'Dark, nasty and warlike': Spell & the Gypsy buyers online
SPELL Designs, the Byron Bay fashion label famous for its flowers and lace, has amassed a cult-like following complete with bullying and bans.
Winners of Telstra's 2016 Australian Business of the Year Award, design and marketing duo Isabella Pennefather and Elizabeth Abegg have achieved acclaim for the online success of their brand (and sub-brands) primarily through an evocative feed of photos on Instagram.
But while the Instagram account depicts relaxed-looking models in holiday mode, women buying and selling the Spell brand secondhand online have been feeling pretty stressed.
Fashion investments pay off
Brisbane-based fashion lover Bianca Allen* said when she joined the members-only Spell Designs Buy, Swap and Sell Facebook group eight months ago there were nearly 2,000 members: that number has since grown to more than 12,500.
A list of rules for the group stated that sellers could not list items above the Recommended Retail Price (excluding postage and transaction fees) but Ms Allen said she paid over the RRP every time she purchased.
When Ms Allen tried to list a dress for $30 more than the RRP, the group's administrators removed her post.
"One person reported me; later she private messaged me and it turned out she wanted to buy the dress herself but I'd already been invited by four people to sell on another page," she said.
"I still don't understand why there are those strict rules; one of the admins has been outed on another group page for having an Ebay site.
"She's genuinely making money selling above RRP on another page."
Ms Allen said she once bought from an Ebay Spell Designs seller only to have the item not show up in the post.
"She claimed she'd sent it but when I asked for tracking advice she didn't reply.
"I searched for her on social media and found she worked at the [Spell Designs] shop in Byron.
"That's when I realised Spell staff were putting aside items and selling just before release or re-release.
"I paid $30 more than you would in store only to find it was re-released soon afterwards."
Ms Allen said she contacted the shop owners and they were "helpful and professional" when they realised staff had compromised their brand integrity but when The Northern Star made enquiries, a spokeswoman for Spell Designs said "as far as we are aware, our staff have no involvement in these groups".
Another of the Facebook group's rules stated that any items for sale had to be advertised in individual posts; transactions could not occur within 'wanted to buy' threads or in private messages.
But Ms Allen said women wanting to buy sold-out Spell Designs were often undermined by profiteers.
"One woman agreed to pay $300 for a dress she hijacked from a 'wanted to buy' thread - people are constantly watching the threads and so as soon as the item was properly listed for sale she was the first to see it.
"She was profiteering: before she even received the dress she had it up on Ebay for $650.
"She was complained about so much on the Facebook group page she was banned."
Sellers wanting to make a profit found it it easy enough to skirt the group's rules, said Ms Reid.
"Women would say 'swaps only' and someone else would comment 'happy to buy if you want to sell - PM [private message] me," she said.
"Then the sale takes place privately without the admins knowing."
It wasn't long before business on the Spell Designs Buy, Swap and Sell Facebook group turned ugly for Ms Allen.
"I could see in a thread that someone wanted a playsuit I owned so I commented 'I have that playsuit'.
"I immediately received a private message from someone with the same initial as the original poster and I thought 'that must be her'.
"She bought immediately, that was about 8 or 9pm."
The next morning Ms Allen woke up to "a huge number of notifications" of multiple messages and comments: she had accidentally sold the playsuit to the wrong woman.
"The woman I sold it to said she was getting death threats.
"The woman who initially wanted the playsuit demanded I issue a refund so she could buy it, even when I told her it had rips.
"I apologised to her but I have chosen not to sell anything since then."
"Not worth the negativity and rubbish"
Ms Allen's negative experiences via the Spell Designs Buy, Swap and Sell Facebook group were of no surprise to Sharon Hedley, one of the administrators for a different Facebook group with almost 4,000 members called Spell & The Gypsy Buy, Swap, Sell (Rare Items).
"I was in the other group but was deleted for sharing this group on there[sic] page," said Ms Hedley in a written statement.
"The original Spell Bss site will not allow there[sic] members [to] join our group as well as there's[sic] or they are deleted.
"I have seen horrible defamatory emails from numerous members from this so called admin.
"I'm currently selling off all my spell as it's not worth the negativity and rubbish that comes with it.
"It's quite sad that a brand 'Spell' which stands for love peace and happiness could be turned into something so dark, nasty and warlike."
Spies and chastise
A perusal of comments on the (Rare Items) group page backed up Ms Hedley's statement.
"Ridiculous that they can remove you for simply being linked to another page" wrote Tahnee Hrelja.
"There are spies running back to the other page with any comments made on the rare page" wrote Tiffany Johns.
Kelly Stokes wrote: "I felt like a child being chastised. Than[sic] I was cut off."
Fiena Yang wrote: "there was so much bullying I felt like I was still in high school it was not a nice page!"
Ms Allen said the cut-throat nature of Spell Designs re-selling reflected the strength of the Spell brand.
"Women are becoming fanatical.
"They want to accumulate and online shopping is addictive, you're like magpies."
Requests for contact with the Spell Designs Buy, Swap and Sell Facebook group were ignored.
A spokeswoman for Spell Designs said: "as with all fashion and consumer products, once an item has been sold the seller has no control over the way in which it is resold".
*name has been changed to mitigate trolling