Ash Carter spent a solid decade as a designer in the lingerie industry before launching Harlan, her boutique brand of environmentally conscious swimwear and resortwear in late 2021. But even with all that experience behind her, starting her own business came with a steep learning curve.

That’s where Desk Space came into play. More than just a co-working space, the three-level hub in Darlinghurst is also an incubator for new and emerging businesses. Since joining the community a year ago, Carter has learned from a diverse range of fellow members, sometimes over lunch or just in passing.

“As a start-up, having access to people who work in different areas has been a gamechanger,” says Carter. “There are people you can call on, just for advice, in a casual setting.”

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Carter even met her initial brand strategist and graphic designer Katie Knowles there when Desk Space founder Steven Arthur introduced her to the businesses and entrepreneurs that use the hub as a home base. Arthur himself has lent her a hand, too, helping out with graphics and brand image.

So far she’s used Desk Space mostly for hot desking and taking meetings, but Carter plans to work there more as Harlan grows.

Prior to Harlan, Carter studied fashion and costume design at Ultimo Tafe before working a considerable stretch of time at luxury lingerie brand Honey Birdette as it grew from a small Australian company to an international label. She was there for five years and relocated to Los Angeles to help set up the company’s design department, moving back to Sydney just before the pandemic. Lockdown was spent working freelance before she decided to finally bring her own vibrant vision to life.

“When I was creating Harlan, I noticed there was a gap in the market for environmentally conscious brands that were really bright and bold and loud,” she says. “The more conscious brands had a minimal, neutral colour palette.”

Harlan is anything but minimalist. Strong splashes of orange, red and blue mingle with striking patterns and playful, flowing designs. Carter has curated a consistent visual identity that also flows through the brand’s styling, photography and choice of models.

Designing swimwear isn’t a far cry from lingerie, and Carter even designed some of the swim pieces at Honey Birdette, as well as pieces like lingerie dresses.

“Creating lingerie … was very much about embracing the beauty of the female figure,” says Carter. “We really focused on how much confidence you would get from something that fit you right and made you feel amazing. I wanted to take that ethos and bring it to outerwear. My aesthetic is a lot more free and easy to move in, but the essence of how [lingerie] made you feel is something I really channelled when I started Harlan.”

That extends to resortwear, whether for poolside cocktails or a summer nights spent dancing. The name is a persona Carter came up with; she imagines “the Harlan girl” as a breezy archetype dancing with friends or travelling the world.

Harlan’s focus on environmentally conscious practices sets it apart from fast fashion. All of the company’s fabrics are either natural or made with recycled polyester from post-consumer water bottles and recycled clothes. Harlan’s collections and drops arrive in limited runs, and all of the swimwear is made in an eco-factory in Bali that uses reusable energy and eco-friendly dyes. The resortwear was made in Bali but has just moved to China to a similarly sustainable factory Carter has personally visited.

For now Harlan is available online – orders come mainly from the US and Australia – and at Bondi Markets stall every Sunday where Carter connects with customers in person. As with the connections she’s made face-to-face at Desk Space, she sees the market as a crucial opportunity to get real-time feedback from her audience.

Carter’s goals for Harlan’s include collaborating with visual artists and jewellery designers on prints and accessories respectively. Harlan’s new summer line drops on November 1, and while the company specialises in womenswear so far, there’s no telling what the future holds. “I would love to eventually do some unisex designs,” says Carter, “but for now it’s about celebrating women.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Desk Space.