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How Australian fashion collapsed | australian fashion

How Australian fashion collapsed |  australian fashion


Wholesale to department stores and multi-brand boutiques has long been seen as a way to help designers generate cash flow and manufacture, especially at the start of a business. Large orders from a large store could help a small designer meet the minimum volumes required by some factories and provide the cash needed for expansion.

An order from David Jones, Myer or online department store The Iconic also brought greater visibility, with designers appearing in catalogs and advertisements. But being taken over by a larger company with an established audience and wide reach is no longer a silver bullet. Now it’s common for retailers to ask designers to contribute financially to marketing and accept returns of stock that doesn’t sell.

Typically, larger, more commercial brands can afford to pay for more eyes, which leads to more customer data, which feeds into design decisions. This cycle feeds on itself, creating a kind of algorithmic design that means every store, brand and collection has started to look the same.

I was very lucky because the print media picked up my designs and used them for editorials, Isogawa says. This has led retailers to give it more exposure. I had my collections in the windows of Barneys in New York and Browns in London at no cost, he says. They would never imagine loading such a new talent.

Akira Isogawa at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney in 2018.
Carly Earl / The Guardian

A document from The Iconic, titled The Iconic Media Kit Sports. Brand partnerships, describes site traffic and audience, and fees a designer can pay to maximize their presence on website, mobile app, editorial platform, email campaigns and social media.

Having a thumbnail dedicated to your brand on the site’s homepage for a week costs between $2,500 and $6,000. A week of presenting on the mobile app costs between $6,500 and $10,000. Email marketing ranges between $5,000 and $15,500. Spending on social media starts at $1,000 and the upper range is unlimited.

These opt-in partnership opportunities complement the editorial content of our marketing channels, says Gayle Burchell, chief commercial and sustainability officer at The Iconics. Our business model was designed to allow brands and creators to connect in a flexible and scalable way to our collective [2.2 million active] clients.

A recycled plastic satchel from online retailer The Iconic

The Iconic isn’t alone in working this way, and while standard online advertising rates fluctuate, its prices are competitive with advertising directly on a platform such as Instagram.

Iacono says the e-commerce platforms and department stores with the biggest audiences are essentially a Google or a Facebook and selling access to their customers.

Marketing a business and selling clothes isn’t a game of creativity, says Gogos. It’s a money game.

Even though the internet presents challenges for designers, Rieschieck says the intricate pattern creation, fabric manipulation, high-quality materials and embellishments she was proud to showcase are hard to appreciate online, but it’s also full of opportunities.

A model walks the catwalk in a design by Camilla and Marc at the 2020s Melbourne Fashion Festival.
Naomi Rahim/Getty Images

Scrolling images and videos on visual platforms such as Instagram and TikTok allow designers to find and build an audience and then maintain a direct relationship with their clients. Iaconou says these skills are essential if independent designers are to survive. They have to find their own channels and their own ways to break through. It is by engaging and selling directly to consumers that your margin will be the largest.

In 2018, Middleton, one of the founders of Sass & Bide, launched ARTCLUB. The label focuses on the creative process rather than building a big business venture, she says. While Sass & Bide is primarily made in China, ARTCLUB clothing is made in Australia from leftover fabric. Instead of offering new styles each season, I continue to offer popular styles, adjusting or adapting the patterns or offering them in new colors and fabrics, she says.

Although Middleton sells wholesale, direct-to-consumer e-commerce is its primary focus. There is a much higher cost associated with local production, she says, but thanks to this commercial structure, we benefit from higher profit margins.

Given that Middleton is one of Australia’s most respected and beloved designers, she had a significant advantage over someone starting from scratch: an audience. And, while the opportunities for young designers to build communities are real, social platforms and their ever-changing algorithms require special talent, creativity, and time. These skills can go hand-in-hand with designing clothes, but it helps to have money to spend on a social media manager and pour into digital advertising.

The pivot to digital isn’t the only change Middleton reckoned with when he started again. The rising cost of raw materials and the climate crisis have changed the way he creates clothes. She says the intricate details we incorporated into our designs years ago, like that cream jacket snagged in The Turn, would simply not be possible now for environmental and financial reasons.

Kit Willow, who launched KITX in 2015, 12 years after founding Willow, says it’s much harder to make strong markups in fashion than it was 20 years ago.

The quality and weight of silk is no longer where it used to be and the resistance to manufacture with superb workmanship and quality has certainly increased. It just costs a lot more to have clothes made, she says.

For garment workers in China, where 41% of the world’s textiles are produced, that’s a good thing, Iacono says. There was a period when labor costs were going up 20% a year in China, because their government was really leveling things up and making sure workers were getting the right pay.

China has become very, very sophisticated over the past 15 years.

Kit Willow is giving a talk at Australian Fashion Week 2022.
Mackenzie Sweetnam/Getty Images

There are other hubs for designers looking to manufacture overseas, but they can come with trade-offs in terms of cost, quality, ethics, transparency, and ease of doing business. For a small brand with small orders, it can be difficult to struggle with just one of these things.

Even the biggest and most established players are suffering. Australian flagship department store David Jones was bought by a private equity fund for just $100m at the end of 2022, a steep drop from its $2.1bn purchase price in 2014.

Despite the difficulties, Australian fashion retains some positives. After entering voluntary administration in 2020 and being rescued by a private equity firm, swimwear brand Seafolly is back on sale and this time posting much more promising numbers. Emerging swimwear brands, such as Peony and Form and Fold, have also attracted prestigious international retailers. It should come as no surprise that an international audience comes to Australia for clothes – like beachwear – that feel distinctly Australian. Resort wear from Zimmermann and Camilla, form-fitting garments from Christopher Esber and Dion Lee, and breathable basics from Bassike continue to do well with international retailers.

Other local designers, emerging and established, have taken a survival-of-the-smallest approach and traded ambitions of scale for slowness and sustainability.

Designer clothes at The Turn.
Carly Earl / The Guardian

Uturn Recycled Fashion’s headquarters in south-west Sydney sits on 10,000 square meters of land. Space is a necessity: every week, workers sort 150 to 200 tonnes of discarded clothing collected from trash cans, charity shops and direct donations. During the two decades that Alex Dimou ran Uturn, he noticed that the quantity of clothing increased dramatically while the quality decreased.

The wearables the company collects are mainly sold at Sydney’s five UTurns vintage stores, but the really special pieces are kept for The Turn.

At The Turn, Dimou says: Australian designers are taking off.




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