Chatting with Courtney Holm - A.BCH
In our new series, Creative Interviews, I had the pleasure of sitting down and having a chat with Courtney Holm, founder of A.BCH – a circular fashion label. The company is propelled by strong values and a passionate creative team redefining the approach to fashion.
“I was learning a lot about what was going on in the industry, and realised I either needed to get out…or do something radical to change it.”
Can you tell me about A.BCH, and how the idea of creating a circular fashion label came to pass?
We launched in 2017, but before that I started my own menswear label, very different aesthetically to A.BCH. It was very out there, very future forward stuff, you’d be very surprised if you saw a photo! I started that not too long after I finished school and I was working for some Melbourne labels and getting into the industry here after moving from Sydney. I started to get a better idea of what it looked like behind the scenes, the amount of waste and the attitude of how makers are separate from the design process. A lot of things didn’t sit super well with me.
All of this was happening, and I was learning a lot about what was going on in the industry, and realised I either needed to get out of the industry or do something radical to change it. So, I went on a yearlong journey of research and educating myself and started to understand what sustainability truly meant. My life was being a sponge – going to webinars, reading books, watching docos, trying to get as much information as possible.
The idea of A.BCH kind of hit me at one point, it all just came together in this inspiring moment from myself. I wrote down everything in my brain – the values and the company I wanted to have.
“I’m really passionate about it, and naturally things just happen.”
Do you find you need to do a lot of education around sustainability and ethics?
Yeah, that’s always been a big part of the label. It was decided pretty early on that about 50% of what we do needs to be dedicated to education, to helping the customer understand what we’re talking about, and doing it in a way that’s friendly and approachable. We didn’t want to be too overwhelming, but at the same time give all the facts, because too often you see very market-ey, wash-ey statements on websites. For us, we wanted to have all the details – full disclosure – but presented in a way that you could take as much information as you want.
I’m really passionate about it, and naturally things just happen where I’m either speaking at events or invited to be on panels, so it’s just grown organically. That wasn’t really part of the strategy, it kind of just happened. And now that’s a big part of what I do. I teach at RMIT because I’m really passionate about the next crop of people coming through having the understanding – something that took me a long time to figure out post-university, so I think if you learn that at school you’re off to a much better start.
How would you describe A.BCH’s style and who is your audience?
The style is pretty classic and timeless. I know you’re supposed to have a specific target audience of ‘this’ age group and ‘this’ area of life, but we really see a conscious consumer – I really hate that terminology! We really see that conscious consumer being very much across lots of different age groups, different demographics and not really definable in the same way as how people have defined target markets before.
Before we launched we did what we called an ‘R&D night’, where we got people to come in and try on all different sizes of things and give us feedback. We didn’t give them any context. We had guys picking up women’s shirts that we didn’t tell them were women’s shirts and loving them. We didn’t tell anyone what they could or couldn’t try on, and so that kind of sparked the idea of making our pieces genderless and getting the customer excited about the pieces.
We want to appeal to as many people as possible, but still have really beautiful design details, be very well constructed and very high quality. Everyone comments on the fabrics – they love the fabrics – but we also want them to be timeless and slot into anyone’s wardrobe. So, whether you have a very maximalist wardrobe, you still need basics, you still need classic pieces. Likewise, if you have a capsule wardrobe and are very minimal in how many pieces you have, well then A.BCH is perfect for you.
Because we make everything in-house, we’re able to provide customisations and we’ve really realised everyone is so different. We are really open to the idea of customising any of our pieces to suit people’s body shapes, sizes and preferences.
Aside from running a successful and sustainable fashion label what else do you currently offer within this space? What are some of your future visions for this space?
We also sell excess of raw materials, so that other designers, especially small designers, home sewers and students, can afford to buy small quantities from us – which is like a little side business for us.
Also, the space itself is set up flexibly so people can hire out the space for any type of creative venture like running their own event or doing a photoshoot. That’s been the most popular thing so far, the light is amazing and it’s really easy to set up a shoot in here. So, that’s our plan, to have ongoing creative events running in the space as well as what we do.
Hmm, what else? We just did our first circular factory tour and took a bunch a people through and told them all about how we create and what the process is, showed them all the machinery and took them through each area. So who knows, if that’s something we continue to do.
We love this space.
“It’s never going to be about a collection for us. It’s always going to be about the education of the lifecycle.”
Is anything exciting coming up with A.BCH you’d like to share?
The next thing that’s coming up for us is launching our next campaign – A.BCH seasons – which basically takes the whole calendar year and splits it into three: birth, life and afterlife. Those three things are representative of a lifecycle of a garment or anything really, so we’re using those three sections of the year to educate.
When we’re talking about birth, we’re talking about ‘how is the garment made, where did it come from, what is the provenance, who made it, how did it come to be?’ When we’re talking about life, we’re talking about ‘how do we care for this piece, how do we make it last longer, how do we repair it, what are tips and tricks that you have to remove stains?’, or anything to do with the life extension of the garment. Then, afterlife is all about recycling waste, ‘how do we consume less but when we do consume what do we do with that stuff at the end, can it go into compost, can it go into the recycling system?’ and how do we do that.
That’s really exciting for us, that we can focus our year on these topics and have drip releases of products as we go along, but it’s never going to be about a collection for us. It’s always going to be about the education of the lifecycle.
By Sasha Ward, Manager Creative Spaces.
Photos: Image of Courtney by Michael Carr; images of space by James Whiting
Connect with A.BCH
Hire out A.BCH’s space for creative events: A.BCH Gallery
A.BCH is located at Unit 4, 41-59 Sims Street in West Melbourne, and is supported by Creative Spaces.
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