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Lisa Ho and Kirrily Johnston are the Latest Victims of Australia’s Fickle Fashion Industry


Last the week, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund announced the nominees for this year’s award, which gives young labels a chance at winning $300,000 (or $100,000 for two runners-up) plus mentoring from industry heavyweights.

One brand up for the prize this year is Tome, helmed by two ex-Aussies now based in NYC. Sure, it’s been 15 years since Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin met at the University of Technology Sydney, and they’re bona fide New Yorkers now. But it does raise the question: Why doesn’t something like the CFDA exist in Australia?

Actually, the question was probably raised last month when Lisa Ho shut up shop because of soaring debts. And again a couple of weeks ago when Kirrily Johnson, who appeared to be one of Australian fashion’s brightest stars, put her brand into voluntary administration. Johnston cites the global financial crisis, high rents and manufacturing issues as contributing to massive debts – though hers weren’t quite as high as the $11 million owed by Ho.

Lisa Ho

Lisa Ho

10 Magazine editor (formerly of Harper’s Bazaar) Alison Veness-McGourty told The Guardian last week that Australia needs to create a central governing body (at the moment we have the Australian Fashion Council, but as the article points out, funding and international development aren’t its main focuses) similar to the CFDA or the British Fashion Council. “The government needs to put more money into the fashion industry, it’s as simple as that.”

But nothing is ever really that simple. A big part of the problem could be the overseas perception of local fashion. Tome found success branding itself as an NYC label. Dion Lee and Sass & Bide are two more brands who have found success on the international stage. But they've both managed to sell shares in their brand for what are believed to be rather large amounts. Cue recently bought part of Dion Lee for an undisclosed sum; In 2011 Sass & Bide sold 65% of its brand to Myer for a reported $42.5 million. They also both skip Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia to show in London and New York instead. When you’re trying to grow a label beyond its home country, that’s necessary. Showing at the season-teetering mess that is MBFWA can just suck up funds best allocated elsewhere.

Another problem could be the massive influx of overseas chains. In Sydney especially, it seems there’s a Zara, Topshop or H&M popping up every other weekend. And if we spent a tenth as much on local brands as we do on ASOS, the industry might be in better shape.

Maybe part of the solution is to revise MBFWA and spend government money convincing the Northern Hemisphere that Australian fashion isn’t just swimsuits and Ugg boots. Until then, best of luck to Tome – and a sad farewell to Lisa Ho and Kirrily Johnston. 

[The Guardian]

Images: Lisa Ho's Facebook