Read Georgie Abay's interview with Allora's founder Tabatha Brixton.
For Allora founder Tabatha Brixton, a love of timeless, sustainable fashion inspired her foray into creating a womenswear brand. Five years later, and her founding principles still guide everything she does. AW20 sees the launch of her very first ready-to-wear collection, which has been designed to be worn on its own (see our founder Georgie Abay pictured here in some of the stand out new pieces) and with Allora’s original cape and coats from previous seasons. “All the pieces are timeless and are designed to be worn and loved for many seasons,” says Brixton....
From the very beginning, Brixton knew she wanted her garment made locally (she lives in Melbourne). “I also really value having a direct relationship with the makers and knowing the people who make my clothing,” she says. And over the years, she’s continued to work hard to make Allora as sustainable as possible. “Sustainability to me is about ensuring my purchases are considered and not something I will only use once and throw away. I invest in pieces that I really value and will use for a long time,” she says. “As a brand we are constantly looking for ways to improve and become more sustainable including sourcing sustainable and premium quality fabrics, reducing our textile waste, recycling off-cuts, eliminating plastic from swing tags and using biodegradable packaging.”
Allora creates the kind of clothes that won’t be overlooked or ignored at season’s end (how many pieces of clothing do you have in your wardrobe that barely get worn?). Brixton creates the kind of pieces which were missing in your wardrobe – they fill gaps you didn’t know existed. The perfectly cut cape which can be thrown effortlessly over anything; the chic blouse that dresses up a pair of casual jeans or the beautifully tailored blazer that will last for years.
Here, we dive deeper into her creative world, and our founder Georgie Abay also road tests some of her favourite pieces.
What does sustainability mean to you and why was making Australian made and ethically produced fashion so important to you?
Sustainability to me is about ensuring my purchases are considered and not something I will only use once and throw away. I invest in pieces that I really value and will use for a long time. As a brand we are constantly looking for ways to improve and become more sustainable including sourcing sustainable and premium quality fabrics, reducing our textile waste, recycling off-cuts, eliminating plastic from swing tags and using biodegradable packaging.
Making in Australia has always been important to me as I’ve always valued buying local. I’ve worked in the fashion industry for most of my working life and I’ve seen so many Australian brands move their production overseas and the adverse impact that this has had on the local industry. I feel strongly about supporting local manufacturing as I think it’s important that we keep skills and jobs here. We have so many talented makers and factories in Australia that we need to look after and we also need to make sure we keep the industry alive so it’s available for future designers and makers too. I also really value having a direct relationship with the makers and knowing the people who make my clothing.
COVID-19 has changed the way we consume – do you think we will be focusing on buying less, but buying better?
I think in these times we do gravitate towards well-made classic pieces. People are becoming more ‘conscious consumers’ and thinking about fashion purchases and the impact it has on people and our environment. That said I also think there is still a way to go. Fast fashion is still prevalent and there is an overabundance of product in the marketplace which COVID-19 has highlighted to us again, it’s not anything new. We do have to get out of this cycle of overproducing then deep discounting to move stock as it just doesn’t align with the direction we need to go and it definitely doesn’t send the right message about valuing clothing. I do hope COVID-19 has made people think and reflect on what they really need and how much.
Why start with capes – where did your love of capes come from?
I fell in love with capes while I was looking at historic fashion photography of women in the 1960’s. Capes were so popular, especially in Europe and I just loved how effortless, chic and stylish they looked and how versatile and practical they are. Living in Melbourne with its four seasons in one day I really took to the idea of creating a beautiful cape as it just seemed like the perfect item for my wardrobe and women I know.
Some women aren’t sure how to style a cape – how would you advise they style their cape?
One of my favourite and most frequently worn ways is with a classic shirt, blouse or a knit and a pair of jeans. That is my go-to look as a busy mum and working woman. It takes me anywhere. A cape also allows you to show off a beautiful sleeve or cuff detail and be a bit more creative with your look.
