Having admired student fashion on the runway in the past, Browne was disappointed at the realisation that she couldn’t then purchase any pieces.
“We see all this student design work within the two major [Australian] fashion weeks on the runway, but that’s where the journey ends. There’s no access to that incredible creative work,” Browne told Inside Retail.
After discussions with students, she identified a major gap between education and business, where a lot of graduates failed to make it in the business world.
“It’s a small marketplace and a lot of people are trying to get a piece of the pie, so they’re guarded about their local connections. Most [major] stylists are based overseas … a lot of our incredible talent here in Australia is venturing overseas for those possibilities,” she said.
Browne is hopeful that by nurturing local talent, there will be positive outcomes at home and abroad.
“What I’d love to see is that there is a more diverse representation of Australian fashion; not just in Australia, but globally, so that we’re seen as a main hitter, that we’re seen as ‘one to watch’. If we are supporting local talent, that is contributing to the local economy – that’s the biggest thing that we want to see.”
Access and equity
Melbourne Fashion Hub is a free open-access program and is the first initiative of its kind in Australia.
“The whole core value of the program is access and equity, so that there isn’t the barrier of money and finances,” Browne said.
The Hub’s mission is to empower the next generation of emerging fashion talent, connect them to their audience and provide an opportunity to explore pathways into work. It is focused on diverse and sustainable fashion, supporting designers that meet the needs of all types of consumers.
“We are looking for designers who are practitioners in slow fashion – sustainable, ethical and environmental – fashion for all ages, size inclusive, modest fashion, maternity, kids, gender fluid and adaptive fashion.
“We haven’t really seen a lot of massive innovation in fashion apart from in textiles … We haven’t seen the next miniskirt or the next biker jacket, the next Dr Martens DMs. There hasn’t been that major innovation. I think pinpointing these areas in which we want to work in will hopefully stimulate innovation as well.”
And while innovation and creativity are essential aspects of the program, it’s also about getting comfortable with the less exciting elements of running a business, from setting up a business bank account to managing taxes.
When designers have come through the program, they will have the opportunity to showcase and sell their wares in a physical retail space during Melbourne Design Week next year. Browne believes this physical store setting is crucial in facilitating connections with consumers.
“Bricks-and-mortar experiences are incredibly important, especially for young designers. People aren’t aware of your work, so [it] gives you that physical engagement with your potential customer to understand what their needs are, their lifestyle, to get that feedback from them on pricing points and the collection.”
With each purchase, 100 per cent of the sale price goes back to the designer.
“We’re not an agent or anything like that, we’re here fully as a facilitator and a support for them. We give them the tools in order to sell directly to the public, and then they go on their own journey,” explained Browne.
Melting pot of creativity
Browne has big ambitions to expand the program beyond Melbourne to other Australian cities in the future.
“I’d love Australia to get some more global recognition … we have got something really completely unique to offer and are seen as outliers … There’s all this incredible talent that the world just doesn’t know about and you can only [show] that by expanding to the rest of Australia.”
She believes there’s still a disconnect between what the market collectively portrays as Australian fashion and what it really represents, particularly designs from First Nations and Torres Strait Islander people, and is hopeful that a program like this can communicate Australia’s unique offer to the rest of the world.
“Australia is a really diverse melting pot and because we’ve been left to our own devices, our creativity and our creative expression are completely unique from the rest of the world.”