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Melbourne label FME Apparel is creating classics, but with a twist

IMAGES VIA FME APPAREL
WORDS BY CAIT EMMA BURKE

“There’s a slight nod to what’s trending, but in a subtle way that transcends what’s ‘in’ and ‘out’ of fashion.”

I often find it’s the simple, unassuming items of clothing that become the most important to us. This was the case with a black ribbed cardigan I purchased from Melbourne label FME Apparel a few years back. I was drawn in by the softness of the fabric and the timelessness of the cut, but I didn’t view it as anything more than a wardrobe building block; a handy but cute addition to my drawer of long-sleeved tops.

But the first time I wore it, I fell utterly in love. It was all in the little details; the crop that hit precisely the right part of my torso, the way the Tencel fabric hugged my body without ever feeling too tight or constrictive, and how the light hit the mother of pearl buttons.


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It’s these considered details that make FME Apparel’s designs some of the hardest working pieces in many people’s wardrobes, myself included. Founded by designer Maddy Maeve in 2012, the label produces garments in small runs and prioritises high-quality, organic fabrics.

What started as a side project selling at Camberwell Markets on the weekends quickly became her full-time job, with an accompanying retail space in Abbotsford and an incredibly loyal customer base. Below, Maddy reveals what she’s learnt from 10 years of running her own label, and shares what’s next for FME.

Tell us about you. Whats your fashion background?

My background in fashion was never really formalised. My mum has always worked from home on her own labels – first children’s wear then homewares. She would screen print, cut and sew all her products from home and she taught me all her tricks along the way. I grew up around it. It’s in my blood!

 

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

I worked in film and advertising for a long time which was intense and burnt me out. I was craving a creative outlet, something more hands-on and personal that I could feel proud of. I started making clothes as a hobby and selling them on the weekends at the Camberwell Market. Very quickly it became a full-time gig. I got my mum on board to sew for me and then set up a website, signed up for the NEIS course and I was on my way!

What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? 

 

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A creative outlet initially – a platform where I could do more than one thing i.e photography, clothing design, selling/connecting with people. I was also very over working in the male-dominated film and advertising industry and was keen to be a part of a space that is supportive of women, [where they are] celebrated.

How has this evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now? 

I think my intent for the label is the same, but the focus on creating a product that supports local manufacturing and is of a certain quality has been solidified over time. It’s lovely to reflect on.

How would you describe FME Apparel to someone whos never seen it before? 

 

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Classics with a twist. There’s a slight nod to what’s trending, but in a subtle way that transcends what’s ‘in’ and ‘out’ of fashion. We play with colour and texture so there’s a point of interest, but we have core silhouettes we work with from collection to collection. Our focus is on quality make and fabrication. Our garments are made to last and be cherished. 

Where did the name come from?

It was an acronym of ‘for me’ although sometimes I like to say it stands for ‘fuck me!’ (usually when I get a production run back from a maker with an error in the design).

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

 

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That we’ve managed to stay true to our beliefs. Keeping the business local, independent and self-sufficient despite inflation, global pandemics and most recently… newborn babies! I think it’s a combo of photography (which I do all myself) and fabrics, too. Our designs are pretty uncomplicated [and] comfortable [to] wear but I try to find beautiful fabrics that I’m excited to work with and that feel really luxurious and special for the buyer.

What do you wish you knew when you started? 

 

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That you can not do it all alone! Great people, staff [and] collaborators are key. Build a community around you and support each other. 

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

Secondhand curated stores like Goodbyes, Bruce and Mutual Muse [are] absolutely thriving. It’s exciting to see people get into pre-loved clothing and giving them new life and meaning. Also, more conversation [is] being had around sustainability and fashion.

 

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We’re excited to read Lucianne Tonti’s novel coming out in July called Sundressed, which is about regenerative fabrics and the future of fashion. We also love social enterprises like Homie who support and employ young folk who are without homes.

What about the Australian fashion industry needs to change?

Trend-based and larger-scale brands that produce clothing cheaply. The over-consumption and huge amount of waste created within fast fashion is appalling. Approximately 800,000 tonnes of textiles are sent to Australian landfills each year.

Dream Australian collaborators?

 

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The overall premise of our brand is celebrating all women and folks who want to wear FME. I feel like we get to collaborate with every single person who buys our clothes. However, perhaps in a fantasy world, we would have loved to work with Sunday Reed and hang out at Heide in its ‘heyday’. Making clothes, endless filmmaking and photoshoots, feasts, dancing and listening to music while musing over questions like ‘What is art?’ and ‘Why do we create?’. What a dream!

Go-to dinner party playlist?

Our FME playlist created by our long-time friend and collaborator Albee. Lots of femme angsty feels! 

Who is in your wardrobe right now?

 

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Issey Miyake Pleats Please, Mara Hoffman, Ganni, Castlemaine vintage bazaar finds. Blundstone because I live in the country!

How can we buy one of your pieces?

We have recently re-launched our store in collaboration with Post Sole Studio. The space is called ODE Collective. We are in our old space at 340 – 342 Johnston Street, Abbotsford. Or online at fmeapparel.com.au.

Anything else to add?

 

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We are really excited for the next chapter of FME, after 10 years of hustling and six years of solo retail it feels good to be collaborating with close friends and local business owners. We are also about to launch our pop-up retail space at my new design studio in Castlemaine where I live. It’s in a beautiful old heritage-listed building, converted from a bakery on the edge of town. We’ve been working away to spruce it up and look forward to launching a series of pop-up events there from August. Watch this space!

You can shop FME Apparel’s new range here.

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