Finding the courage to walk away from something you've created is not easy. It's a message I've been hearing more of in recent times. Our ex-group publisher Alison Rice is just one example of someone who has left their 'dream job' in order to explore professional growth.
Today, Australian designer Kacey Devlin announced "it's time to say farewell" to her eponymous label. Since its inception in 2012, Who What Wear Australia has been a huge supporter of the sustainable fashion brand. We've shared Kacey's sustainability message, learnt about what she's like as a boss, and partnered on a very special Career Code event in 2018.
A few weeks ago, I had the immense pleasure of sitting down with Kacey at her Paddington pop-up store, to learn more about her decision to take a bit of a breather, focus on herself, and take some time to work out what's next.
In Kacey's own words, the decision to close the brand "was not one I took lightly but I believe we're here to evolve". Read on to learn more about Kacey Devlin's story.
AMANDA BARDAS: Let’s go from the very beginning for people who might not know your full brand story. What was your path before launching Kacey Devlin?
KACEY DEVLIN: I studied at UTS and completed a bachelor of design in fashion and textile. While I was studying I interned in PR and marketing for Gorman. When I finished my degree, I went and worked full-time in PR for about two years, and it was on the side that the business, I guess, at that time started off as being a side hustle.
I was working on what was our intention as a brand, and what point of view we were going to add that was going to be different from the current landscape. And then, I stepped out of PR because I knew that wasn't my long-term dream. I took the leap and started the label. I brought on a sales agent before I even had my first collection sampled, because I was, I guess, a bit nervous to start it, and I kept pushing back deadlines and everyone was asking, "When are you going to start your own brand?" And I was like, "Next season, next season," and so I just thought, take the bull by the horns. I hired a sales agent and sold her the dream of what the brand could be and what was sitting in my head and heart at the time.
The sales agent told me I needed to have a collection ready in three weeks. So there was a timeline and a tight deadline, and that helped me get my stuff together. In our first season we picked up eight stockists. I was completely blown away.
There was an aesthetic that really set us apart. We definitely started the brand from the start to be quite trans seasonal, which, I think, has been a big legacy of ours over the time. From there, the business completely evolved on reaction from our customers, but then one store saw that we were in that store, so then that buyer contacted us, and it just grew completely organically, and to the point where we had orders and I didn’t even have production sorted. I literally was in my car driving around to factories in Sydney, begging for them to take me on because I had orders that I needed to fill within six months. And then I found the factory we've been at ever since. I explained to them "sustainably and ethically manufactured clothes is really important to me, I really want you to take me on." I’m so thankful they took a chance to me, and they have been intrinsic in guiding the brand over the last 10 collections and we wouldn't have been able to do it without them.
AB: So you talked earlier about how you had a vision in your head, in your heart. Tell us what was that vision and what did you set out to achieve when you launched the brand?
KD: So for me when I studied at university, we do a body of research, which is a dissertation, where you're asked to ground your design practice in theory. And for me, I blindfolded women and filmed them getting dressed, because I really wanted to understand what our relationship was with clothes.
This whole idea came from the idea of protection and the ability for clothes to be fluid and to be a true reflection of the females wearing it, not necessarily a silhouette that forces us to become something else. It was so important that it was, I guess, relaxed, fluid, authentic, it was really like a second skin. So all our silhouettes and fabrics, even until this day, are drapey, lightweight, fluid —they slip on the body, they wrap on body, and they tie. I wanted to create pieces that you could wear multiple different ways across a lot of different occasions and events, and that was something that you'd hold on forever
AB: And so, I've noticed that you don't have zippers and buttons. What's the thinking behind that?
KD: From an early age I've always had quite a business mindset. When I thought about my business I questioned, "What can I do that's different from everyone else? What's one thing that everyone has?" And it was this idea of permanent fastening. At the time I'd just started getting into a bit of Buddhist medication, Buddhist teachings, and understanding, I guess, theologies and theories behind that, and it was this idea of permanence, and it was the idea that nothing lasts forever. And I thought, "Hold on a second, if clothing needs to last forever and needs to be with us because it's our second skin, what happens if I remove the permanent elements?" So zips and fastenings. I realised they're the first thing that breaks down and makes us throw it away. They make us fit into a garment that holds the body into a certain way and makes us feel uncomfortable. I gave myself this challenging parameter as a brand designer to not use fastenings and see what I come up with.
