Meet | The New Garde

MEET | The New Garde

Jodie Hilton | CEO and Founder

We catch up with AFC Member Jodie Hilton, CEO and Founder of The New Garde, to talk emerging businesses, local manufacturing and the newly launched Maison Garde and the Uncommon Store…

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TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR INDUSTRY BACKGROUND AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO FASHION?

I started out as a visual artist that was seeking to commercialise my craft, I studied commercial print and specialised in screen and offset printing in Queensland. After completing my studies at 22 I set about generating commercial artworks in the hopes of selling to interior designers and retail furniture stores. Just as things took off the GFC struck and my business didn’t survive. I went on to work in fashion retail for some time and found that I loved the visual merchandising side of things. The following years were spent in visual merchandising for Pillow Talk where I eventually became the National VM CO-ordinator. Overseeing visual merchandising briefs with in house VMs. During this time I learnt about commercial environments, product placement, shop fitting, customer shopping habits and spatial awareness.

With a career change in mind I set out to return to commercialising art and this time decided to study fashion design at Torrens University. Where I knew I could develop surface patterns, work with fabrics and produce entire collections and capture emotive imagery through photoshoots and video. 

I found that I loved and excelled in nearly every subject so choosing a direction to follow after completing a degree bought on an onset of decision paralysis. That’s when I started to really throw myself into a variety of internships so I could understand the industry more. I worked in the fashion department of Vogue Magazine Australia under Edwina McCann and Christina Centura, to understand the process designers take to work with Vogue and vice versa. Then I set out to understand commercialising sustainability which is why I worked with KitX under the assistant designer. Then onto Marcs where I was heavily involved in print design and development. After I earned my stripes I was hired back in Brisbane with Sacha Drake off the back of my internship. Which is where I gained a great understanding of designing for body shape and versatility. 

With all of this experience, the one thing I found that was consistent in this industry was how damn hard it is to break into it. Like any industry, the cream rises to the top but I saw so many hopeful designers with degree’s in hand or industry experience who found it really difficult to secure a job let alone make a living wage. Some of the places interns were nurtured and other places churned them out or burned them out. I thought to myself, I have enough contacts and experience to help many of them and at the same time offer cost efficient solutions to struggling fashion labels.

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FOR THOSE WHO DON’T ALREADY KNOW, WHAT IS THE NEW GARDE?

The New Garde is an end to end fashion agency that assists fashion brands with cost effective fashion design, marketing and production solutions. Taking them from idea to retail and beyond. That means we can offer as much as a marketing and branding agency with the added value of fashion design, product development and production capabilities. We also have an internship program where the kind of hands on experience acts as training for our new clients. This means we have a high likelihood of getting interns their first fashion industry job, while minimising training efforts for budget savvy and time poor fashion labels.

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WORKING CLOSELY WITH EMERGING LABELS, WHAT DO YOU FIND TO BE SOME COMMON CHALLENGES THAT THEY ARE FACING? 

Cash flow, timeline restraints and contacts. But this isn’t just emerging labels. We work with medium sized established fashion houses that are struggling to speak the fashion language when it comes to working with fashion and graphic designers or understanding tech marketing.

WE OFTEN HEAR MANUFACTURING IN AUSTRALIA IS GONE, OR TOO EXPENSIVE? WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE OF THE LOCAL FASHION INDUSTRY?

I don’t believe it’s too expensive. To me that’s saying “I think a living wage is too expensive”. I think that many labels are unprepared when it comes to manufacturing strategies. Understandably we hear all the time that labels are moving offshore because they claim manufacturing in Australia is too expensive but I think it’s something else. I think it has more to do with budget and value chains driving prices down, with machinery no longer being available or the people who operate them no longer existing here. 

 When I look to local manufacturers I find they are competitive to China for small quantities and Australian made will always be produced faster than overseas makers can have it shipped over for.  

I have 3 partnering factories in China that I use for larger quantity orders. I prefer do do all the development in Australia to retain our industry here and support creatives. I have found this process essential. Working as a team in Australia with pattern makers, sample makers and textile designers has meant for us and our clients we’ve found an even medium of supporting local and sourcing/producing ethically with a tight grip on quality control through constant communication and face to face contact. 

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ANY EXCITING DEVELOPMENTS OR PROJECTS COMING UP FROM THE NEW GARDE THAT WE SHOULD KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR?

There are two! First of all Maison Garde. I am the creative director and collaborate with designers from The New Garde to produce seasonal collections. This label acts as a platform for fashion industry freelancers to produce a part of the collection (one or two products), earn money and build our their portfolio without taking on the risk of an entire fashion label. It’s an exiting approach because it’s project based. A new crew each season and a creative outlet. For the customer they can shop a collection with all hero items and no basics. Know also that it’s produced by local people, ethically made in house, with minimal waste practices. 

The second is Uncommon Store which is a retail front where customers can shop from some of the brands we represent. Making our business a vertically integrated organisation. When you walk into Uncommon Store you’ll see a curated selection on the shelves, looking past the shelves you’ll see us working at the pattern making table, sewing at machines and developing branding. You’ll also see me in there working in every department, sipping coffee, laughing, drawing and mentoring. 

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HOW DOES ‘SUSTAINABILITY’ FACTOR INTO YOUR PRACTICE? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?

I have written a couple of articles about challenging the idea of starting (or not starting) a label. I’m exhausted by the green-washing and idea that because something is recycled, it’s good for the planet. Looking deeper into this massive debate – you can’t make a right turn in the pollution maze.  I celebrate the small wins and impact that labels have and the efforts taken to minimise harm to people and the environment and improve outcomes for people in illegal industries. I’m keenly interested and hopeful about the circular economy and the innovations happening to ensure garments can live on beyond their purpose without ultimately ending up in landfill.

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WHAT DOES ‘AUSTRALIAN’ DESIGN MEAN TO YOU? WHAT SETS US APART?

Australian designers treat their brands like their friends. They consider their customer first and foremost. They nail their niche and speak to their customers as if they are the only one in the room. Which is essential for survival in the Australian market. What sets us apart is that we are proactive about change and work to improve on technology and seek to find better ways better ways of best practices.

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RECOMMEND 5! YOUR LOCAL TEXTILE & FASHION GO TO’S?

1. Meriel Chamberlin - Full circle fibres are doing amazing things with Australian Grown cotton and blockchain traceability.

2. Cara Tindell - Curategy actively develops sustainable practices and represents a swag of repurposing activities like uniform dead-stock solutions and circular economy based school uniforms with weareco.

3. Thea Speechley from Raw Assembly - Curated by a team of international sourcing professionals, research & development, supply chain experts and academia.

4. Sarah Cross - works with creative product-based female entrepreneurs how to improve their marketing, retail sales, strategy and business growth plans.

5. Sallyanne Astill - Owner of luxe womenswear label “Astille” has developed an app prototype that can trace ethical manufacturing measures and unveil corruption within the fashion-manufacturing vertical.

WHERE CAN WE FIND OUT MORE?

You can get in touch via email at hello@thenewgarde.co, and follow their story on Instagram via @the_new_garde and find out more via the website links below;

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