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Melbourne-based accessories label Bichon on shearling and slow fashion production

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELLIE KING

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELLIE KING

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELLIE KING

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELLIE KING

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELLIE KING

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELLIE KING

PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEKHENA PORTER

WORDS BY MAGENTA PORTER

 

“I don’t like the look of ‘new’. I want to reuse things that already exist.”

Bichon is anything but ordinary. The idea for the Naarm-based accessories label was sparked in Eastern Europe back in 2015, when designer and founder, Mima, stumbled across an underground leather waste supplier on her travels. 

Upon moving back to Australia, Mima took what she learnt over in Serbia back to her home soil, switching out European leather off-cuts for perhaps the most true-blue Aussie material she could find: old sheep shearling. Bichon, known for one-of-a-kind leather and shearling bags and other bespoke accessories, is now regularly worn by Aussie it-girls and sustainable fashion devotees across the country.


Keep up to date with ethical designers over at our Fashion section. 


I spoke to Mima, a soon to be mum of two, about the intricacies and difficulties of running a growing business on her own and the importance of repurposing and reusing quality materials

From scavenging for shearling across Melbourne to sourcing deadstock belts from the ’80s, this local Australian designer is not only saving the planet one bag at a time but championing slow, quality fashion production, at a time when speed reigns supreme. 

 

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A post shared by Bichon Pockets (@bichon_pockets)

How did Bichon start? What was the original inspiration behind the label?

It kind of started spontaneously when I was living in Eastern Europe, in Serbia, a few years back in 2015. I was working on a magazine and other creative projects over there and I discovered this leather place that had throw-away off-cuts that were just amazing from a lot of major brands, like Gucci and even Louis Vuitton.

They just give it to you, because it’s pretty much rubbish for them, which is sad. Anything that caught my eye or things that were unique I would work into something really simple, so I just started with little leather pockets that were an envelope shape. Because it was just what I’d gotten from that place, I couldn’t ever find similar materials again, so it was always a very small run.

 

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A post shared by Bichon Pockets (@bichon_pockets)

Where do you source your unique materials? 

The whole concept of trying to find dead stock and off-cuts is what’s important, I want to reuse as much as possible. I don’t like the look of ‘new’ – faux and fake material is so synthetic and hard for the environment to break down. I want to reuse things that already exist. When I wasn’t in Europe, I didn’t have that original place to get my materials.

I was looking around Melbourne and a lot of the time I came across shearling. I came across massive sheets of it from years ago – this old man was selling it at a market and he had basically used it for bedding. I find some really old stuff. People find it strange that I want stuff that is 10, 15 years old. I ended up testing it out and dyeing it in different ways. That’s how the fluffy Bichons were kind of incorporated into the brand.

It’s always a bit tricky to get some of my materials and that’s why it’s really hard and it’s [the bags] always a limited run because I don’t know if I can repeat it. Sometimes it’s a case of buying peoples’ old shearling on Facebook marketplace and old sheep-skins, it’s all a bit of a process. New sheep-skins just don’t give [the bags] the look I want.

How does Bichon minimise waste?

I will completely reuse everything that I can, to the point that I don’t want to throw out any leftovers. I will try and reuse shearling and other materials in every way possible. At the moment I’ve got bags and bags of stuff that I hold onto just in case so that nothing is being wasted. It’s hard at times because you do get tempted… I offer short straps for my bags that are all deadstock old belts from the ’80s, and people always complain that I never have enough of them! But it’s because I can only find five of them at a time.

People always ask why I only make ten of the bags, instead of 50 or 100,  but I wouldn’t be able to supply on that demand, I would have to gather materials forever to do that. It would also make [the bags] not as special. I don’t want the brand to get big, as much as I’d like to supply more, I just don’t have the means and it wouldn’t align with the brand ethos to do so. I feel like I always miss the waves of popularity in fashion because I never have enough to produce for the wave… but I just think, whatever, it’ll come back around!

 

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A post shared by Bichon Pockets (@bichon_pockets)

Do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations in the works?

I collaborate with Underground Sundae, a Melbourne based jewellery brand – I have something in the works with her at the moment. Artist wise, I have an annual hoodie drop with Gabriel Cole (@yourboygab) which is just a fun project between us two, that hopefully, we will be doing again. There are a couple of new things coming out, like a tote bag, which will be made to order. I like to break up the shearling. I don’t just want to be known as the fluffy bag brand, so I am looking to do more leather and canvas pieces down the track. 

To check out the latest drop from Bichon, head here. 

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