Take a flight of stairs down from Oxford Street, or walk in via a lane in Darlinghurst, and you will enter the multi-coloured, many textured world of Spunky Bruiser, where no two garments are the same. Created by Bex Frost and Christian Olea, the store sells custom designed, handmade clothing, constructed out of recycled fabrics.
The two met each other in Sydney’s underground drum and bass scene during the early 2000s, and this has informed their collaborative approach to fashion, according to Frost.
“We come from the sentiment of actual DIY, where it meant you did it yourself, not that it's an aesthetic. It was who had found the next new band that no one had heard of yet. Our approach to design is like that as well, we're always trying to push boundaries and do something that hasn't been done before.”
Beginning as so many Sydney labels do, the duo travelled the market and festival circuit, selling their clothes as vintage and retro-inspired clothing had a huge moment. “Vintage was on a massive overload at that point, almost every stall at the markets was a vintage stall,” recalled Frost. What stood Frost and Olea’s work apart, was that the designs are wholly new, even if the textiles may have had another life previously.
“A lot of people will come in and say ‘Oh this is so nineties’ or ‘This is so eighties’ [but] hang on, it's so everything, because we're using recycled materials that are from all of those different times.”
To produce each garment, Olea and Frost source materials from op-shops, preferring to travel outside of the city to find quality fabrics, instead of the high street cast offs from last season that dominate the inner-city second hand stores. As Frost describes, “It's like painting with fabric, that's the best way to explain it, so when we go out sourcing, it's like picking paints.”
Neither come from a background in fashion, however, and both see greater affinities between their work and the artists and musicians who form their circle of collaborators. Australian trio Haiku Hands have been wearing Spunky Bruiser outfits across their recent Australian tour and the shop is also the workspace of queer night Canned Fruit.
The ability to cross these borders is partly a result of the store’s location. Located within the Oxford Street Creative Spaces program for the past four years, the shopfront has allowed Spunky Bruiser to share their success with other young creatives.
“Because we're self-taught, we can always encourage people, ‘Why do you think you need that qualification, or why do you need that certificate?’” highlighted Frost. “You can actually just do stuff and because we have space to offer you can actually become a real thing.”
The diversity of the area also encourages creativity, as Olea noted, “What the area allows is complete freedom because of the demographics of who lives here, so many different types of people.”
Across the racks and hangers in the brightly coloured space there is no separation into men’s or women’s sections. While Spunky Bruiser also work on a commission basis, their off the rack line is designed to fit a body, not a gender.
“Because we can make things to a body size in any of the designs, it means there's not really any boundaries,” stated Frost.
This focus on the relationship between the wearer and the garment also fosters a closer relationship between Spunky Bruiser and their customers, something that comes naturally, according to Olea.
“Some of the pieces we put a lot of feelings and emotions into. We do want to know who buys it.”
Creating that sense of connection is what Olea and Frost hope happens when customers wear their Spunky Bruiser clothing, and start a conversation with someone new.