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Claire Goldsworthy founded The Dress Collective in 2015 with one vision in mind: to create a positive and sustainable future for the Australian fashion industry. After recently stocking the online store's 40th Australian made designer, Kultivate interviewed Claire on how the idea came about for The Dress Collective, what she plans to achieve and why 'slow fashion' is so important. The below article can be read via SHORTPRESS here. 

Staring into your wardrobe wouldn’t typically spark thoughts of an ‘environmental issue’ – at least not in the same way as watching endless plastic bags being filled at the grocery store, or each time you see a plastic bottle tossed into the bin. But it should. The thing is – we’ve drifted into an era of disposable fashion without even realising it (or we just don’t like to admit it). Clothing brands have cracked the formula for high-appeal, low-cost designs that consumers can afford to purchase on a whim – and get bored of. It sounds like a win-win, but this is only because we spare little thought to the $500 million worth of clothing Australians are throwing out every single year. Entrepreneur Claire Goldsworthy calls this ‘fast fashion’ and she’s out to do something about this neglected environmental issue with her venture, The Dress Collective.

Put simply, The Dress Collective promotes ‘slow fashion’ selling 100 per cent Australian made fashion and accessories to consumers who make long-term decisions. This online boutique brings together and supports a network of independent Australian designers who produce quality clothing that’s ethically and sustainably produced. Goldsworthy speaks to ShortPress about her journey into a business that flies in the face of a strategy adopted by many others in a highly competitive industry.

Describe the ‘moment of inspiration’ that led you to start your business? 

It was less of a ‘moment of inspiration’, and more of a learning process that led to the launch of The Dress Collective, and it was influenced by a few factors.

I started my own label 10 years ago straight out of school and slowly built my brand the old fashioned way – setting up a market stall every weekend, working two day jobs, learning from internships and picking up sewing skills from my grandmother. Everything I learnt, I learnt the hard way. I knew nothing about the online world, Instagram wasn’t a ‘thing’ when I started out, I had no formal business or financial training, knew nothing about general marketing or social media, and it was overwhelming to say the least.

I wanted to help, I wanted to make it easier for brands to start out in the fashion industry and I wanted to be the source of advice that I didn’t have in the beginning.

After working in the industry for nearly 10 years in so many different areas with brands big and small, I worked out that new labels needed two things; a platform for online exposure (that cared about their Australian made ethics) and a means of bouncing ideas off each other to make it through the teething phase of starting a brand. So, in June 2015, I launched The Dress Collective online store, and we’re now a community of 40 Australian made labels and we’re only a year old!

What’s the toughest challenge you’ve experienced?

The toughest factor of starting a business is the ‘start-up budget’ that comes with it. It affects absolutely every aspect of the business, from little things like online hosting fees, to big things like national advertising and hiring staff.  Starting a business on a self-funded budget is extremely tough, and probably the toughest challenge of all. If you can get through the first 12 months of launching a business and handle the financial constraints that comes with it, you can face anything! Learning how to work with a low budget is an excellent challenge though, and it forces you to think outside the box and get creative with marketing and advertising tactics.

Do you have any myths to dispel about entrepreneurialism? 

I run two businesses singlehandedly (The Dress Collective and The Fashion Advocate) and I am always collaborating with brands and businesses on new projects in fashion; people tell me often that I’m a ‘true entrepreneur’. By definition, an entrepreneur sets up businesses and takes on financial risks in the hope of profit, but I have never looked at my businesses as a means of profit because I’ve always worked with passion in mind, not money. A lot of people tend to think that entrepreneurialism is all fun and games, exciting ideas, success stories and positivity – and they always seem to think of an ‘entrepreneur’ as an individual, a single person, but no one has ever made an idea successful without the support network or the ‘cogs’. It takes a group of people to support an idea’s growth, and it takes determination to see an idea through, mental and emotional strength to withstand setbacks, and a humble nature to keep the seedling in sight no matter how successful you become – that’s what people often forget about. It’s not as glamourous in the beginning as everyone thinks it is. The myth of ‘entrepreneurialism’ is that it is all about ‘starting a new business’, but I believe a successful entrepreneur is one that knows how to handle everything that follows the ‘idea moment’. It’s more about how you deal with what happens as you grow; it’s about coming up with ideas to surpass obstacles that sustain the original business idea. Anyone can come up with ideas, but working out how to keep them running is the tricky part!

What’s surprised you most on your journey so far?

I was surprised to find an audience that cared about Australian fashion just as much as I did. Starting The Dress Collective was about starting and building something that would support the future of the Australian fashion industry, not just solve a problem here and now.  My ethos is simple: to create a liberal and dynamic future for Australian fashion. I’ve always been passionate about people and the environment, making conscious informed choices, shopping local and supporting small businesses, but I was surprised to find that so many consumers and designers were just as passionate as I was, and who were hungry for an online store that sold solely Australian made fashion.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Nothing! I think the best part of starting a business from passion is the obstacles you face and the lessons that you learn when you’re forced to work with what you’ve got. If I started over and had $1m dollars, there are plenty of strategies I’d rework with the ability to financially support a different method of business. But taking money out of the equation, I actually like meeting challenges head on in business and learning as I go. Sometimes I wonder where The Dress Collective would be if I’d started with a few more degrees under my belt, or a few more years’ experience, but some of the best ideas come from improvisation and learning how to adapt creatively when you’re faced with challenges – so I’m happy that The Dress Collective started organically and is where it is today.

What motivates you – daily?

I’m motived by the designers I stock and their personal stories; each and every one of them are so passionate about what they create and why they create it, and they’re all incredibly talented designers.

I’m also motivated to educate Australian consumers about ‘slow fashion’ and why it’s so important to shop local and make responsible fashion choices. The Dress Collective combats this ‘fast fashion’ problem by promoting ethically manufactured clothing and encouraging conscious shopping. We’re making a positive impact on the environment and reducing the unethical treatment of workers that often occurs in the offshore fashion industry. I am determined to change the way people recklessly consume and throw away their fashion items, and I want to educate consumers about the process, background and future of their wardrobes.

How do you feel when you think of the future?

I’m always optimistic about the future and what’s possible with business! It’s often tough, but starting a business today is easier than ever with the likes of social media and a plethora of online tools for learning. You can Google just about anything, so for small companies and new labels, starting and running a business is an exciting time and it’s only going to get better in the future. If you’ve got the guts, determination and strength to overcome the obstacles of starting a business from scratch, the future looks pretty bright, and with everything that’s changing technologically – the future for digital and online business is exciting! 

Centered, Claire Goldsworthy, The Dress Collective founder. 


Kultivate winners' series: The Dress Collective combats 'fast fashion'

To read more about small businesses, head to SHORTPRESS.

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