Call it an invasion or a welcome shake-up, 2014 saw many more of fashion’s international giants blow into Melbourne and put down roots. With the grand opening of retail behemoth Emporium – and with it a wave of internationals such as UNIQLO, H&M and COS swooping in – many wondered about the fate of independent labels in our city.
And for some local brands, 2014 and the beginning of 2015 was the end of the road. Boundary-pushing boutique Alice Euphemia closed in 2014 – a major blow for young local designers. Veterans Lisa Ho and Alannah Hill exited in 2013, although the Alannah Hill brand continues without her. Designer Josh Goot has also faced testing times.
But it wasn’t all bad for the little guy. Here are a handful of local boutiques that opened during the international onslaught, and who offer a refreshing point of difference from the increasingly saturated high-street market.
“The people I’m targeting are after something that can’t be found at these fast-fashion retailers,” says Amy Shaw, owner of Hampton boutique, Frowtribe.
Frowtribe opened in February of this year, and Shaw offers the personalised service she felt was missing in the beachside suburb.
“Residential developments have brought a new crowd to the area,” she says. “I’ve been working in the industry for 10 years and thought it was finally time for me to branch out on my own and offer something I really believe in.”
A former buyer for popular chain Glassons, Shaw has called on those skills in curating an appealing mix of young brands-of-the-moment, including the sizzling-hot Fella Swim (and practically local New Zealand labels Lonely Lingerie, Karen Walker and Deadly Ponies), plus more-established Australian labels such as Ellery.
PET SHOP GIRLS
Pet Shop Girls is girly fashion on its own terms. Stocking a small but never dull selection of international (particularly Japanese) brands, plus a healthy dose of local talent, Pet Shop Girls supports young Melbourne start-ups such as POMS, Dress Up and Pageant without sacrificing its worldly approach.
Relocating to Little Lonsdale Street in December 2014, Pet Shop Girls now comes sans the four-storey climb up the stairs of Curtin House – good news for those who want to get their hands on Marques’ Almeida’s frayed denim without breaking a sweat.
Although undeterred by the current retail climate, creative director Sheena Sexton finds it hard to see the bright side of the recent influx of international powerhouses.
“Over-saturation of the market isn’t a positive thing, in my opinion, for independent, fragile businesses.”
According to owner Chiara Ippoliti, Pet Shop Girls owes its success to knowing its customers, many of whom are interstate (“It’s like having lots of long-distance relationships!”) and offering a product that’s difficult to find anywhere else. “We support designers that focus on quality and have strong independent style,” says Ippoliti.
TANNER + TEAGUE
Kyleigh and Sam Fisher
Husband and wife Sam and Kyleigh Fisher chose a former bike shop on Smith Street for their label’s bricks-and-mortar debut, which opened in October last year.
“Many people expressed the idiocy of opening a store in this retail climate, but we felt that it was both a logical evolution of the brand and above all, the greatest luxury… curating our own space,” says Kyleigh.
And the couple is not short of creative clout. Innovative construction is one thing that sets tanner + teague’s men’s, kids’ and womenswear apart from the high street, which is unsurprising considering Sam was a pattern maker for cult Brit designer Vivienne Westwood, and Kyleigh is a former architectural photographer.
“One of the strongest positives to come from this shake-up in the retail landscape is that it makes any effort to compete at that scale a losing battle,” says Kyleigh. Instead, tanner + teague focuses on what it can do.
“We feel strongly about making our garments here in Melbourne … offering something authentic and unique is the only way forward.”
Not just a significant local opening of 2014, Kuwaii’s CBD flagship store also counts as an expansion.
With its first boutique opening in 2011, Kuwaii’s timeline suggests the decision to open a sophomore store was carefully considered.
“For a long time our tucked-away store in Brunswick made it a bit tricky for customers to find us, so I thought it was high time to make it a little easier,” says owner Kristy Barber.
In 2014, Alice Euphemia’s closure in Cathedral Arcade left Kuwaii without a CBD presence, until a space serendipitously opened up next door. The result is a store that beautifully showcases Kuw aii’s structured, feminine and pastel-dominated clothing, plus newly added shoe collection.
Barber’s approach is uncomplicated. “We believe clothing is not disposable. Everything we do harks back to a simpler time. Pretty much, we are the antithesis to high- street brands.”
Ingrid Verner is someone who knows all about what’s happening at Emporium – her new boutique in the CBD looks right onto the mega-mall.
In late 2014, Verner converted what had been her design studio for the past six years into a retail/design space, and revamped her online store.
“As a young brand I felt very strongly about going direct to my customer,” says Verner, whose followers had long bemoaned the difficulty of finding her clothes online.
Verner’s new space is minimal and expertly constructed, as are her designs – although she does surprise with quirky items such as a croissant bum-bag and chunky, school-girl headbands.
As for the recent arrival of the internationals, Verner sees them as positively reinforcing a niche market.
“It pushes a certain customer away from mass-manufactured product and cements them as a consumer of well-designed, more individual products. “It makes having a strong point of difference more desirable.”