Meet the thriving Australian-made fashion brands keeping things local
It’s never been easier to start a business. While many brands over the years have begun life at the kitchen table, now they can trade from there too. We live in a world where it’s possible to amass a sizeable global following with as little as an ecommerce software program and an Instagram account.
But it also means that anyone can do it, and competition is heating up. Standing out from the crowd has never been so important. While the dominant model involves heavy reliance on offshore production, there is a group of local designers who believe there is another way.
Brands that produce some or all of their range in Australia are Bassike, Ellery, By Johnny and Bondi Bather. Nobody Denim, Viktoria & Woods, Carla Zampatti and Manning Cartell also have local apparel manufacturing and are just a selection of the David Jones brands that have voluntarily gone over and above to have their Australian supply chain certifified by Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA), a not-for-profifit accreditation body that works with local companies to ensure their Australian supply chains are transparent and legally compliant.
Here, we talk to the founders of some of the David Jones brands with a focus on keeping things local.
M A N N I N G C A R T E L L
Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation was a natural progression for Manning Cartell, which has been producing some of their range locally since the brand launched in 2005. The three sisters behind the label – Gabrielle, Cheryl and Vanessa – enjoy a hands-on approach to creating their garments. When they are working on new designs, they cut a sample with their machinist, who works at their headquarters in Sydney’s Marrickville, and fit it on Cheryl to see how it looks and feels on the body.
Many of their local makers work from home and simply pop in to the studio if they have queries. “We have lovely relationships with them,” Gabrielle says. “We value being able to support our local industry. And we feel it enhances our design process.” One of the benefits is that they can produce small runs and limited-edition pieces because they’re not driven by minimums or the mass production runs typical of offshore production. Also, they can quickly repeat a popular design if they have enough fabric. There are fewer mistakes and there’s less waste.
“You can respond much quicker if an issue arises,” Gabrielle says. “We are very hands-on and connected.” They conduct 100 per cent quality control of every garment in the building, meaning the garments aren’t shipped out to a third-party distribution house.
“While Manning Cartell is about fashion and making beautiful clothes, at the same time it’s about wanting to bring something else to the table,” Gabrielle says.
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V I K T O R I A & W O O D S
For Margie Woods, founder and one of the designers behind Viktoria & Woods, producing the majority of her range in Australia has been a priority. She launched the business in 2004 with co-director Lisa Reynolds joining in 2011.
“Viktoria & Woods was founded with a simple philosophy: to design wardrobe staples made from beautiful luxury fabrications. So it felt natural to produce locally,” she says. “We continue to be passionate and very proud to be Australian made.”
Producig locally allows the designers to keep a close eye on quality and respond to any issues quickly, although the cost of production and machinery limitations present challenges.
“Our aim is to work closely with what we can do, focus on fabrication and our relationship with our knitting mills,” Margie says. “Producing locally has been one of the biggest rewards for us; it’s important that we support and collaborate with the local artisan trade.”
While there are increased pressures from the burgeoning online industry, Margie says they remain focused on their core brand values of quality, timelessness, and laid-back effortlessness. They are also proud to have ECA accreditation.
“Supporting local businesses is incredibly important to homegrown innovation, collaboration and fostering of new ideas,” she says.
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B O N D I B A T H E R
Forging local community connections is important for Kerry Cusack, who started swimwear label Bondi Bather in 2014.
“We believe in a truly Australian designed and made product,” she says.
As part of the process, Kerry collaborates with local artists and photographers in Bondi to develop the unique swimwear prints. The surrounding landscape is often used as a muse in creating the designs. The end-to-end process from design to printing through to attaching swing tags is all done in Sydney.
“We are really proud of that,” says Kerry. It has been an exciting journey for the Bondi local, who studied fashion but started her career in advertising and marketing. Three years ago she took the plunge into a job that she could be passionate about.
“I love the Aussie beach lifestyle and I have always felt that we should celebrate it by sharing a little piece all over the world.”
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Words by Natalie Walton