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8 emerging Australian designers on building your own brand in 2021

PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAIGGE WARTON

WORDS BY IZZY WIGHT

“My first pieces were really an exploration and extension of my personal identity, so it was refreshing to see so many people resonate with them.”

When it comes to building your own fashion brand in 2021, there are a plethora of factors to consider. What does ‘ethical fashion‘ really mean? Do people care about clothing in lockdown? Who is my customer and what do they want? Are diamantes ironic-Y2K cute, or genuinely heinous?


For more style suggestions, head to our Fashion category.


An eye-catching, quality product is a great start (and more than could be said for a lot of fast fashion brands), but for Australia’s new slew of emerging designers, their brand is a reflection of the change they want to see in the world. From subversive bodycon basics to sparkling made-to-order jewels, the personalities behind these projects are what gets us really excited for the future of fashion.

Olivia, Olivia Rowan

 

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A post shared by Olivia Rowan (@olivia._.rowan)


Why create your own brand?

I kind of just fell into it. I spent my final year of study in and out of the 2020 lockdowns and I found the easiest way to show my work and connect with my peers was to post it all on Instagram. It acted as a digital portfolio and I started to gain followers as more people become interested in what I was doing.

As I wasn’t working, I’d take on small orders for custom outfits. Instagram meant there was more interest in my clothing. A day after I finished my honours degree, I started to question the necessity of my retail job. I decided to quit and take up design full time – I haven’t looked back since.

What issues in the industry are important to you as a designer?

A reoccurring issue for me is garments not fitting quite right. If I buy something and it’s slightly ill-fitting, I’m much less inclined to wear it often. With my custom outfits, I create piece(s) that fit the client perfectly. I take their precise measurements and construct an outfit that fits their body and desires flawlessly.

As the custom looks are made specifically for the client, it makes the garments feel really special and unique. My capsule collections are more of a bit of fun for me. They help create the vibe and set the tone for what I want to achieve as a brand. My designs are very body-centric, I really think about fit with every piece.

What characteristics define your generation?

In a generation where social media moves so quickly, it’s hard to keep up as a small brand and a team of one. Fast fashion TikTok hauls have taken over. Once your Shien outfit is worn in an Instagram photo, it goes straight into the landfill. It really makes me sad thinking about the amount of waste these micro-trends create and how fast the turnover is.

Looking past this sad reality, I think the pandemic has encouraged people to shop locally and support smaller businesses. While we all sat at home and learnt new hobbies, there was a newfound appreciation for handmade craftsmanship. It’s really exciting to see.

What excites you right now?

I have some great projects in the works at the moment. I’ve just announced my first collab with the talented Juju, which is launching in a couple of weeks. The colourful swimwear/dancewear pieces are inspired by the early 2000s TV show Blue Water High – they’re colourful, playful and definitely a collab to look forward to.

We’re also working on a capsule collection, set to launch at the end of November. It’s something a little different for me, but it’s going to be super sexy and fun – as always.

oliviarowan.com.au

Steph and Hunter, Sschafer

 

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A post shared by SSCHAFER (@sschafer_)


Why create your own brand?

Fashion design is what I always wanted to do and I was really motivated to make that happen. As a kid, I was constantly fantasising about how I would dress if I had an unlimited wardrobe. When I had finished uni and was struggling to get a job, Hunter inspired me to start our brand.

We started bouncing ideas off one another, sewing toiles and experimenting with how we wanted the brand to feel. From then on, we started working together. Seeing our visions come to life felt surreal and exciting! We have different aesthetics but they work really harmoniously – we found a way to combine our visions and goals to make Sschafer what it is today.

Who do you design for?

Honestly, we mostly design for ourselves – we just hope others feel the way we do about the kind of clothes we’re making. When we create, we start by talking about the garments we wish existed. We want to celebrate the weirdness of fashion and infuse an element of sexiness and horniness within our pieces.

We rarely have a particular person or gender in mind when we’re designing. We truly believe there are no limits in fashion and you can look good in anything as long as you feel hot and confident.

What issues in the industry are important to you as a designer?

There could be more equal opportunity and mutual respect within the creative industries. When a designer is loaning a piece for a shoot and is never sent the photos or credited as a contributor (or their garments are sent back late), it’s really disheartening to see.

