From working on the family farm in Keith to building a clothing empire: Charlie's amazing journey

EXCITING JOURNEY: ORTC Clothing Co. founders Will Swale (left) and Charlie Hender. Photo: ORTC Clothing Co.
EXCITING JOURNEY: ORTC Clothing Co. founders Will Swale (left) and Charlie Hender. Photo: ORTC Clothing Co.

Starting a business is an incredibly daunting prospect, as it can often be difficult to form a life-long dream into something successful.

Charlie Hender, who spent his childhood growing up on the family farm in Keith, always had a keen interest in business, and his passion for fashion has culminated into the success of ORTC Clothing Co.

Along with best mate and business partner, Will Swale, the dynamic duo have made a significant impact on the clothing market in Australia, and have their sights set on conquering the US market.

While the small town of Keith is more known for its agricultural exploits, the town did allow Charlie to develop a strong passion for business.

"Growing up, I have always had a key interest in business. I loved the farm growing up, and the business side of things when it came to livestock," he said.

Charlie's passion for fashion was evident from a young age, however, it wasn't until 2016 that the company's humble beginnings truly began.

Despite admitting his knowledge about clothing industry was lacking in the early days, he, along with Will, made the bold and brave decision to "give it a go" and aim for the stars.

"We started producing accessories, because that was all that we could afford at the time. It was a cheap way to get into the market," Charlie said.

"We started selling gifts through Will's mum's store, One Rundle, which is a big hardware store in Adelaide.

"We always wanted to get into clothing, but we didn't have the funds behind us in the early days. We are five years in now, and clothing is by far the biggest part of the business."

While it is easy to admire the success that the business has achieved in recent years, the journey to build the brand into what it is today was long and arduous, and often tested Charlie and Will's resilience.

Charlie said the support shown from friends and family in the early stages provided an important platform to grow, and despite it being tough, the duo were determined deliver their dream.

"When we first started up, everyone was really supportive, but was an absolute slog for close to three years - we were working other jobs and putting in as many hours as we could," he said.

"It's one thing to put in the time and effort, but not giving up was probably the hardest thing. Around the three-year mark, the honeymoon period was over and we started to feel a little bit lost.

"Will and I are both incredibly driven people - we were both determined to make this work. The first business usually fails, but we were so determined to not let that happen."

Despite having a clear vision, the initial lack of resources forced the duo to undertake a number of roles, but an increase in staff has allowed them to flourish as a brand.

"When it was just Will and I, we were a jack of all trades, but masters of none. Things just don't get done at the best of your ability, because you are lacking time and resources," Charlie said.

"Now that we have great people around us, we can branch out and get our product out there. It is always a nice feeling to see people down at the beach wearing your stuff, but you're always hungry for more."

OVERSEAS: Will Swale and Charlie Hender have travelled to the United States on a number of occasions to grow their business. Photo: ORTC Clothing Co.

OVERSEAS: Will Swale and Charlie Hender have travelled to the United States on a number of occasions to grow their business. Photo: ORTC Clothing Co.

The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed Charlie and Will to step back and reflect on the past couple of years.

Over the last five years, Charlie said there has been plenty to be proud of, however, he believes that there is still plenty of room to improve.

Before the pandemic, the duo were looking to crack into the American market, participating in trades shows to showcase their brand.

"There was a period where we had done a couple of trips in a row to the United States, and did trade shows over there and were selling quite a lot of stuff - we also featured in Oprah Magazine," Charlie said.

"Things were looking good, and then COVID hit. I think COVID was a leveller for a lot of people and pulled us back down to Earth.

"It was good for us, because it allowed us to realise that we weren't even getting things in Australia right."

With the prospect of overseas travel becoming more realistic by the day, the older and wiser duo have huge plans to continue their pursuit for growth.

"We will be straight back to the US as soon as international travel resumes and we try to replicate what we've been able to do here in Australia," Charlie explained.

Dreams are free, and although not every dream comes to fruition, the determination and hard work displayed by Charlie and Will to build something from nothing is truly inspiring.

From growing up on his family farm in Keith, to participating in trade shows in the United States, it has been an amazing journey for Charlie.

The sky is the limit for the clothing company, and with two highly motivated and determined founders, the best is yet to come from the dynamic duo.