For two women in their early twenties, Natalie Turnbull and Elise Wilken possess the kind of smarts that you’d expect from designers who have been around the traps for a good deal longer. Aged 21 and 23 respectively, the best friends behind Melbourne accessory label Witu have a remarkably mature work ethic and business savvy. But things in the world of Witu are never quite what you’d expect.
For girls that met working the door of a nightclub, it was a love of craft and cups of tea that cemented their friendship. “I think we both wanted to make things and so we would just hang out at Elise’s share house in Carlton and get crafty,” says Turnbull. “Never was there a ‘crafternoon’ though. We hate that word!”
And with good reason – the girls’ designs are far from the twee aesthetic associated with craft. Their distinctive neoprene backpacks, totes and clutches are bold and ultramodern, popping up across Melbourne on the arms of the effortlessly cool. The wetsuit fabric and chunky utilitarian buckles are an unexpected complement to their simple designs – as edgy as they are sport luxe.
Fully machine-washable and affordably priced, the functionality of the design was clearly as big a concern for the girls as appealing to the fashion-forward set. “A lot of Witu’s products are about the meshing of form and function and neoprene as a material really allows us to explore that,” says Turnbull.
But Turnbull and Wilken are not painting themselves into a corner with their distinguishing choice of fabric. “I think there’s a lot you can do with one material, but I don’t think Elise and I plan to always use neoprene forever. We really hope that one day we can expand Witu into a multi-faceted business.”
With a short film, an upcoming collection based around the necessities needed for surviving on an island, and a whole host of burgeoning ideas and projects coming up, the girls at Witu are certainly getting things done their own way.