We’re hopeful that this is changing. There are some incredible creatives in our community that are so respectful and amazing to work with.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of creating your own label?

Having an idea and watching it develop and blossom over the creative process. It’s so fun seeing the evolution of an idea come to life. Also seeing other people wearing the pieces you’ve designed. After all the work and time it takes to create something, those moments make you realise that the hard work is worth it.

sschafer.com.au

Krystal, Krystal Deans

 

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A post shared by Krystal Deans (@krystaldeans)


How would you describe your aesthetic?

Minimal, timeless, clean-cut and structured, with silhouettes, fabrication and design details that are a modern reference to the ’90s. I stick to archetypes and make them my own through the use of alternative silhouettes, interesting seam finishes and design features that create a point of difference.

What issues in the industry are important to you as a designer?

Fast fashion. The mass production, overconsumption and excessive waste occurring around us are pretty ridiculous and very scary. I wrote my final thesis on the slow fashion movement and really delved into the ways in which we can change the mind of the consumer.

In turn, I hope slow fashion can stop the industry from churning out new ‘seasons’ every three days. There are millions of other issues within the fashion industry worth noting but this is definitely the one that keeps me up at night.

What characteristics define your generation?

Smashed avocado and an unhealthy addiction to social media.

What excites you right now?

The fact that I have no idea where I’ll be in a year’s time. Exciting but also mildly scary.

krystaldeans.com

Tamara, Remuse Designs

 

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A post shared by R E M U S E (@remusedesigns)


Why create your own brand?

I created my own brand because I felt there was a gap in the industry. It was rare to see ethical fashion designers that showcased real diversity – diversity not only in model selection but in the creative team behind the label and the cultural inspirations that informed the designs.

I created Remuse because I wanted to see how afrofuturism and – more widely – BIPOC futurism could inform earth-conscious fashion.

What issues in the industry are important to you as a designer?

Diversity is paramount for me as a designer. I believe fashion labels should seek to reflect conscious multicultural perspectives that are respectful, well researched and mutually beneficial to the communities that inform those sources of inspiration.

Low impact design is also essential for me as a designer. As we continue to extract more resources from our finite and limited planet, circular design principles are paramount in moving forward. As designers, it’s important that if we are putting more products into the world, that product is well-considered and gentle in its existence on our earth.

What characteristics define your generation?

Our generation is defined by a desire to return to both our earth and cosmic worlds simultaneously. A desire to intuitively know ourselves as well as the larger systems at play in our world.

Our generation seems to be on a consistent journey towards self-actualisation while also trying to understand our pre-destined roles on the planet. Mysticism and mindfulness are two terms I feel encapsulate who we are.

What excites you right now?

The prospect of creating work that speaks to and connects with my audience on an intuitive level. The idea of becoming part of a larger movement of ethical fashion that is respectfully multicultural, diverse and decolonial in intention. The future of global fashion in the era of social distancing requires immense creativity. That creative challenge is what excites me the most.

remusedesigns.com

Alix, Alix Higgins

 

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A post shared by alix higgins (@alixhiggins)


Why create your own brand?

It was a bit of an accident… I started making pieces for myself, then for my friends and when more people started reaching out, it took off organically. My first pieces were really an exploration and extension of my personal identity, so it was refreshing to see so many people resonate with them.

Who do you design for?

I always have my friends in mind, as they represent a variety of different styles – but they’re all super chic. I also design for a customer who’s future-facing and confident. Someone introspective, inquisitive, intelligent and poetic. A level of frenetic energy is important also. Pop stars and my best friends.

There’s been a really lovely response from a wide-ranging customer base so far and I really hope to just continue this. The pieces take on different meanings with each new person and that’s what I want to continue.

What issues are important to you?

Sustainability is really important – because why pollute the earth further? For me, it’s about questioning what I’m making and the methods I’m using – this means a focus on recycled and upcycled materials. I also employ local production, limited runs and made-to-order logistics.

Local production is so important; it’s about fostering jobs in our community rather than offshore. The price of my pieces is really reflective of this. I could make my pieces for a tenth of the price in offshore factories, but that’s not what I believe in.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of creating your own label?

There are two elements to this. One is continuing to expand on my current ideas, which are very reflective of the world we’re living in. The positive response I’m getting feels so limitless and exciting. The brand is funding itself now, which means more experimentation, new pieces and ever-expanding resources.

