LIFEwithBIRD was born from a fortuitous meeting between McCall and Van Messner at good friend’s birthday. “We just really hit it off, and it just so happened that at that time, our paths were destined to go in really similar ways,” said Van Messner. “At the time, Bridget was styling and looking to do her own thing in the industry and I was working for a label thinking I’d really love to do it my own way. We really just came together at the right time romantically and vocationally.” McCall echoed Van Messner’s sentiments adding “We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We didn’t see the big picture, we were just looking to do something on our own terms. I have more of a styling background. My mother was a fashion designer so I grew up with that more that creative styling fashion element. Nick came more from that technical, product design element. We both came in from a different angle and complimented each other really well.”
Since its inception in 2002, LIFEwithBIRD has weathered the storm that has hit the global fashion industry leaving many collapsed labels in its wake. It has garnered a loyal following both here and overseas who can’t get enough of the brand which nails the mix between fashionability, wearability and simplicity with relative ease. Their journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing however, with the pair having to pour blood, sweat and tears into creating and sustaining their label.
Speaking about some of the challenges the pair faced in starting their label, McCall said “It was just the two of us in the beginning, so that meant being jack of all trade across different areas. For example, I shot and styled all of our lookbooks. Nick spent many days and nights pattern making to get our first product line which was leather handbags.” The pair had the foresight to see a gap in the market for well-made leather bags long before the concept of the It Bag was created. “It was definitely hard work because we had very little capital,” said Van Messner. “Bridget and I were working 6 jobs each. It was a really interesting start for us and you learn so much in those early years.”
Spending a short time with the designer duo, it’s easy to see that they are a couple that get things done. When starting out, the pair were quick to find out that starting a label wasn’t just about the design process, it was about the business side too. From the beginning “Nick moved into more of a production product role and I took on more the finance and bookkeeping role,” said McCall. “It wasn’t necessarily a strength of mine but it had to be done.” The pair hired their first staff member 8 years ago and now not only have a flourishing online business, but have 6 stores across Melbourne and Sydney.
On the topic of highlights, it’s clear the pair are not only grateful for all the success that have come their way, but have also worked bloody hard to earn those successes. “The perception of thinking about packing boxes in a bedroom to thinking about where we are now, it’s always a pinch yourself moment,” says Van Messner. “On a day-to-day basis, if you see someone wearing your designs down the road it’s really gratifying. It’s amazing to have thought up an idea, realised it and see someone is enjoying it.” McCall counts showing at Australian fashion weeks and having presentations overseas with industry elite as highlights. She also is excited about the pair’s new Sydney store which marks the first interstate bricks and mortar expansion for the brand.
In a world where the online side of business is becoming increasingly important, it’s interesting to see labels such as LIFEwithBIRD continuing to grow their physical store presence. “You need both an online and bricks and mortar presence today,” says Van Messner. “They really compliment each other. For one to be really strong, the other needs to be really strong as well. Your shop has to be this perfect extension of your brand. It’s not just about sales, it’s about the experience. That engagement with your customers. We really work hard with our staff. As the interface of their business they really need know their product and they love what they do. It’s really important that whoever walks to our stores gets an extraordinary experience.” Van Messner recognises that there is pressure to stay relevant and at the forefront of a customer’s mind. “It’s a constant battle because there is so much competition and so many people with great businesses. You really have to continuously push yourself and constantly evolve.”
McCall and Van Messner have been part of the Australian fashion landscape for 12 years so have been privy to many a change in the industry. How has the fashion world developed during their time? “The online component is massive,” acknowledges Van Messner. “There’s also a disposability which comes with new technology. Things are very fast and very quick. There’s a much more transient nature in some respects to what’s happening. From a design point of view, it makes you step back and focus a lot more on quality, fabrication and the experience. It’s not just about making money. At the end of the day you want to be proud of what you do. You want to stand by it and you want someone else to really enjoy it for a long time. There’s pro’s and con’s to how the industry is moving but you can really take the pros and do some really great stuff with how it’s changing.” “We need to be conscious of moving with the times,” adds McCall. “Going into a digital era, means it’s a very different way of working with media. Things that we never thought we would be looking at 5 years ago we are looking at now. It’s a really exciting shift and we are moving with it.”
So how to they ensure that the employees they work with share their vision for the label? “We employ passionate people who want to grow with the company,” says McCall. “It’s that passion and drive which we have learnt is really instrumental in a successful team.””We’ve adopted quite a flat management style and we employ people that bring something different to the table,” add Nick. “It’s a great environment to be able to share ideas. We are really close to our staff and we really value their opinions and that’s what makes us a strong team. It helps us create a cohesive vision. Our business is something that evolves all the time but everyone is involved in the process which means everyone moves together and that’s really powerful.”
So what’s next for LIFEwithBIRD? “From the design side we are starting to develop our own fabrications, ” says Van Messner. “We are always looking at exciting new projects,” adds McCall. “It’s always about doing things better and smarter, and running the business the best way we can.”
So what advice to the pair have for emerging designers trying to make it in an increasingly competitive industry “Jump in and give it a go. Don’t be overwhelmed by the hard work, ” says McCall. “You have to really love and be passionate about what you do,” adds Van Messner. “You can follow your dream but you’ve got to back it up. If I had my time again I’d make more mistakes on other people’s time. Do your internships and learn from other businesses and get a feeling for it before you start. You need to really learn about all the things that make a business tick. The design and the fun part is 1% off it. The business side and the hard part is the other 99%. If you’re willing to put in the work then definitely jump in.”
Images by Sabine Legrand