Erika Long/Australian Fashion Chamber
How Australian Fashion is Courting American Consumers – Forbes
Fashion designers from the Land Down Under are looking to climb the ranks in the American market. Over the course of last week, the Australian Fashion Chamber (AFC) hosted showroom previews of six emerging talents to members of the U.S. press, big-chain department stores and luxury boutiques at a converted space in New York City. The firms that participated had varying objectives in mind and were at different stages in their businesses, but all were unified in the understanding that now is the right time to expand their operations and make their mark outside of their home nation.
âWeâre in an Australian moment,â said Courtney Miller, the AFCâs general manager who oversees the international affairs and abroad programs. âIâm probably a little bit biased, but I think weâre stronger than weâve ever been. Weâve got more successful brands that are globally attractive.â
Indeed, Australian labels like Zimmermann, Dion Lee and Ellery have got their footing in the U.S., selling at major retailers and dressing high-profile personalities. They stage their runway shows at New York or Paris Fashion Weeks, and receive some degree of recognition from the global fashion community. But overall, burgeoning Australian brands do not attract the same ballyhoo as others from, say, New York or Londonâa facet that the AFC seeks to rectify.
Modeled after the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and the British Fashion Council (BFC), the three-year-old AFC aims to expand the nationâs fashion profile and, as Miller points out, âhelp brands run sustainable, long-term businesses.â With last weekâs inaugural showcase in New York, where the six firms presented their Resort 2018 collections, the institution made the case for the talent pool in Australia, and how they are worthy of worldwide distribution.
The list included ready-to-wear labels Macgraw, Albus Lumen, and Aje; jewelry brand Sarah & Sebastian; and accessories brands Pared Eyewear and State of Escape. All had admiral qualities in their lines and each had a distinct point of view, which they expressed eloquently, for the most part. More importantly, they acknowledged the importance of coming stateside and garnering a global audience.
âAustralia is basically 25 million people, which is like Californiaâs [population],â said Miller. âAt a certain point, particularly for premium designers, they reach a plateau. If they want to grow and move forward, they need to look at different markets. And I think America works quite well for Australian designers. There are definite cultural similarities.â
It was perceptive for the AFC to highlight the resort season, as it is more consumer-friendly than the fall and spring collections and one that retailers value most. The pieces presented, though editorially viable, were much more laidback and had a beach-y bentâa quality that is certainly in line with the Australian way of life. âAustralian fashion is lifestyle-oriented,â explained Miller. âWhen we wake up we go for a swim or a surf in the morning.â
Pared Eyewearâs collection had fun, eye-catching silhouettes that are perfect for poolside parties. State of Escapeâs neoprene bags were as chic as they were waterproof. Jewelry inspired by motifs found in the ocean were abundant in the collections of Sarah & Sebastian and Albus Lumen (the brand also has a sleek range of linen jumpsuits and separates). And even Macgrawâs lineâwith its heavy use of wool, velvet and embroideriesâhad a great sense of playfulness with an assortment of romantic blouses and dresses with billowy sleeves and nautical-inspired skirts and coats. And with more and more American consumers shopping for resort wear for their travels abroadâand owning the âcultural similaritiesââthese Australian labels have something to offer them.
âI think the fashion world is moving a lot,â Miller said. âThe rise of [shopping] online provides more options for wholesale and retail. This kind of disruptive element has made the industry much faster and much more trans-seasonal. And this is what Australian designers are very good at doing.â
Indeed, for a few of the brands at the showcase, a majority of sales already comes from the U.S. through their own online platforms. Sisters Beth and Tessa MacGraw admitted that more than half of Macgrawâs stock is sold in North America, and Ed Baker of Pared Eyewear counts his sales in the region to 70 percent. So, it only makes sense that they would build upon that momentum and form relationships that can bolster name recognition and push product. As for the others, most have had some success with well-known e-commerce sites like Moda Operandi, Net-A-Porter and Matches Fashion, but they are also looking to magnify their distribution even further, with many citing a buy from Barneys New York as the ultimate goal.
Winning over the U.S. market, even by the smallest measure, is an uphill battle. Many great, forward-thinking American brands have fallen prey to the industryâs volatile nature. Luxury retailers have seen a steep decline in foot traffic as fast-fashion labels are altering shopping habits, causing the masses to devalue investment items. That said, the AFC is remains optimistic, perhaps hoping that talent will prevail.
âLuxury is not about how expensive something is,â denoted Miller. âIf you look at the true term, it is something different, unique and rare. Australian design is all of this, and thatâs what makes it luxurious.â