BEHIND THE BRAND: WE INTERVIEW AZULANT AKORA, AWARD WINNING AUSTRALIAN DESIGNER
Azulant Akora is an award-winning Australian designer who's self-titled label is synonymous with wool. The Perth-based brand is breaking boundaries and innovating in the fashion industry, but it's not all fun and games. With fierce competition and an isolated origin, the Azualnt Akora brand is a slow burn when consumers are concerned, but designer and owner, Azulant, is every bit as determined and her brand is unique. Below, Azulant Akora shares her inspiration, her personal story and her passion for her Australian owned, designed and made ethical fashion label, Azulant Akora.
Who or what influenced your relationship with fashion growing up?
My mother. I grew up watching her create beautiful garments for herself. She loves couture, so everything was hand sewn. It was incredible to watch the care and time she took to create her clothes. It was like watching a painter create a masterpiece. Nothing was rushed. She had and still has a great respect for the fabrics she uses. Even now, if I get the opportunity, I would much rather hand sew my sample garments. It’s quiet and delicate. You’re not interrupted by the sounds sewing machines make. It’s more enjoyable, like meditation. Just you, the fabric and your imagination.
Did you study fashion or are you self-taught?
Mainly self-taught, but I have had private tuition in garment construction and pattern making.
What led you to launch a brand and when did you launch?
In 2012, I was at a crossroads. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. Then I thought back to what always made me happy growing up, and that was fashion. So I took a chance and entered the Australian Wool Fashion Awards (2013). These awards are unique in that they are open to both students, henotheists and established designers. The only provision is that your garments need to predominantly made from Australian Merino Wool. I had never used wool before. Up until that point, I was only interested in formal wear, and that usually calls for fine silk, organza or tulle. So, I started researching Australian Merino Wool with my mother, and we were surprised by all the benefits of Merino wool, and how versatile the fabric is. One website in particular detailed all the fine qualities of Australian Merino Wool and even had an eponymous competition run annually for the best design talent each continent has to offer - that's the International Woolmark Competition. To our surprise, two of my favorite designers had entered Woolmark, so I entered the competition in the Eveningwear Category and received a Highly Commended Award, for my Gabriella red gown. I was interviewed by The Australian Financial Review and invited to Melbourne Fashion Week. All these amazing opportunities gave me the courage to enter the following year (2014), in which I placed first for my Isabelle gown. After that, I had proven that I had something to say and contribute as a designer, so I launched my label at Government House (Perth) in December 2014.
Describe your brand to our readers?
I like to think of my customers as works of art, and my job as a designer is to frame the masterpiece. Every woman is beautiful, and I don’t want to cover up that beauty. So I like to think of my brand as a frame. It exists to exhibit art, to compliment art, to enhance art.
Where are your garments designed and made?
All our garments are designed and made here in Perth, Australia.
What does a week in your shoes look like?
Monday to Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm, I am at my boutique in Fremantle. In between serving customers, I liaise with fabric wholesalers, my many dress makers, and the machinists who manufacture my clothing. After 5 pm from Monday to Saturday, I am restocking the racks at my store, answering emails and processing orders that I receive via my online site. I also use this time to plan my social media posts through apps like Hootsuite. Sometimes the only time I have off is during my lunch break, so I use those 30mins to send online orders at my local Australia Post. Fridays get particularly busy because clients are picking up their gowns for weekend events. Sundays are strictly no work days. It’s just for family, rest, and relaxation.
Why are you passionate about manufacturing your brand in Australia?
Because I think each continent has a rich history and unique way of creating garments, and Australia is no exception. I believe in the story that goes into creating a garment, from the fabrics used to the artisans that put all the pieces together. The seamstresses and the machinists I use are all from diverse backgrounds, and I learn and continue to be inspired by their stories and how they have come to call Australia home. I use their combined knowledge of garment construction and different finishes in my garments. I think that’s what sets my label apart. It's about the details and how it all comes together to create one whole piece. That’s what Australia is to me. We are all from diverse backgrounds but come together to create a united story. That’s why I manufacture in Australia. Because of how diverse yet united we are. It inspires me.
Explain the process of one of your garments?
Each collection has a story, so each garment is almost like a paragraph or chapter in that story. Before I start the design process, I consider the significance of the garment; is it the closing piece that ends the collection with a message, or is it the middle piece which creates the conflict, or is it the opening piece which is the first thing my audience is going to see and sets the tone for the whole collection? After establishing the story, I take the rough sketch of the garment and collection and refine it. I start adding notes about stitches, different finishes, lengths, and how I’d like it to drape against the body. Then I select the colours and fabrics. I like the customer to know exactly what the garment is for, so colour and fabric selection is crucial. If it's an evening garment, then I like to choose romantic colours like red, metallics or jewel tones. The garment is first sewn from a sample fabric that behaves the same way as the final fabric. This is so the garment can be looked at as a whole and altered to get the desired final look. Any changes made on the first sample are amended on the flat pattern. It’s then sewn in the final fabric and finished perfectly.
How do you define sustainability and how do you apply sustainability to your business?
We try to use natural fabrics that are biodegradable like Australian Merino Wool.
What challenges do you face as an Australian made brand?
The primary challenge is logistics, especially in Perth which is one of the most isolated cities in the world. Our national and international clientele have to wait longer to receive our products because we are based further away than our competitors. We aim to change this by increasing our stockists so that our products are more readily available. The second challenge is the cost of manufacturing in Australia, which is reflected in the price of our garments. It makes it harder to compete against other brands offering similar products but at a lower price.
Brand highlights or achievements to date?
The Australian Wool Fashion Awards (Highly Commended Award) Evening Wear 2013.
Interviewed by The Australian Financial Review (2013).
Interviewed by Countryman Magazine (2013).
Melbourne Fashion Week (2014).
Australian Wool Fashion Awards (First Place) Evening Wear 2014.
Launched my brand at Government House December 2014.
Los Angeles Fashion Week Design Competition (International top 12) 2015.
Interviewed by Countryman Magazine (double page spread).
Invited by The WA Farmers Federation to present a fashion show of my Australian Merino Wool garments in recognition of my work with Australian Merino Wool 2016.
The West Australian 2016.
Opened my flagship store 2017.
Invited to Vancouver Fashion Week (A/W) 2017.
Invited to New York Fashion Week (S/S) 2017.
This is one Australian made fashion brand on the rise, and it's a journey you don't want to miss. Support Australian made fashion and shop the full range from Azulant Akora to experience Australian made, handcrafted, sustainable, ethical, child labour free, Australian Merino wool garments.