For an Australian brand that has survived the after effects of the global financial crisis, the shift to online retail and the decimation of the local manufacturing base, there is surprisingly little written about Melbourne-based label Kloke. This is not for a lack of well-constructed, quality garments which are often made locally, but perhaps instead, because of it, as the wife and husband duo of Amy and Adam Coombes have followed a slow growth philosophy that stays true to their own circumstances, rather than the fickle dictates of the fashion press.
“The fact that we're married and have a family is a really big part of how we've got to where we are,” highlighted Adam. “That driving force is our family and it provides a lot of encouragement for what we do.”
Taking the needs and environment of a family into account necessitates a long-term vision, and one that is realized in garments that are able to withstand a lifetime of wear, and specifically the very lives that Amy and Adam lead.
“We're active people, we ride to work, we're down the coast a lot, but we also go to the pub, we go to gigs, it's important that the garments can facilitate that lifestyle as well,” noted Adam.
Amy concurs, and emphasises that their pieces transcend any one location.
“While we're based in Collingwood and Fitzroy with our store, it doesn't mean that all those pieces can't be worn by the coast, or in the mountains.”
The daily lives of Kloke’s creators directly influence the garments they have constructed, and a shared routine provides the starting point for the concept-driven collections.
“We'll start with something, it could be a TV series,” described Amy. “Something that's mentioned in that then sends us on a path of looking deeper into the background of whatever that is, and then that will evolve into the concept for that season.”
Being concept driven in this way means that while Kloke may produce looks for each season, the pieces remain functional and aesthetically relevant beyond a single trend, and carry with them a manufacturing process that designs a garment to last for as long as the wearer will allow it to. Instead of growing quickly with an aim to be bought out by a large fashion house, Kloke have decided to remain independent, and look to other brands that have had a long lifetime outside of the spotlight as inspiration.
“Those longer lasting brands are not necessarily built on a hype, [and] although fashion does get hyped, we haven't avoided it, we've just tried to do it within our own means,” highlighted Adam.
This focus has meant ensuring that production remains centred in their Collingwood warehouse, close to where both Amy and Adam call home. Both come from a background which places value on the process of construction, and while some production shifts offshore in response to demand and the possibilities of manufacturing in Australia, being connected to their suppliers remains a core concern.
“The tangibility of making patterns, toileling, designing in house, sampling in house is really important. It is important to know your makers and [while] we make our knitwear in China, we have a really good relationship with our maker. It is important to be making in Melbourne or in Australia but it's definitely more important to know our makers are getting a fair go.”
The approach of knowing their makers not only allows for transparency, but the production of garments that can withstand wear, and thus challenge the issue of the seasonability of garments, and how sustainable the fashion industry can be when garments are produced on a three month – or shorter— cycle.
Reflecting the ethos that is embodied in their garments, Kloke have also kept their local retail presence small, while the sector has gone through massive disruption.
“When we first started working in the industry you'd have fifty wholesale stores around Australia,” recalled Amy. “In the first eighteen months of us starting a lot of those multibranded stores closed.”
Initial stockists included now defunct store FAT, but Kloke remains stocked in Incu, one of the few outlets to have survived the shift to online retail. In addition, Kloke is retailed throughout New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Germany and Canada. For Kloke, the ease of availability online has refocused the value of a physical shopfront for a brand such as theirs.
“We are able to give the customer a whole experience of what the brand is and the way the product can be worn with each other. It is a way for us to actually meet the customers and have a more fluid dialogue with them,” said Amy.
Their first store opened on Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street, in 2013. While renovating the store and removing the previous tenant’s fit-out, sweeping arches were revealed in the walls, and have become a focal point of the current fit-out, one that is mirrored in the store’s display. A similar, stripped back approach was taken for their second store in Melbourne’s CBD, however the location in QV necessitated a very different design palette, dominated by brutalist greys and concrete.
Just like their garments, Adam highlights, “We don't just want to roll out a model. We're interested in something reacting to its environment and where it is in its surrounding environment.”
Themselves wearing favourites from their personal Kloke wardrobe, after our conversation Amy and Adam meld back into the brick walls and bluestone lanes of Collingwood.