Sisters Karla Rose and Candice Rose-O’Rourke started Zulu & Zephyr 10 years ago under a plastic marquee at Bondi Markets. Since then, it’s grown into a small empire of swimsuits, ready-to-wear staples and accessories seen on it-girls the world over, including Hailey Bieber, Margot Robbie and Gemma Ward. Inspired by the vintage style of their mum and her friends growing up in 1970s coastal Australia, the nostalgic brand began as a side-hustle between the sisters and is now stocked by over 100 retailers, with a successful pop-up in LA under their belt, and now a flagship in Byron Bay.

“When we started at the Bondi Markets, we were both in the arts and fashion industry working for other brands. We had just enough money to scrape together a collection. Back then there weren’t many niche swimwear/lifestyle brands. There were only big brands like Seafolly and Jet and whatnot,” Rose-O’Rourke tells Broadsheet.

Riffing on vintage-inspired textures and using hand-drawn prints, with nods to the 1970s, the collection of resort staples such as oversized shirts, shorts, linen wraps, sarongs and minimalist summer dresses can take you from beach to bar and is just right for a summer spent by the sea. Its ribbed “signature” swimwear remains a brand staple, evolving to include a kids’ “mini” collection in similar ribbed fabrics and colourful summer palettes, which are now bestsellers.

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“We knew lots of fashionable mums who wanted their kids to also wear good-quality swimwear in a similar aesthetic,” says Rose-O’Rourke. The pair has also added accessories to the range, recently launching sunglasses with Local Supply, a sustainably made, plant-based eyewear label born in Bondi.

For the sisters, the biggest change to their business has been a drive towards sustainability. “Ten years ago, when we started, sustainability wasn’t really on the radar. But we have dedicated the last five years to making our business as sustainable as can be. This means using sustainable fabrics and packaging and eliminating plastic from our business,” says Rose-O’Rourke. “Our customers are intelligent and green-focused, and we’ve always believed in listening to our community.” The most recent Resort 23 collection is a fully traceable collection, from factory to fabrics and trims, and uses recycled cotton, polyester and Econyl, a chemically recycled nylon made from used fishing nets, carpets and pre-consumer plastic waste.

Although the brand has expanded to 35 employees, with each sister in their own role (Candice more on the marketing side and Karla on the design), both are still heavily involved in the day-to-day. “We still shoot campaigns, and I’ve been in a warehouse packing all last week, and we can still be found front-of-house speaking and helping customers,” says Rose-O’Rourke. Their flagship store in Byron Bay’s Arts & Industry Estate was designed by both sisters. “We wanted it to feel like it had fallen off our Tumblr and Pinterest boards,” says Rose-O’Rourke. The result is a minimalist, neutral-toned store with slight retro and natural elements, and lots of seating for partners and kids. 

Their latest project is a deeply personal coffee table book and visual diary celebrating the brand’s 10-year anniversary, featuring campaigns from over the years in far-flung locations with acclaimed photographers such as Jean Pierrot, Akila Berjaoui and Henrik Purienne, mixed in with campaigns shot by the sisters themselves.

“Doing the book took us down memory lane and made us remember why we love doing what we do and the power of collaboration,” explains Rose-O’Rourke. “We work with incredible photographers and artists and that’s something we take really seriously, and we really respect the art that goes into bringing our brand to life. Working with photographers like Purienne and Pierrot has been so beautiful and powerful, and I think we wanted to really put that into something tangible, so that it never gets lost.”

zuluandzephyr.com