Kathleen Purkis (pictured) founded failed startup, Her Fashion Box
A glamorous fashion hustler slapped with $330,000 in fines for ripping off young interns – while she boasted about her collection of designer accessories – is back spruiking herself as an ‘sophisticated investor’.
In her early 20s, Kathleen Purkis was dubbed an inspirational ‘over-achiever’ who graced the pages of Vogue Australia, ELLE, Glamour UK, Time Out Sydney, Cleo, and Timeout Sydney for her two startups – Le Black Book and Her Fashion Box.
Her first business launched in 2007 and failed by 2012, but it was the $39.95-per-month subscription box – brimming with beauty products and accessories – that made headlines following the launch in 2012.
At 27, she was labelled ‘one to watch’, spoke at forums around Sydney and mentored young women – she even secured a $200,000 investment in exchange for 16 per cent of the company on popular TV show, Shark Tank, in 2016.
However, it all came crashing down three years later when a judge at the Federal Circuit Court found that now-defunct Her Fashion Box underpaid three interns by more than $40,000 between 2013 and 2015.
One man was wrongly classified as an intern while working 38 hours a week and managing a group of six other interns with an annual salary of just $30,000, but was underpaid by $15,000 – he couldn’t afford basic living expenses and borrowed money from his mother to buy food.
Kathleen Purkis (pictured) was taken to court for underpaying interns. She was personally fined $54,855
Her Fashion Box was a monthly subscription box filled with beauty items and accessories (pictured)
While he struggled to eat, Ms Purkis – a ‘Bikram yoga devotee’ – was talking to Vogue Australia about her $10,000 Chanel J12 watch, Rayban sunglasses and her Tiffany & Co. notebook.
Ms Purkis, who was the director of the company, was personally fined $54,855, and the company was charged a further $274,278.
Now, with two failed companies under her belt, the 37-year-old is calling herself a ‘private investor’ who is ‘actively investing in new businesses’.
In her professional website and LinkedIn, Ms Purkis says she has thrown money at more than 50 companies internationally – including Zoom, Slack, Shopify, Bubs Australia, Airtasker, and Monash IVF.
She also claims to have built a ‘bootstrap business’ – a company that does not rely on outside investors – during the pandemic which generates $4million annually, though she does not say what that business is.
Her professional site details accolades for Her Fashion Box with screenshots of old articles celebrating her apparent success – by publications that likely didn’t know her business suffered enormous losses.
Ms Purkis scored $200,000 in investment during her appearance on popular TV show, Shark Tank
Despite the cash infusion on Shark Tank (pictured on the program), Her Fashion Box made significant losses
Court documents state that at its lowest point, Her Fashion Box made a loss of $408,671 in its penultimate year of trade 2015, and $343,150 the following year – despite the $200,000 cash injection from Shark Tank.
The program gives budding entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their business to investors.
Her website says, ‘Purkis founded her first business in 2007 at 21 years’ old focusing on the luxury e-commerce sector,’ – referring to Le Black Book – a company that promised to supply customers with designer goods.
Referring to Her Fashion Box, she wrote: ‘Following this business, she moved to launch a subscription e-Commerce, B2B businesses.’
The only reference to her failed companies is listed under the ‘milestones’ section of the site, where she writes: ‘Big fails and many learnings’.
In a brief bio, Mr Purkis talks about how she was starting her own business when other high school graduates were going to university, or embarking on international trips.
She also made the bizarre claim that she was was starting Le Black Book ‘many years before the term “entrepreneur” was created and many years before it was “trendy” to do so.’
Kathleen Purkis (pictured) was touted an inspirational entrepreneur before she was taken to court
The term ‘entrepreneur’ was coined by a French-Irish economist in the early 1800s.
A month after she appeared on Shark Tank, NSW Fair Trading issued a public warning about her business following a number of complaints from customers who said they had not received their boxes.
Others said they struggled to get a refund from the company.
Her Fashion Box stopped trading in 2017 due to $200,000 worth of debts – two years before the business was taken to court by Australian employment watchdog, the Fair Work Ombudsmen.
Despite debts and huge losses, the Federal Circuit Court found there was no evidence to suggest the company would have been forced to cease trading if the three interns were paid properly.
Along with a male graphic designer-turned-team manager being unlawfully categorised as an ‘unpaid intern’, the court found that a woman worked two days a week for almost six months and received just $1000 as a ‘Christmas bonus’.
She was underpaid a total $6913, the male manager was owed $15,511 and a full-time brand partnership manager was due $18,119.
Kathleen Purkis (pictured) was the director of the defunct start-up Her Fashion Box, faced Federal Circuit Court in Sydney
According to her affidavit, Ms Purkis was ‘unaware of the laws and regulations regarding internships and employment generally’ – however, court documents say that she gave answers in a legal interview in 2016 that suggest that wasn’t the case.
When responding to whether she had heard of the Fair Work Ombudsmen before she was contacted by officers, Ms Purkis said she had, and she claimed she had done ‘a lot of reading . . . in particular in relation to internships’.
She later said she had ‘read cases where people have said they were an intern and they weren’t an intern’.
In October 2013, while she was underpaying interns, Ms Purkis was interviewed by a panel at a Google event in Sydney which was designed to inspire female entrepreneurs.
In front of hundreds of wannabe business owners, the then-27-year-old spoke about to how completed an unpaid internship after finishing school and made herself ‘indispensable’ to the company – ‘then they had to pay me,’ she added.
All three interns were reimbursed in full following the trial.
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Ms Purkis for comment.