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Australian label Dyspnea is designing pieces to take your breath away

WORDS BY CAIT EMMA BURKE

Injecting fun back into fashion, one sequin at a time.

If you have a) been on social media recently and b) are interested in fashion, you’ll almost certainly have seen Dyspnea’s designs before. Its sexy, sequin-covered pieces and beaded bodices have made quite the name for the brand.

They’re regularly seen on Australian fashion influencers like Maxine Wylde, Rowi Singh, Abbie Chatfield and Carmen Azzopardi, and even have the current queen of pop’s tick of approval (I’m referring to Dua Lipa, obviously).


Discover more up-and-coming local designers in our Fashion section. 


The Australian label originated in Perth in 2015 and was founded by best friends and textile design graduates, Rachel Motteram and Jameen Zalfen. The duo originally started out making cute party outfits for themselves but before long they got lucky – they were asked to make pieces for a campaign and then to be involved in Perth Fashion Week.

Armed with industry experience but no solid business plan, initially Rachel and Jameen weren’t thinking about building a customer base and instead, they just wanted exposure. But what they did have was a strong conviction that their designs were offering something different for the Australian consumer. Now almost seven years later, that belief has paid off and the label has cultivated a passionate fan base who adores Dyspnea’s customisable, size-inclusive clothing.

With a recent collab with Abrand Jeans under its belt (and another in the works), plus an upcoming sunglasses collab with Australian label Local Supply, and a “spicy New Year’s collection” launching in November, you can expect to see head-to-toe Dyspnea outfits filling your feeds very soon. We spoke to Jameen and Rachel about their journey.

Tell us about you. What’s your fashion background? 

Jameen: Rach and I both studied and met at Polytechnic West Tafe in Perth. We completed our advanced textiles and design course and then gained experience within the industry for the next few years as we formed our own biz. We are besties and we know a lot of people have said that’s a no-no in business but eight years later and we’re going strong (and have minimal arguments!). We’re here to break that stereotype!   

How did the label get started? Talk us through the process and the challenges. 

J: As clichéd as this sounds, it was very organic. We were sewing cute party outfits for ourselves that we wanted to wear out and they got noticed and we were approached to make some pieces for a campaign and then asked to be involved in Perth Fashion Week. From there, we felt like ‘Why not try Sydney Fashion Week!?’. It definitely wasn’t as easy as that might sound. There was a lot of persistence – you need a strong support system that believes in you and, honestly, don’t even think about sleeping. 

 

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A post shared by Dyspnea (@dyspnea_)

What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has this evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now? 

J: At the time we just aimed to gain exposure, we weren’t really focusing on a customer and selling items and that followed through after. We really believed in what we were producing and just hoped the customer would too. This does sound very backwards and believe me it is! We didn’t come from a business background; this all developed as the years went on.

We may have done things differently now if [we were] starting a brand in 2021 however, this did work for us eventually. I guess we still design what we believe in as it’s worked thus far however, we do listen to our customers a lot more now. From day one it’s always been more or less a ‘Wear what you want, fuck what anyone else thinks as long as you feel fierce’ feeling.

 How would you describe Dyspnea to someone who’s never seen it before? 

J: It’s always fun explaining to people what we do! We design and produce fruity, spicy clothing for the hes/shes/theys of the world who want something a bit unique! We used to always say we made ensembles to party in, but honestly, our customer has now proved to us that outfits to lounge in are just as important! We always say we design clothes with enough sparkle to give anyone a migraine!

 

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A post shared by Dyspnea (@dyspnea_)

Where did the name come from? 

J: It’s a medical term that we discovered a long time ago on Google. It was very early in the morning and we had a show at Perth Fashion Festival and still no brand name. Dyspnea means shortness of breath and we want each piece we design to take your breath away. It really resonated with us.

What are you most proud of in your work on your label? 

J: The amazing team we have built around us. It’s the best feeling ever to have such wonderful people working, supporting, loving and believing in the brand and what we’re about.

What do you wish you knew when you started? 

J: That this won’t be an overnight success, you might watch other brands just explode overnight and zoom past you and wish that was you but remember to hang in there, your time will come sweeties.

 

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A post shared by Dyspnea (@dyspnea_)

Who do you think is most exciting in Australian fashion right now? 

Rachel: Dyspnea, of course. 

What about the Australian fashion industry needs to change?

R: I feel like other creative industries like music, art, photography, design etc, have become so much more accessible over time. Apps, websites and social media have provided a platform for those with natural talent and drive to progress their art. The Australian fashion industry hasn’t quite worked out its place in this landscape yet and I think the less pretentious and exclusive we can make it, the more diversity and creativity will thrive within the industry.

Dream Australian collaborators? 

R: Dinosaur Designs, Suku, Millie Savage, Cotton On Kids! Oh, and Nice Digs.

 

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Who is in your wardrobe right now? 

R: Etsy vintage finds, By Far, Paloma Wool, House of Sunny, Poppy Lissiman, Holiday The Label, Abrand and of course Dyspnea! 

How can we buy one of your pieces?  

 R: Online at our website.

You can follow Dyspnea here and shop its range here.

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