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.

“We’re in an Australian moment,” said Courtney Miller, the AFC’s general manager who oversees the international affairs and abroad programs. “I’m probably a little bit biased, but I think we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. We’ve got more successful brands that are globally attractive.”

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 London—a 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 nation’s fashion profile and, as Miller points out, “help brands run sustainable, long-term businesses.” With last week’s 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.

Robert Sebastian Grynkofki, Sarah & Sebastian; Desley Maidment and Brigitte MacGowan, State of Escape; Sarah Gittoes, Sarah & Sebastian; Edwina Robinson and Adrian Norris, Aje; Albus Lumen; Beth MacGraw, Macgraw; Samantha Stevenson and Edward Baker, Pared Eyewear; Tessa MacGraw, Macgraw.

Erika Long/Australian Fashion Chamber

Robert Sebastian Grynkofki, Sarah & Sebastian; Desley Maidment and Brigitte MacGowan, State of Escape; Sarah Gittoes, Sarah & Sebastian; Edwina Robinson and Adrian Norris, Aje; Albus Lumen; Beth MacGraw, Macgraw; Samantha Stevenson and Edward Baker, Pared Eyewear; Tessa MacGraw, Macgraw.

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.

“Australia is basically 25 million people, which is like California’s [population],” said Miller. “At 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.”

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 bent—a quality that is certainly in line with the Australian way of life. “Australian fashion is lifestyle-oriented,” explained Miller. “When we wake up we go for a swim or a surf in the morning.”

Pared Eyewear’s collection had fun, eye-catching silhouettes that are perfect for poolside parties. State of Escape’s 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 Macgraw’s line—with its heavy use of wool, velvet and embroideries—had 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 abroad—and owning the “cultural similarities”—these Australian labels have something to offer them.

“I think the fashion world is moving a lot,” Miller said. “The 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.”

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 Macgraw’s 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 industry’s 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.

“Luxury is not about how expensive something is,” denoted Miller. “If you look at the true term, it is something different, unique and rare. Australian design is all of this, and that’s what makes it luxurious.”

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