I’ve designed the capes in classic colours such as soft grey, black, ink and bisque so they are easy to coordinate with anything in your wardrobe from plains, stripes or prints. Over the years we have styled the capes many different ways to show the versatility and ease of wearing capes – from layering over a blazer to a more relaxed weekend style with jeans and a stripy tee. Our website is full of inspiration.
What are your winter wardrobe staples?
A cape, coat, blazer, blouse, knit, jeans and a couple of winter dresses with boots.
At what stage of the business did you decide you wanted to expand into other categories?
I had purely been a cape label for two years before I expanded into other pieces. It really was a natural progression as I had had such great success and feedback on the capes and customers were coming back for a second and sometimes third cape. I had a loyal customer who appreciated my quality, style and ethics. I really wanted to offer her more, firstly pieces to wear back with the cape she already had and then to offer her something completely new that was made to the same high standard of quality that she appreciates.
AW20 is the launch of our first ready-to-wear collection that is designed to be worn on its own and with our original cape and coats from previous seasons. All the pieces are timeless and are designed to be worn and loved for many seasons.
Go to alloracollection.com.au
Tell us about your colour palette for this season?
The palette this season is earthy and neutral which is timeless. It features Burnt Orange, Ecru, Wheat and Cream that all work well with our classic cape and coat colours.
You’re a mother of two – talk us through how you’ve navigated a growing business with young children?
It hasn’t been easy and at times very challenging to juggle everything. There is always so much to do and life gets really busy. It’s hard to find the right balance sometimes. I had burnout mid last year trying to do too much. After having reached that point I am very careful about what I take on and I’m also a lot more comfortable with letting go and not feeling like a failure if I say no. Looking after myself and my health is a priority and blocking out work time and family time is really important.
Children are small for such a short time and I am lucky that I have been able to have them with me so much. They have been on the journey with me the whole way, coming to the factory and that’s been wonderful. They have been a huge part of the Allora story and I’m very thankful for that.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
When COVID-19 first began and we went into our first lockdown in late March I was right in the final stages of launching the new AW20 collection that we had all worked so hard on. It was a year of work and we were all devastated to watch everything just stop after we had put so much in.
I had to put some of the production and fabric orders on hold and had to just see what was going to happen. Like all businesses at this uncertain time we have had to focus on what we can do to continue to trade and move forward. While sales have not been what we had forecast due to lockdown with events cancelled and people working from home, we are so thankful our customers have continued to shop with us. Our pieces are timeless and well-made and that is what our customer comes to us for.
There has also been an increased movement towards buying Australian made and people really wanting to support Australian manufacturing and that has helped us a lot.
If a mum could only buy three things for winter, what would you recommend?
1. A Cape. I really think it is a mum’s essential wardrobe piece. When I was pregnant and feeding all the time my capes were my saviour. I would throw one around my shoulders and head out the door.
2. Merino Knitwear – Nothing makes you feel better than something beautiful and soft to the skin. It’s a beautiful layering piece and you can wear your favourite blouse or dress over the top.
3. Wide Leg Pants – I think our Becker wide-leg pants are the most comfortable pair of pants on the planet. Wide leg pant with a pair of white sneakers and you are set to go anywhere and they are also super comfortable for at home.
What are some of the biggest challenges of running your own business?
The biggest challenge right now with COVID-19 is the uncertainty about the future and when life will return to normal so we can get to the normal flow of business. In Melbourne, we are in Stage 4 restrictions with textile manufacturing closed for 6 weeks which will have a huge impact. Trying to navigate through these times, plan and manage cash flow and product releases when we just don’t know what’s around the corner is very challenging. These times make pre-COVID challenges seem small!
And what do you love most about being an entrepreneur?
I love the freedom and creativity of building a brand from scratch but mostly I love building a business that aligns with my values and ethics especially around local manufacturing. I’m driven every day knowing that decisions I make, both big and small, align with my mission and that I am making a contribution to an industry that I am passionate about.
It makes my day when I receive a beautiful email or note from a customer who is so happy with their purchase from Allora and who appreciates all the work that has gone in – it’s the best feeling and tells me I’m on the right path and to keep going no matter what challenges lie ahead.