When the founders of Byron Bay label St Agni began to see iterations of their woven-leather loafer being sold by other labels, they had mixed feelings. At first, husband-and-wife duo Lara and Matt Fell felt honoured that their product was so loved and influential. It was a design they’d dreamt up in 2014, and, with no formal design background, had made a reality by working closely with Indonesian artisans. The process involves using centuries-old leathercraft techniques. It was one of the reasons the pair started St Agni: to create contemporary pieces that also highlighted the beauty of artisanal handcrafts.
But eventually the pair were left reeling at the number of St Agni imitations on the market.
“We were quite shocked to see how blatantly this had happened,” says Lara. “We have seen imitations arise across the board, with direct knock-offs available from large, well-known fast fashion chains. We've also experienced piracy from a handful of small start-ups.”
Indeed, a number of independent Australian labels have been similarly copied by larger, more established labels (which are often difficult to bring to account due to their size and financial dominance). Take Skodia, for example, a Melbourne label which accused Topshop of releasing designs that looked very similar to those the designer had sent the company's buyer over email.
So St Agni one-upped their competitors, debuting a world-first knitted-leather technique that’s exclusive to their label. The unprecedented style – a highlight of the label’s just-released autumn-winter 2019 collection – is used in a fine leather slip-on shoe.
“Our artisans worked for months to develop a technique that was strong, durable and aesthetically unique,” says Lara. The process involves weaving naturally dyed, vegetable-tanned leathers with a manually operated loom. “As a small team, it’s a feat we’re very proud of and we’re excited to show the world.
“We think it’s really important to emphasise remaining original and to encourage others to implement creative change,” she continued. “It’s a constant desire for St Agni to be innovative and to continue to reinvent and renew the styles that have developed a global status.”
Beyond the new knitted design, the collection also features tie-up loafers in a transeasonal style (worn by actress Margot Robbie days after their release) and pared-back, square-toed leather slip-ons.
Quality, ethical production and artisanal techniques are central to the St Agni ethos. On that topic, Lara references a recent quote from the founder of French sneaker label Veja , Sebastien Kopp. Speaking about copies of his designs being sold at UK retailer Primark, he said: “They should not copy the style of our shoes; they should copy the way that we make them.”
Adding to that sentiment, Lara says consumers should carefully think about their purchases and the stories behind them.
“I urge them to firstly consider where the imitation style has been made, the process and quality of the counterfeit, and also to be aware that when they purchase an imitation of one of our styles they are ultimately impacting the brand that made them fall in love with it initially.
“It is incredibly important for each of our pieces to be created following a slow fashion process. [The leathercraft] is a timely creative process that delivers a beautiful product as a result.”