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inside slow-fashion label kalaurie's first showroom

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Melbourne designer Kalaurie Karl-Crooks is a rarity in the fast-paced world of fashion. Through her label, Kalaurie, she releases just one capsule collection every year, and operates under a made-to-order model using lovely deadstock fabrics. The label has recently opened its first showroom and atelier in Fitzroy North, where customers can view samples, have their measurements taken and buy a limited range of ready-to-wear garms. Below, we chat with Kalaurie about how the new space has changed her business.Hi Kalaurie! What led to your decision to open your first showroom and atelier? After working from home for many years, it was finally time to create a physical space in the community where I could connect with customers and share my magical world of fashion. Opening a space during such an uncertain time has been a bit daunting, but the response from my loyal clientele has been extremely positive and I believe that if my business can survive a pandemic, it can survive anything! Fashion has a powerful place in our lives. 

Tell us about the space. We are nestled down the quiet end of Brunswick Street in Fitzroy North, in a beautiful old Victorian building that was once home to a florist for 35 years and a cobbler before that. The atelier and showroom are hidden behind a merlot-red facade and sheer white curtains (which add a beautiful element of reveal as clients step inside). The space is open by appointment, giving customers the opportunity to view collection samples and fabrics as well as shop a small ready-to-wear offering and receive a complimentary fit consultation.How has your business changed since it began in 2017? Now that I have a dedicated space to connect with customers in person and the business is not purely online, I'm able to explore the service side of business. This includes meeting customers in person to discuss their personal needs, doing fittings, taking their measurements and talking them through the pieces and fabric options. 

When I first launched the brand, I realised very quickly that putting two collections out a year was unnecessary. The turnover was too fast and unsustainable. It put a lot of pressure on me, so I dropped down to one collection a year as a way of challenging the industry's constant obsession with newness. I dance to my own drum, making decisions based on intuition and challenging the business models deemed to bring success. 

What does a day in the new space look like? I usually get into the atelier at about 7.30am. I grab a coffee from down the street and spend an hour attending to my emails. By 9am, the iron is hot and I’m ready to start sewing, cutting or pattern-making. Saturdays are dedicated showroom appointment days so as to not disrupt my workflow in the studio too much, however I do occasionally see someone during the week and work between appointments. Sustainability has always been at the heart of your label. How has your approach to sustainability evolved over the years? The core structure of the business hasn’t changed since day one. I still make everything to order and almost exclusively work with deadstock materials. I'm very passionate about using deadstock, but now we are exploring the use of organic fabrics in the collections. The biggest evolution was realising that I don't need to constantly offer new things to my clients. One collection is enough and it gives time for people to collect pieces without feeling pressured by the fear of missing out. I strongly encourage my customers to make mindful decisions and not to impulse buy. 

Now that the slow fashion model is kicking off within the industry, have you found some aspects of your business more challenging? Not at all. What I do is so wildly different to how the rest of the industry operates that the business really stands alone. It’s through sheer dedication to craftsmanship that I continue to make all the pieces in my own studio. As someone who is not looking to create ‘products’, but more so beautiful artisanal pieces, we can do a lot of things in our studio that would be too expensive for other small brands to have made in factories. A lot of small brands making basics are competing with each other, whereas Kalaurie is focused on making special statement pieces – which means we stand out in the crowd. What hurdles have you faced over the past few years? Every business owner has felt challenged by the pandemic. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say it’s been hard at times on my business too, but ultimately, I believe it has made it more resilient. 

My biggest challenge since the beginning has always been getting reach on Instagram. Instagram is our biggest business tool but it’s so heavily saturated that it’s difficult for people to find us. After four years we have a very modest following of only 5.5k followers, and I think it’s important for people to see that for what it is rather than purchasing followers to make the brand look more popular and giving off a false impression of grandeur (which is something I think a lot of brands fall victim to). At least I know the engagement there is 100 per cent genuine and coming from true fans of my work. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to open their own space but is afraid of the risks? Opening a space is a huge responsibility. Don’t rush into it. When it’s right, it will feel right and the pieces will fall into place.