We were stoked to sit down with Gemma Baxter, the boss and brain behind to Barwyn and Back, a new Melbourne based ‘tech street wear’ label, made with ethics and sustainability front of mind.
Gemma’s mission is to create clothes that encourage an adventurous urban lifestyle, in particular cycle commuting, so that her riding mates would be safer on the roads, and so that those who didn’t ride, might start.
We chatted to Gemma about her inspiration, dedication and what it takes to launch a label in a highly competitive space.
First off, we are BIG fans of your label to Barwyn and Back. We love how you’ve poured passion and dedication into the brand, taking the customer along for the ride (excuse the pun!) via all your touch points – your Instagram, website and most recently your launch event.
You were originally working as an architect, what advice would you give to people looking to switch careers, and focus on something that may just be a side-hustle?
Give yourself time and come up with a plan! Save some money. Get some butchers paper, get some sharpies, sit down and watch your favourite films, grab a glass of wine and figure what you’re passionate about. It’s the passion and the drive that will get you through the challenges!
The cue for me to switch was my need to really be able to stretch myself creatively and to be able to implement those ideas. That, in part, was the catalyst for starting To Barwyn and Back. The other motivator was my love of innovation and design, particularly when it comes to clothing. While I was working my 9 – 5 job as an architect, I really thought about my wardrobe and how I was wearing things to be chic, or fit in, but it was difficult to ride everywhere, or be dressed in a way that was versatile for every situation. So, I started sketching, and making clothes that I could ride in and feel comfortable in even if I was out meeting friends at a bar, or at work.
How did you navigate the unknowns of going from architecture to fashion?
I love learning, so each time I met an unknown, my reaction was often excitement at tackling and becoming well versed in something new! Obviously the process could be frustrating, for example, navigating costs of sampling and grading, navigating errors and faults in fabrics and garments; there were a few errors but I found that by believing in my end goal I was able to build relationships in an industry I had no toe in.
People are the most important factor of any business, if you have the right people and good relationships, you can make good shit together and that crosses through every industry. I had a couple of mentors through NEIS and Many Rivers, who offered some brilliant advice. But when it came to marketing fashion I felt those mentors might have vetoed a plan that I knew would be effective because of my age/demographic/insight.
If you could travel back in time, what would you advise yourself when you started this project?
Test a product! I hate the idea of surveys where there’s no incentive, so be inventive with how you get feedback. After a year and a half of working on the brand, I decided to release a limited range of shirts and this helped me to understand the ecommerce process and also the customer journey to purchase. Wish I’d done it earlier! Other things that have also helped was sponsoring people (with the provision of free product) and listening closely to feedback. I do think understanding the customer and their needs is integral to the R&D process with any product.
We love the name, tell us a bit about it?
Barwyn is a combo of grandparents names Barney and Elwyn – their property in Northern Queensland was called Barwyn. The idea of ‘to Barwyn and back’ reflects the excitement I had as a kid; waking up every morning and rushing over to spend time with mates, exploring and knocking about on a big property. That excitement to face the day is something I try to evoke with my clothing.
Fashion is a notoriously crowded marketplace, what is your approach to cut through the noise, and get in front of the consumer?
Keep the message simple and focus on purpose and transparency. Also, making the overall experience a really authentic one as opposed to a crispy/commercial one, and making it enjoyable for yourself and others involved.
To keep things interesting and memorable for the consumer I felt that from a consumer perspective, the following helped to get the to Barwyn and Back name out;
I wanted to showcase the collection in a way that would convey the versatility and wearability, so I worked on a vide that featured musician Joy & Sparks, and I sought garments for styling from aligned brands Unempire, Save Yourself, POC, Knog, Oakley and Quick Nips which let to some valuable cross promotion.
It makes perfect sense to collaborate when you share the same values, but there has to be the right synergy and alignment there for both sides to reap the benefits. I have noticed pretty immediate effects on social, such as an immediate increase of followings, which has been great.
Being true to my values –
I’m passionate about engaging as many local industries as possible to create a product that is sustainable on many levels. To Barwyn and back is accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia, as I only use local makers, manufacturers, and suppliers who are award compliant.
Focus on look/feel and customer journey for the consumer –
All customer touch points reflect a really active lifestyle, and being able to enjoy commuting just as much as the destination. From the website, to the Instagram account to the launch event, everything we’ve done tells the story about that childhood curiosity and freedom.
Tell us about the event! What was your overall plan?
I invested a lot of energy and budget into the launch as it would ultimately set the tone of the label. I wanted to get a mix of fashion people and bike and skate mates to evoke an exciting and authentic vibe.
I also planned the event so that the story of the brand would come through. It was set up like a gallery, with finished pieces showcased next to prototypes to give punters an idea of the work and thinking that went into each piece. The gallery approach was a great way to allow people to get close, touch and feel the products, as well as an innovative way to show off all the hard work!
Additionally, I had a video clip that was screened as well. This was a labour of love that included a whole bunch of my mates in to Barwyn and Back clothing over a couple of days and nights in Melbourne. The video captured the nostalgic theme of the clothing I try to evoke, while showcasing the versatility and adaptation of each product.
I went to a great deal of effort crafting invites and sending them out to my networks via MailChimp, I learned that when you want a packed room and invite 280 hoping to get 140, you should probably invite 400 people. It was a great lesson in event management, and I was lucky enough to have a perfect venue, mates to help me set up and pack down too.
A last bit of advice?
I really believe in rule-breaking. I think that I have a better chance of making my business sustainable if it offers something truly unique, and I think this comes from having the balls to do the un-done.
Thanks for the chat, Gemma!