Monday, August 23, 2010

Fresh talent: stealing back a slice of the Australian Market.

“We were prepared to do the hard work, dragging suitcases full of samples around Australia and New Zealand, knocking on the doors of retailers everywhere…”

Paul Waddy owner and general manager of Sanna Shoes as well as Antoine and Stanley knows how much hard work is needed to get a business in the Australian fashion industry up and going.

Meeting for the first time at an event held at “The Club” in Kings Cross Sydney, Waddy immediately gives off a humble and friendly demeanor, a stark contrast to the stereotype presented from most popular culture descriptions of fashion figures. What sets him apart from the other fashion-insiders at the Tangent magazine launch party is that he isn’t dressed in a crazy assortment of layered clothing like many others that night, he’s wearing basic black…. a picture of a business man.

And that’s because he is. At the young age of twenty eight Paul is considered an entrepreneur in the fashion industry, and he’s not the only one at the present time. Fashion based entrepreneurs are increasingly common in Australia. Australia designers are in high demand here and internationally and new designers have now got an edge over larger labels with pre existing reputations.

Sanna Shoes which was created in 2005 was launched after Waddy had already started his men’s brand Antoine and Stanley. For him, it was a natural progression to then dip into the women’s market.

“I saw a gap in the market and I believed that I could develop a product that fit into that gap… there was a growing trend of Australian men starting to pay more attention to European styles of footwear, rather then the plain black leather shoes men used to wear everywhere, I thought there was an opportunity to give men a European leather shoe, for under two hundred dollars”

During the recent economic downturn that saw many Australian independent designers and labels go bust, Sanna Shoes and Antoine and Stanley were able to survive despite a slowing of purchases from retail stores who were unable to pay their bills as fast as they normally would have. “We were able to maintain strong sales by taking our product to new areas, such as Western Australia and Tasmania, where we picked up new accounts to make up for existing accounts who were struggling to make orders”

IBISWorld CEO Robert Bryant is still predicting growth in the Australian industry. Australian designers such as Collette Dinnigan, Sass and Bide and MIichelle Jank are in demand from prestigious people all over the world including Cameron Diaz to Kate Moss. Almost double the number of fashion buyers choose to jump on a plane and make the long flight to Sydney for Australian fashion week.

Rosemount Australian Fashion Week (RAFW) is exceeding international buyers’ expectations according to Austrade’s Senior Export Adviser, Ms Lucy Coward. “The international buyers have been excited by the designers’ collections and Austrade has received positive feedback with many of the buyers scheduling meetings immediately after the shows,” Ms Coward said.

Bryant from IBISWorld also believes that local brands should “capitalize on the heat in the Australian market.” And that they should expand into regional markets including the middle class and luxury fashion market in Indonesia and China. Revenue for Australian clothing and retail industry will increase by 1.3% to $11.91 billion this financial year, so local designers should not be scared off from overseas investments.

One of the world’s most populous countries, Indonesia is enjoying an unprecedented consumer and resource-driven boom. In April, the International Monetary Fund predicted that its $514 billion economy, the biggest in Southeast Asia, would grow 6 percent this year, up from 4.5 percent in 2009, and this in contributed by Australian designers bringing luxury-fashion to that market.

Waddy believes that Australian designers are easily able to enter into international markets because of their creativity and organisational skills. “It helps that Australia is such a long way from Europe, so a lot of international labels are there… which provides an opportunity for local designers here”

The fast paced fashion world is continually on the hunt of something new and unique, it’s suddenly become the young and upcoming designers that are stealing the show in Australia.

David Bottrell is a nineteen year old aspiring shoe designer who has worked in conjunction with Marsu Homme and is now interning at Sanna Shoes working alongside Paul Waddy. When asked to describe his own personal style he laughs and hides his face behind a hand, looking away, despite the fact that he is immaculately dressed. He’s wearing a plain white tea with an 80’s inspired blue stained leather jacket and a Marc Jacobs necklace loosely hangs around his neck, its effortless style.

“I find it awkward describing my own style… It makes me feel… hmm… vain! But… fun, basic, easy but also a little bit quirky so that it can be altered day to day.”

Bottrell’s sense of style is not the only thing that has a strong direction; he already knows exactly what steps he has to undertake to make it as a shoe designer himself in the future Australian market. “At the moment it’s about knowing the right contacts and also knowing the industry I’m in. For the future it’s about making sure I study in other countries, do different courses and get a feel for international markets, and then be able to mix both international and distinctly Australian styles.”

Val Horridge, senior lecturer in fashion at the University of Technology Sydney believes that Australian fashion is defying the odds.

“There are many more young designers out there feeling like they’ve got room to have a say so we’re getting more young entrepreneurial designers. They’re quite confident!”

Bottrell also believes this is very true, “New designers are in high demand because they are even more creative. I think it’s because as a new designer, you have to change and alter past creations to continually make a new product, each individuals personality brings something new to the table, so you end up with some really different designs”

Gail Reid, a twenty three year old Australian designer behind Gail Sorronda has received requests from retailers nationwide after showcasing her designs down the runway at the Next Generation show at Mercedes Fashion Week. She believes that her generation is a product of the techno-consumer society that have information overload with everything at their finger tips, but also at the same time want to be special and not generic.

“Designers are responding to this and there’s a new confidence in being an independent thinker” Reid states.

It has become apparent that Australian fashion and it’s designers have gone past their ‘teething’ stage and are now fully matured in the fashion world, catching up to the likes of Paris, Milan and Tokyo, habitats of fashion supernovas. The Australian fashion industry has most definitely been ‘zhuzed’ and is ready to steal part of the fashion market back.

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