AB: What have been some of the memorable moments since launching the brand and some of the key achievements that standout to you? I'm sure there's so many.
KD: In retrospect, it feels like the whole time has gone so quickly. For me, it's been being hands on in all facets of the business, but it's the conversations that you have with our customer that is just so enlightening, hearing how we've made someone feel, the pieces that they've loved, they've never felt that way before. It just really gives you that extra sense and motivation to keep going. Sure, undeniably, as a brand we've accomplished some amazing things, we've won some incredible awards, which have really changed and evolved the business over time.
AB: And so at what point did you start to feel like you were achieving what you set out to do?
KD: Probably in our second year was when things started to keep moving. You really started to see that growth happen year on year, collection after collection, season after season. I think, though, in reflecting on it, our industry is so dynamic. There's peaks and there's troughs and customer behaviour is very much like that, as well.
AB: What many might not realise is the personal sacrifice of launching your own brand. What did you have to give up in the early years to get the brand off the ground? Do you feel like your relationship suffered or your health?
KD: I was young, so I was naïve and I think that that was the best gift that you can possibly have when you're wanting to go out and do your own thing. You don't know what's ahead. Potentially if I'd known what I know now, would I do it? I don't know. I'd be really cautious. At the time, I was working three jobs and the business to this point is still self -funded, and that's a huge achievement and accomplishment of mine. I did want to always remain in control of the direction of the business and worked in the early years in order to support that.
I was very vacant in the early years from family events, friend events, and missed certain milestones. But at the same time, I did get a lot out of the business, so it's just one of those decisions that you make knowing that there is ... sacrifice. But would I change it? No.
AB: Did you ever consider selling the brand on, or are you connected to it because it's your name?
KD: Selling it has never ... never crossed my mind. I feel like it's such a honest and authentic reflection of who I am as a creative, and there is a real authenticity that I believe comes through the way that we cut our patterns, the way we select our fabrics that I just ... yeah, I didn't want to get financial gain out of selling it.
I feel that there's a silver lining in knowing that it's the end of the chapter, that there are no more pieces. These pieces can be forever pieces in your wardrobe, and there's something really beautiful in that.
AB: You've made the decision to close this chapter of the brand, what led you to make this decision?
KD: It came from a place of planning for the future and what that looked like, both on a business and personal level. I think I've been so fortunate to grow up alongside the brand and grow up alongside our industry, and I feel that I've accomplished everything and more, that I set out to achieve. And I think there's something beautiful in knowing that if you've done your job and you created a beautiful impact, it's okay to leave it at that and know that there's something that awaits me on the other side of the business. It's now not focusing on Kacey Devlin, the label, but Kacey Devlin, the person.
AB: What do you think is next for you in the immediate and in the future?
KD: In the immediate I want to celebrate what the brand has done for so many women. It's incredible that people have really been able to feel the best version of themselves in our clothes, and I think that's, for me, my greatest success. And I think stepping out of the business, it'll be a great time to really reflect on that and do a little bit of resting and filling up my creative tank again. I'm bloody hungry for another challenge in my professional career. I know that there is so much potential and unlocked potential that I have that I can give to other businesses and companies.
AB: Well, my last question was is there anything you would have done differently, but after speaking for half an hour, I feel like your answer's going to be, 'no'.
KD: Oh, God, no. I feel like we took risks where we needed to. I think the best thing for us was what we've done, and the last thing that I felt that I hadn't done was open a store and meet our customers in person. And we've been able to really celebrate that by opening up a pop-up store and meeting customers and getting to know them. So that really was my last goal for the brand—and I've done it.
AB: Congratulations Kacey. You've had an amazing journey and I'm so excited to see what unfolds next for you.
Please join us in celebrating Kacey's success, by vising her pop-up store in Sydney's Paddington between now and March 31, 2019. Here are the details.