There’s something undeniably charming about Sydney’s grassroots fashion labels. You can almost sense the cautious dedication that has gone into each and every stitch, cut and fabric choice, and the fervent passion required to start a business in one of the most cutthroat industries is admirably compelling. Secret Squirrel is one such label that Sydney can be proud to call its own, which humbly started at a market stall about five years ago. Its collections prove that fashion need not be extravagant to be beautiful, with simple cuts and prints that emit a yearning appeal and result in easy, effortless style. We spoke to the label’s founders, Andrew Prince and Bri Cheeseman, about discovery, timelessness, and really f’ing hard work.
Who is Secret Squirrel? How did you two meet and what are your backgrounds ?
Secret Squirrel is Bri Cheeseman and Andrew Prince. We are partners and business partners who met in a bar (where all great relationships start!) seven happy years ago. Bri (designer) is also a florist, and studied Jewellery and Object Design at TAFE Design Centre, Enmore. Andrew (general manager) is also a musician who runs a band merchandise company called 'Beesides'.
Why did you decide to create a label together?
The label was launched out of a love of fashion and clothing, and a desire to make clothes that are an expression of us, our aesthetic and everything we love. We started out with really simple t-shirts and tops that we would cut, sew and print on ourselves. This was really appealing to us in the beginning as well – creating something unique and seeing it go from being a piece of fabric/sketch on paper to being a finished garment was really fun.
Who were your earliest design influences?
Vintage clothing was and still is always a big inspiration to us – we love op-shopping and will trek far out of the city to find op-shops that are still rich with undiscovered gems. Of course we also love myriad of fashion labels, from super high end international names (Marc Jacobs, Chloe, Miu Miu, BUrberry etc etc ...) to local, independent designers doing their own thing. Other creative people doing what they love has been a source of inspiration to us from the get go.
I read that you started at the Glebe markets. Is this how you got your foot in the door in the industry? How did it evolve into a seasonal label?
Yes, the market route was how we started out and it was a great way to have direct contact with the people actually buying our clothes. We always strive to design clothes that are special and gorgeous, but also really wearable, and our experiences at the markets really reinforced this for us. We produced our first "collection" based on our favourite pieces and those that were most popular at the markets, and approached stores to take us on from there.
Your designs are quite simple. Do you believe less is more?
Absolutely. Sometimes, more is more and it's fun to pile it all on together, but more often than not I'm happiest in clothes that are pared back, relaxed and easy to wear. We definitely focus on making clothes that are simple and elegant without necessarily looking ‘simple and elegant’.
What is it about simplicity that you find inspiring?
We think great design is achieved when you can get an idea, concept or mood across with the least amount of information or interference as possible. Sometimes, adding more detail to a design takes away from the overall impact of the design itself. We try to really skirt the line of being as simple as possible without being plain.
In your own words, define great style.
Secret Squirrel is young and modern and a little innocent, but with a splash of gorgeous and grown up, and we think this what we would define as great style. Great style is also about well made, classic pieces that stand the test of time and can be worn and then re-worn years later without looking dated.
It's a cliché, but great style is also not necessarily just about the clothes you wear… there's more to it than that.
Are there any misconceptions of the industry that you want people – particularly those aspiring to be in it – to know about?
There is a lot of intense, hard work involved in having a fashion label. I think sometimes a misconception can be that it's a glamourous, easy job that involves swanning about in clothes and going to parties and so on, and it just isn't like that in reality. I mean, there are elements of that which are fantastic of course! But more often than not, being a fashion designer is about relentlessly working away at this goal of having a successful label.
When we were first starting out, a friend of ours, who has a lot of experience in the industry, said to us, "when it comes to fashion, the less you know about what you're getting yourself into, the better", and looking back, I actually think that's pretty great advice! I think it can be daunting starting a label if you know how much work you'll be putting into it before you'll even start seeing a return. It can take some of the excitement out of it.
How do you see Secret Squirrel evolving into the future?
We are working every season on maintaining and adding to our list of fantastic stockists who really represent our label, and showcase us in their stores as we grow. This is something we will keep developing indefinitely. We are also working towards opening our own store – somewhere in Sydney, down the track – which is pretty exciting.
Where can we find you in Sydney?
Pigeon Ground Records and Clothing is the unofficial home of Secret Squirrel in Sydney. It's the only place where you can buy the complete collection every season – and we work there sometimes, so you can actually find US there as well as our clothes! You can also buy Secret Squirrel at Somedays in Surry Hills and Little Flirt in Manly.
Anything else you would like people to know?
You can become a fan of ours on Facebook to get in on special Secret Sales and special Squirrel events.
interview: Seema Duggal
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