After a huge weekend at the Melbourne AW15 Market, lets settle in with this soft and drapey feature story. Today we chat to Alistair, the man behind Mr Draper, who debuted at our Melbourne market over the weekend, about his beautiful, made-to-last range of linen loveliness.
Tell us a bit about Mr Draper and what we can expect to discover?
Mr Draper is not about making more ‘stuff’ to go into your home; rather it is all about less. Mr Draper is about creating a considered quality product that will last. Offering an affordable, transparent and locally made option, Mr Draper aims to make homewares and bedding a more personal experience. You can expect to find pocket squares and handkerchiefs, napkins, tea towels, tablecloths, throws and maybe even some bedding. All products are handcrafted right here in Melbourne from European linen from the wonderful folks at Merchant and Mills.
What is your creative background and how did it lead you to where you are today?
I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm just outside of Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road and I’ve been making stuff for as long as I can remember. While I was at university a buddy and I started making t-shirts. This grew into a label called Pigeon Combine and we ended up doing a few seasons, making appearances at Melbourne and Sydney fashion weeks before putting it on hold indefinitely. Pigeon was a great experience in starting a business and real learning curve.
After Pigeon I wanted to see a different side of the world and do something a bit different. I ended up joining the military and went on to do just over four years in the Air Force before leaving last year to start Mr Draper. It seems like a really random thing to do but it made (and makes) sense to me. I’m really glad I did it, it’s given me a new perspective and energy.
Image credit: Photography by Alistair Birrell
Which other labels do you love? What inspires you?
I have more of a fashion background than homewares and interiors and this is reflected in the labels that I love. My favourite labels / designers are Nom*D and Ann Demeulemeester. Their work and commitment to their brand is inspiring. I particularly love Nom*D, the decades of hard work Margarita has put into the business, all the while staying true to her vision is amazing. I think there is the temptation to follow trends, grow quickly, to take the (seemingly) cheap and easy options of outsourcing everything and moving offshore in order to sell as much stuff as quickly as possible. There is something to be said for growing slowly and staying true to your values and creating something of quality that inclusive of the local community.
In terms of local labels I love the work Peak Oil Company is doing. Leigh makes amazing outdoor clothing in Mt Dandenong near Melbourne. Rather than being daggy gear that you see in most outdoors shops, Leigh is definitely channelling some Rick Owens and a post apocalyptic future when he designs and makes this clothing. It’s really special.
What is your creative workspace like, and what inspires you about your surroundings?
My creative workspace has been very small and uninspiring up until recently. I’ve been working out of home to save money while I grow. It’s a real challenge to try and cut a king size doona on the kitchen table, your processes and workflows just suck.
I’ve just taken over a lease with a friend to a great new space on Gertrude St, Fitzroy. It’s on the first floor facing a park and has amazing floor to ceiling north facing windows. It’s going to be an awesome place to work and just being there has a real calming effect on me, it allows me to work more logically and deliberately (rather than constantly tripping over stuff).
What challenges have you faced starting your own label, and what are some things you love about it?
Probably similar to the challenges everyone else faces when starting a business, time and money. I still need to work part time to help pay the bills, but I’m hoping that Mr Draper can become a full-time enterprise by next year sometime. I’ve been doing everything in the business myself which can be necessary at the start, but I’m quickly realising is not sustainable. I’m starting to pick my battles a little better and trying to stop doing as much ‘stuff’, and focus on what’s important like designing and building Mr Draper. I’m not super concerned with how fast I grow or when I can pay myself, rather that I do it properly and build a solid foundation.
What aspirations do you have for your label in the future?
I want to get setup in the studio and ideally I would like to build it into a little bit of a retail space where people can come along and touch and feel their product, really getting a understanding of how the product is made. I think we are a bit disconnected with how many textile based products are produced, when you chat to the machinist behind the sewing machine and hear their story all of sudden it doesn’t seem unreasonable to pay a little bit more to support their livelihood.
In the longer term I want to build a larger scale in-house manufacturing capability for Mr Draper. I think it is possible for more Australian labels to manufacture locally; we just need to be creative in how we approach the problem and work together to get the solution. Finally I’m dusting off my pattern making skills and working on a design for a very simple men’s and women’s linen shirt for this coming summer.
Image Credits: All photography by Nick Blair and Styling by Sarah Bangar, unless otherwise credited.