you unless you’ve been around for at least a year or more, so we started with smaller stores which was fantastic to build up credibility,” says Sacha, who quit her job after a few months to focus full-time on the business.

As the business started to grow, Sacha leased a warehouse and rented various office spaces. “I felt that to make it a legitimate business, I had to get dressed and go to an office,” she says. “But once the pandemic hit, I ended the lease and now continue to work remotely as it’s way more acceptable.”

Hiring staff is a major expense for a business, so Sacha took it slowly. She started with commission-based sales reps and gradually built a virtual team to handle customer service, bookkeeping, and social media.

Standing out in a competitive market

Sacha’s products are available at stores and hotel resorts locally and internationally. Around 60% are wholesale customers, 30% are ecommerce stores including Temple and Webster and Freedom, and 10% direct to consumer.

The homewares industry is highly competitive, so for a small business to stand out, it needs have a point of difference.

Escape to Paradise embraced the niche of island living with original and custom designs to serve hotels and resorts. This, along with a fast and flexible delivery approach, sets it apart from competitors.

“Unlike many companies that have huge minimum order requirements that can take ages to create and ship, we have no minimum order, and we can design, manufacture and airfreight products within a week,” says Sacha.

This nimbleness and cutting back on unnecessary expenses has helped make the business more profitable over the past few years. “The pandemic forced me to look at all our overheads and be a lot more diligent,” says Sacha.

Navigating cash flow challenges

In 2017 Sacha approached traditional lenders for a short-term loan to help her service more orders but found the process difficult. “It can take a year to get an overdraft approved and by then the opportunity’s passed,” she says. “Also, banks can make you feel bad for needing finance.”

When she approached Prospa, she felt she’d found a partner that understood her needs as a small business owner. “Prospa was so welcoming and accommodating,” she says.

More recently Sacha has taken out a second loan to help pay her invoices early, meet her GST and tax obligations on time and sustain day-to-day business operations.

“I had a cash flow gap between when our invoices were paid from our overseas department stores, so we found that being able to pay the loan off earlier is an amazing option,” she says. “You’re not locked into anything long-term and having smaller, manageable repayments makes things a lot easier.”

The application process for Prospa was quick and easy both times. “I filled out a questionnaire and uploaded my financials online securely,” says Sacha. “When I tried to get a loan from the bank, I kept having to pester my accountant for loads of documents. With Prospa, I barely had to do any research or preparation – it was so easy and I had the funds within a day or two. Prospa reduces my stress around finances and lets me focus on my business and customers.”

“Prospa reduces my stress around finances and lets me focus on my business and customers.”

Fight for your dreams

From childhood inspiration to global brand, Escape to Paradise is now firmly established and Sacha’s setting her sights on launching a swimwear collection.

Her advice to other entrepreneurs is not to give up if you believe in your dreams. “Challenges will come when you least expect them, and they can show you there’s a different way of looking at situations. Keep going. Always be creative and fight for what you believe in.”