Australia has no shortage of talented emerging designers, and the team at the Council of Textile & Fashion are bringing them to the forefront with their latest project – Curated Melbourne, a pop-up and mentorship program that bridges the gap between emerging and established. We speak with Ellie Meyer and Kirri-Mae Sampson, project managers and designers behind the project about the beginnings of Curated Melbourne, the importance of setting designers up with practical tools, and what makes Australian fashion different from the rest of the world.
Congratulations on the Curated Melbourne pop ups! Can you talk a little about the background of this project?
Basically the program was born from industry but to put Curated into context, it’s probably good to understand the Council of Textile & Fashion. We’re the peak industry organisation for Australia’s Textile, Clothing and Footwear (TCF); a not for profit, membership organisation focused on the sustained health of Australia’s industry, we aim to support businesses across the entire supply chain. We’re driven by our members and with that we have a number of key areas that focus our projects. One of these areas is Emerging Business.
As the consumer-facing facet of the sector, it is important that emerging labels are equipped to build robust businesses in order to represent the industry and assist in building international awareness and brand value for Australian fashion, creativity and culture.
Curated comes as a direct response to feedback from our emerging TCF businesses voicing concern over shared challenges they face in the first 5 years of operation. Through direct consultation, two key barriers were identified for new and emerging labels…[were] taking product to market and building relationships with consumers, [and] experience and knowledge in broader business areas necessary to ensure commercial viability.
With today’s online boom, labels can find some success targeting their audiences this way, but of course they are one of millions competing for attention on this platform. Despite the growth of online retail, brick and mortar outlets still remain the preferred touchpoint for the majority of shoppers. Physical retail channels also prove to build greater brand awareness and directly increase online traffic, which is key for emerging brands entering the competitive online space. It is imperative that labels build multiple distribution channels for real growth and as it stands, local stocking options for labels at this level are limited, each coming with their own set of challenges.
With this, the seed for Curated was planted. It took about 12 months to fully develop the concept, engage with our incredible steering committee, mentors, workshop facilitators, supporters and to get the ball rolling with participants. Officially it all launched in January this year and it’s been an incredible start to a really valuable program.
Curated Melbourne aims bridge the gap from ’emerging’ to ‘established’ – how do you select the designers, and what makes a designer stand out to you?
We’re seeking out the future of the Australian Fashion sector. This means investing time and resources into those that we perceive to be innovative, have the ability to make a difference in the local sector, are dedicated, and up to the challenge. Fashion is by no means for the faint hearted, running a fashion business is an all consuming and challenging feat.
To help us in this selection process, we have a team of industry pros guiding the way. Those that have been there before and are heavily invested themselves in the Australian fashion industry. Designer selection is a multi-step process.
First round of the process is an online application. All applications are reviewed by a selection of our steering committee and mentors – a group made up of long time industry members with an absolute wealth of knowledge and experience both locally and internationally. At this stage we’re looking for suitability for the program in terms of collections and ranges, label maturity and presentation, online presence etc. Part of the online application is a personal statement, where labels are able to voice why they’re interested in the program and what they hope to gain from it.
If successful in the first round, the second round involves face-to-face (or Skype) interviews with one or two of our steering committee. This allows us an opportunity to meet the individuals behind a brand, to see and feel their products and to gain a better understanding of their hopes and goals for their label. If successful, this second round helps us with appropriate matching to mentors as well. Finally, the face-to-face is an opportunity for labels to ask any questions regarding the program, and for us to make sure labels understand that being involved in a program like this is a real commitment, and ensuring they’re ready for that.
Aside from the pop ups, Curated Melbourne also includes mentoring and workshops – how important was this inclusion into the project?
The mentoring and business development workshops are absolutely crucial to the program. In fact, clarifying the commitment it takes to participate is partly making sure applicants understand this is not solely a pop-up event. There are a number of pop-up events happening around Australia, which is great and necessary. Curated is different though, by offering a more holistic approach to business development, and attempting to really respond to the needs of labels at this stage in their journey.
Beyond retail presence and distribution, we’ve found that emerging labels also require support in order to build their business acumen in areas like financials (margins/profits, sales, forecasting, growth, ROI), Supply Chain Cost & Logistics (budget, CPU, inventory etc., IP and broader laws relevant to TCF, [and] quality (customer satisfaction, defect rates etc.), as well as more sector specific areas like Visual Merchandising + Retail Planning, Fashion Business Law (IP, the Award, contracts etc., Multi-Platform Marketing [and] Setting up a compliant TCF Supply Chain.
These are typically the less desirable but so so necessary elements to understand when operating a business. So across our networks and membership base, we’re in an excellent position to provide these workshops and facilitate professional connections between labels, mentors and the broader industry that will support their efforts and growth over time.
So far we’ve been lucky enough to work with the likes of KPMG, Phillips Ormonde Fitzpatrick, VAMFF’s marketing team, Brauz, Square, Travelshopa, Emporium, St. Collins Lane. Coming up we’ll be working with Mel Tually of Fashion Revolution and Ndless, as well as Jen Layton and Chris Metcalfe, the founders and previous directors of The Ark Clothing Co, who are also mentors in the program. Other mentors include Adam Lloyd (Cotton On), Courtney Miller (Australian Fashion Chamber), Graeme Lewsey (VAMFF), John Condilis (Nobody Denim), Carla Woidt (Country Road), Elizabeth Formosa (Fashion Equipped). It’s really the ultimate example of industry collaboration and we’re so excited to be a part of it.
In your opinion, what makes Australian fashion stand out from the rest of the world? More locally, what is special about Melbourne fashion?
Fashion and apparel has long been recognised as a pillar of culture and connection in a city, as well as an avenue for a sense of belonging and ownership. I think that Australian fashion reflects Australian culture, and while it does differ from city to city and coast to coast (which is a wonderful thing), what we’re really seeing in our emerging labels is a beautiful connection between relaxed and refined aesthetics. As well as deeply considered and applied values in terms of ethical and sustainable practices, and a real focus on the skill and care that goes into each garment. The new wave are storytellers, and they have wonderful stories to share!
Are there plans for expansion into other parts of the country?
100% yes. Melbourne was an obvious choice for us to launch Curated, partly because the Council of Textile & Fashion is based here, but also Melbourne is already a global destination for fashion and has great recognition in this space.
The program is open to labels anywhere in Australia and currently our Curated labels are joining us from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. But there are incredible labels coming out all over the country and we want to make it easier for them to engage in the program. So we definitely have plans to kick off Curated Sydney, and Curated Brisbane in the near future, then see what opportunities there might be for other major cities across the country. Watch this space!
You can find out more about Curated Melbourne at their website, or visit the pop-up at Emporium Melbourne, Level 2, Shop 218.
Images courtesy of Alicia Elezovic