For Brazilian-born but Sydney based couple Marina Tokarski and Gus Agra, starting a premium leather goods and apparel store was not always a fait accompli. Studying overseas in Australia, Tokarski in biology and Agra in communications, the two became close. Enjoying their life in Australia, both decided to stay, and in this, the idea for Von Röutte was born.
“Von Röutte is a couple from Brazil that comes to Australia to study and then live, and they're producing shoes in Portugal and bags in Vietnam and travelling; we got married overseas.”
While the brand’s story might be personal, the designs are an outcome of the two’s professions. Agra’s background in graphic and web design informs the smooth, clean simplicity of the shapes which make up each shoe, bag and shirt, while Tokarski’s influence from the natural sciences can be seen in the quality materials used to create each piece. Although not starting with an explicit design ideology, the two naturally gravitated towards Nordic-inspired designs.
“As soon as we started designing it was just the aesthetic that's coming out. It's not something that we planned,” noted Tokarski, with Agra adding,
“It's just what we like to do; it's more organic, more natural than looking for trends. We don't want to force something that's not us.”
Initially, the pair began their collection online, with a unisex range of smart-casual sneakers and quality travel goods, such as wallets and bags. All were centred on simple, functional design, but made with quality materials.
Following the launch, Von Röutte had a temporary pop up in Bondi and then Paddington, before finally settling on their permanent location back in Bondi on Gould Street, which opened earlier in May. Taking it step by step from online, to pop up to permanent flagship store allowed Tokarski and Agra to understand their customer better. Initially getting feedback that their collection was too unisex, Von Röutte now comes in men’s and women’s collections. For Tokarski and Agra, another benefit of running the pop ups was understanding how their customers liked to wear their products, which brands they were being matched with and how they were being styled. Ultimately, however, it is the potential to introduce customers to the quality and full aesthetic of the brand which made the case for the flagship.
“It's a shoe business,” highlighted Agra. “People need to try the shoes and then online it's quite difficult to understand what the brand was about just from photography. So we thought that it would be interesting for people to have this moment of trying the shoes on and experiencing the whole feeling of the brand and the shoes together. The only way for us to do that would be to have a flagship.”
The singular identity of the brand, being an independent label founded by Tokarski and Agra themselves, comes through in the homely, yet refined, design of the store. Most days, Agra and Tokarski are there themselves, connecting with customers and Bondi locals. Making frequent trips to their makers in Portugal and Vietnam, the duo has a direct relationship to the whole process that they can then share with the passers-by.
“We're trying to do something that is a little bit more premium,” described Tokarski. “We're working with a lot of leather, [and] it's something that people, need to feel, they need to touch, they need to experience that product to understand what it is, what the value is, and to know how the fit is going to be.”
Today, as online retail makes its inexorable march through the high streets and boutiques that once gave a thriving neighbourhood its style, Von Röutte has found a way to combine in-store and online retail. Many of their customers will either see the product in store and then buy online, or come across the brand online and then make the final purchase in store.
Being in a place such as Bondi allows Tokarski and Agra to see the changing of the seasons, and perhaps be a bit more experimental than if they were designing only via computer screens.
“We started as a really minimal, very neutral colours, very neutral palette,” recalled Tokarski. “Only now are we introducing more colourful elements to the collection as well, without being too much.”
On the shelves is a sneaker that has a vinyl strip that refracts the light bouncing off it into a rainbow of colours, a design that Tokarski and Agra see as being popular for those making their way down to the cafes and bars of Bondi next summer.
Until then, Tokarski and Agra are setting down roots in the community that is the current stop on their route.
Shop 7/157 Curlewis St