Sophie McCabe, the founder and creative director of new Australian resort label Aestas, wants you to know the idea of China as an Ali Baba-esque fast-fashion machine is not only outdated, it can be misleading.
“China is still regarded [with] negative connotations [when it comes to fashion production], [but] it’s been at the forefront of fashion manufacturing for years now,” she says. Chinese factories now have some of the most cutting-edge clothes-manufacturing technology in the world, which, together with improved working conditions in many factories (but certainly not all), has made the country a preferred choice for many fashion designers – even those with ethical and sustainable business models.
“Shoppers have to bear in mind that just because something is made in Australia, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better or more regulated than China,” adds McCabe.
The Mornington Peninsula-based designer has developed a close friendship with her Shanghai manufacturer, who she visits regularly and trusts implicitly to source high-quality linen for her line of luxury shirt-dresses. “I’ve known him for over a decade – choosing him for me wasn’t a compromise but an intentional decision. He does complex runway work with [high-end Australian designers] and is very skilled at his fabric sourcing abilities.”
McCabe’s debut collection, Aurora, introduces eight easy-to-wear luxury linen-blend shirt-dresses (ranging in price from $399 to $599) inspired by the sun-bleached colours of Rajasthan in India.
“It’s resort wear in natural, breathable fibres that’s really wearable in warm climates,” McCabe says. The idea for this resort-only label came from time spent travelling in India. “When I travel I’m personally drawn to textiles and jewellery. India has [such a heritage of] craftsmanship and that handmade element, which is so lost in the fast-fashion model. I love that human touch.”
Aestas also reflects the easygoing nature of a designer who has spent her life on the breezy Australian coast. “Growing up by the ocean I feel that calmness,” she says. The label is informed by that experience, so she feels it’s quintessentially Australian.
To accompany her laid-back resort wear, McCabe has designed jewellery that’s been handmade in Jaipur, a city in Rajasthan known for the craft. The nine-piece range includes chunky gold rings, chain bracelets, earrings and necklaces ranging from $69 to $799.
After earning a degree in creative arts at the Victorian College of the Arts and interning at Topshop in London (where she was attending the London College of Fashion for a study-abroad program) she spent more than a decade working at Country Road – first as design manager of children’s clothing, then as a design manager for womenswear. (Country Road has been a launching pad for a number of emerging Australian fashion designers, including Alexandra McLeod of shirt label Marianne and Jamie Nelson of footwear brand Nelson Made.) In those roles, McCabe learned about the operations that go into running a mass-market fashion empire. She decided she wanted to work on a smaller scale and focus on sustainable practices with her own label.
"Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world,” she says, referring specifically to the well-documented environmental impact of big fast-fashion chains. To alleviate Aestas's impact on the environment, she uses corn-starch packaging instead of plastic, and has her manufacturer saving fabric offcuts for an upcoming turban collection.
Aestas will host pop-ups in Victoria in Merricks General Store from November 29 until February 2 and at The Market at The Ko in Geelong on December 13 and 14. You can also shop online.