Leung was most recently global creative director at Uniqlo where he was in charge of collaborations with designers like JW Anderson and Jil Sander, but during the pandemic, he decided to start his own creative agency, Studio Paradiso, in his hometown of Perth. That is where he met Richard Poulson and Kelly Atkinson, co-founders of online fashion platform Showroom-X and strong supporters of the Australian fashion industry.
Poulson, who also co-founded women’s designer fashion brand Morrison, organised the first #WeWearAustralian campaign in April 2020 to encourage shoppers to support local brands and designers, many of whom were struggling to stay afloat with stores closed and wholesale orders cancelled due to Covid-19.
That campaign helped generate over $3 million in sales for participating brands, according to Poulson, and drove significant donations for its charity partner Thread Together, which provides new clothing to people in need. But when Covid cases started ticking up again in recent months, and Sydney and Melbourne returned to lockdown, Poulson knew more help was needed.
That’s when he thought, why not bring back #WeWearAustralian, but this time, make it global?
“Our purpose is to champion Australian brands both locally and internationally,” Poulson told Inside Retail. “We dropped absolutely everything for the past month to make this happen.”
One shoot, five days, 19 people, over 150 brands
The first step was pitching Tourism WA to sponsor a photoshoot. Easier said than done, since the approval process for sponsorship agreements usually takes several months and the shoot needed to happen in a matter of weeks. Plus, the government body had never partnered with the fashion industry before.
But Poulson was optimistic, and with Leung on board to direct, he put the call out to Australian designers and brands to send their hero pieces to Perth immediately.
“We had nearly 400 samples arrive,” he said.
Atkinson, who is creative director at Showroom-X, narrowed down the selection and styled out every look. Then, it was simply a matter of flying all the stock, crew members and models to Broome, where the tight-knit team of 19 people spent five days hopping from one stunning location to the next.
“Some of the landscapes we shot, it was like, ‘What planet is this?’” Leung recalled.
In fact, the pink sand and turquoise water of Crab Creek near Roebuck Bay on Yawuru Country and orange sandstone rock formations in Mirima National Park on Miriwoong Country were almost too beautiful, and Leung worried they could end up looking cliche.
The five models cast in the campaign — Naomi Stevens, India Anderson-Prentice, William Kalimba, Angus Minear and Cindy Rostron, most of whom had never done a professional shoot before — helped keep the photos energetic and interesting.
“The concept was a group of five young people experiencing the freedom of driving through the Australian outback. To be able to capture that authentically, because the five models became friends at the end of it, was really good,” Leung said. “That was probably the most satisfying thing for me. It’s not a contrived fashion shoot.”
Rostron, an Indigenous model from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, stood out to Leung in particular.
“She’s going to be the next top face in Australia,” he said.
A world first
Leung and his team — photographers James Giles and Claire Hart and videographer Justin Griffiths — captured as much content as they could throughout the shoot, from artfully arranged images and videos to more casual, behind-the-scenes shots.
On Wednesday, Poulson started sharing some of that content on social media under the hashtag #WeWearAustralian. The goal is for the campaign to gain traction organically as participating brands share posts on their own accounts.
Because brands don’t pay to be part of #WeWearAustralian, they only need to make a donation to Thread Together to get involved, the campaign has a limited budget for advertising. Poulson said everyone who worked on the shoot cut their fees to make it possible to do a $500,000 shoot for $100,000.
But with so many major labels involved in the campaign, such as Lee Matthews and Song for the Mute, Leung expects it will receive extensive editorial coverage in international publications, such as WWD and The Business of Fashion. Atkinson deliberately mixed big names with emerging designers with this in mind, ensuring lesser-known brands, such as Ngali, benefit from the exposure too.
“That sort of coming together as a collective group is a really interesting idea that we haven’t seen elsewhere in the world,” Leung said.
For Poulson, the photoshoot was a big risk, but it paid off. The day he returned to Perth, he received the sponsorship agreement from Tourism WA. And he’s already thinking about the next #WeWearAustralian campaign.
“The shoot we did was amazing, but I want to do something bigger with more money and more sponsorship. It’s going to be huge,” he said.
“If we can promote Australian brands in this way at this level, it will change the face of Australian fashion around the world. We’ll actually start to get noticed for the amazing work that we produce.”