The other is the way that people have embraced my designs. Seeing these quite personal and introspective pieces being acquired into stranger’s personal wardrobes is really touching.

alixhiggins.com

Karla, Karla Laidlaw

 

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A post shared by karla laidlaw (@_karlaidlaw)


Why create your own brand?

I had always wanted to start my own fashion label. I didn’t feel connected to the brands around me in Melbourne and I wanted a place where I could express my creativity and push my boundaries. I decided to be the brand I wanted to see.

It definitely started with hopes that this would become my full-time job. I made it my main hustle and was very headstrong about finding a way to make it work. At the same time, I never took it too seriously – which you can still see on my socials (they’re a bit of a mess).

The brand started off with a very arts and crafts, DIY aesthetic and I think that’s worked well. Now that customers are connected, they can grow with the brand as we move into the future – whatever that may be.

What issues in the industry are important to you as a designer?

There are issues in every workforce. Fashion has some big ones, but it also has a lot of people that are making positive changes. Fast fashion is definitely one of the largest problems we’re facing.

I feel like I don’t need to explain why it’s an issue – I think that’s pretty widely understood. Don’t buy from fast fashion brands! Support the people that work their asses off to give you special pieces.

What characteristics define your generation?

It’s hard to sum up a generation that has so many subcultures in it. In the internet age, there are so many different pockets of creative interest. We are connected but we are also divided. It’s interesting to see which way people are pulled.

The one characteristic I’m certain about is that we are a generation of positive change. We are resilient and headstrong. We realise that working together – not against each other – will create a better world.

What excites you right now?

I have just dropped my AW ’21 collection, which has taken me six months to complete. So much work went into pattern making, fabric sourcing and detail. I only made 40 of each piece and they will not be made again. They are so special to me and I’m really excited.

karlalaidlaw.bigcartel.com

Megan, MGN Jewellery

 

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A post shared by 𝑴𝑮𝑵 By Megan (@mgn.jwl)


Why create your own brand?

Well, it’s a good way to make income for someone like me who can’t find a place within the existing hierarchy. The regular nine to five office career I tried to pursue is made for very neurotypical, disciplined and well-adjusted people [laughs].

I had to create a job that could accommodate my chaos. It’s incredibly meditative working with your hands and creatively fulfilling to have tangible pieces at the end of each day. I love making beautiful things for people.

What issues in the industry are important to you as a designer?

I think a lot about the speed at which Instagram cycles through trends – which inevitably leads to waste. As designers, we depend on this platform and manipulating the algorithm in our favour is an easy way to capture attention.

As designers, we can encourage people to think outside of these trends, to dig deeper and find what they truly love. We need to think of longevity when we purchase items. Will I love this in 10 years? I hope so.

What characteristics define your generation?

Cancel culture and being locked out of the housing market? I don’t know, at times I question what the focus on our ‘online lives’ does to the way we navigate the real world and relate to others. I find it really alienating and hostile at times. I’m trying to spend less time on social media.

What excites you right now?

It’s very heartening to see so many of my fellow small Australian brands having major wins and entering the global fashion market. Australian fashion is going through a major shift. Australian fashion has a very experimental creative spirit, which is so important in an industry that feels overwhelmingly commercially driven.

mgn-shop.com

Sienna, Hello Sisi

 

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A post shared by HELLO SISI (@hellosisi_)


Why create your own brand?

I never started out with the intention to create my own brand. I’ve always loved creating and when I started making my little bags, I got lots of requests. It quickly became my full-time job and a fully-fledged brand. It’s been such a fun time and I feel so lucky.

Who do you design for?

I design for me. I think that’s the best way to do it. If I love what I’m making and put lots of effort and excitement into it, others will see that come out in the final product.

What issues in the industry are important to you as a designer?

I think fast fashion is a big one. It’s really heartbreaking to see big fast fashion labels steal designs from small independent designers. I’ve had this happen to me and there wasn’t anything I could do.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of creating your own label?

Getting to meet all the lovely people who have purchased a bag or purse. I have met so many gorgeous friends and received some of the sweetest messages. The way people get behind small designers is so incredible. Thank you to everyone who has supported Hello Sisi!

hellosisi.bigcartel.com

To find more of Australia’s most promising creative talent, head here.

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