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Surfe Placid is the Australian jewellery label embracing surf shop nostalgia

PHOTOGRAPHY BY TIM HARDY

WORDS BY IZZY WIGHT

“Rough surf hitting rocks, beads found down the back of the couch, your favourite bed T-shirt.”

No matter where in the country you were, most Australian kids will remember their ‘wanting desperately to be a surfer’ era. Yes, maybe it was something you were naturally great at (congrats) but for the rest of us, it was a series of ill-fitting rashies, unsightly sunburns and purposefully wearing a layer of zinc to school.

For the more uncoordinated kids (me), ‘surfing’ was really about that undone, sunkissed-and-sandy aesthetic. It was puka shell necklaces and after-school episodes of Blue Water High, sun-bleached blonde streaks and endless trips to City Beach and Surf Dive ‘n’ Ski. Surf shops – with their floor-to-ceiling bikini girl posters, racks of colourful Havaianas and disinterested workers in branded lanyards – were our beachy-brand heaven.


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For Melbourne designer Ellen Fairbairn, it was this undone, Australian surf nostalgia that inspired her one-off jewellery label, Surfe Placid. Beginning as a very ‘immediate, haphazard’ personal project, Surfe Placid consists of pieces made from recycled materials – like old T-shirt remnants – and freshwater pearls. Adorning the necks and wrists of the local fashion set, Surfe Placid pieces each have “a different sensibility and personality”.

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

 

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I come from a fine art background and don’t have any formal training in jewellery making. I’ve always experimented with how I look, and I’ve made jewellery for myself over the years.

It was always made in a very haphazard, immediate way; often to complete [the outfit] I’d put together. That’s how I began using shredded T-shirts. I had a little diamanté ball charm that I wanted to string around my neck and I didn’t have a chain, so I used an old T-shirt. I fell in love.

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

Surfe Placid extended from making pieces for myself. They were always very experimental, one-off pieces that I constructed, pulled apart and remade in different forms. This process naturally developed into a more consistent product, the product that became the staple Surfe Placid pearl necklace.

 

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Working with recycled materials requires a bit of trial and error. I’d say material/construction-wise there were initial challenges when I was working out how to best use T-shirts, pearls and hardware in combination. Another challenge was learning to run a business on my own, where demand increased quickly!

I have to credit my close friends and my peers working in the industry as sole/small business owners for sharing their knowledge with me. Dialogue between designers is something I value so much, now I try to pass on things I’ve learned when and where I can.

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?

 

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Initially, I simply wanted to share my creative output with my community by releasing a very limited collection of items to a small audience online. I wanted people who were interacting with the products to have the opportunity to meet each piece and select the one they felt an affinity for.

Creating one-off pieces that each have a different sensibility and personality has always been of core importance to the label. Now that the brand is more established, I’m focusing on developing new products while aiming to maintain a playful and experimental essence – just with more refinement.

I’ve always believed my designs needed to come from my specific viewpoint. I’m focused on creating pieces I’d want to adorn myself with. In doing so, I can trust in my product wholeheartedly. I guess I’m continuing to channel myself through the work.

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

 

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Rough surf hitting rocks, beads found down the back of the couch, your favourite bed T-shirt.

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

I’m proud of my ability to innovate new uses for old materials and the unique aesthetic I’ve created.

What do you wish you knew when you started?

Not to announce releases before I’ve made anything!

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

 

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I love following what Maroske Peech is doing and how the brand has evolved over the years. Their collections always have a really strong sense of fantasy and storytelling which I love. It’s inspiring to see an independent label grow in reach and popularity while maintaining a community focus and strong identity.

What about the Australian fashion/jewellery industry needs to change?

There will always be room for more platforms that are accessible to and promote emerging independent artists, more sharing of skills and knowledge between designers and businesses and more interdisciplinary collaborations that showcase the myriad of different skill sets and perspectives that exist within the industry. I think it’s exciting to see people outside of fashion work within that context, so I’d like to see more of that.

Dream Australian collaborators?

 

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Perdrisat Perfume by Callum Rory Mitchell.

Who is in your wardrobe right now?

Omg, no one I hope! But seriously – my grey Z-Coil runners, a hat for every occasion, my friend Sophie’s jeans that I’ve severely attached to ATM, two massive vintage sheepskin coats (Google ‘Ikea monkey’ for the vibe), and some good merino long-sleeve tops (it’s cold!).

 

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How can we buy one of your pieces?

Through my website! Or through my stockists Tangerine (New York), Shop Toko (Byron Bay) and Shifting Worlds (Melbourne).

For more Surfe Placid, head here.

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