Aje Spills Company Secrets at Adelaide Fashion Festival Q&A
AJE x #AFF18
Aje creative directors Adrian Norris and Edwina Forest sit side by side at an intimate Q&A for the 5th annual Adelaide Fashion Festival. Complimenting each other’s poised, yet strong nature, they let slide the secrets of running one of the most successful fashion enterprises in Australia.
Aje @ the Art gallery of South Australia for Q&A
IMAGE: MEAGHAN COLES PHOTOGRAPHY
Recently celebrating their 10th anniversary, Aje has matured with ‘age’. Truth flows from host Alison Kubler as she astutely reminds us “10 years in business is 100 years in fashion biz”, not all live to tell the tale.
Over time we have all fallen in love with Aje’s signature style; evidently feminine with nuances of a strong, independent woman (very 21st century, right?). Whilst that trend has followed their collections throughout, their artistic side has certainly been more obvious in recent years. “You need the foundations first and then you can be fun and creative” says Adrian. “After 10 years you can do things without the risk of it all falling apart, the first 8 are sink or swim”. And boy did they swim (or should we say dive… straight into our hearts).
Aje X AFF18
As we sit there in awe of the dynamic duo, they remind us of where they began. The lifelong pair who grew up in Sunny Queensland subtly hint that the company almost went bust numerous times. Strong willed Adrian says it’s in those times “if you really love what you do, can still keep your vision and be passionate about your craft, it keeps you going”. He says the pair couldn’t release their full creative flair in earlier collections because the reality is, you need things to sell to pay the bills.
Now they wear their (he)art on their sleeve. Their most recent Resort 19 collection is arguably Aje’s most successful yet. A collaboration with the late Australian Artist, Brett Whiteley’s artwork paid off tenfold. You might say the art itself was obtaining the permission to use the works from the Brett Whiteley studio at the Art Gallery of NSW, as well as Whiteley’s former wife Wendy. Wendy’s heritage listed garden in North Sydney was the backdrop for the runway of 26 looks from the collection, including the prints of five Brett Whiteley works, highlighting Woman in Bath (1963) and The Blossom Tree (1970).
“IF YOU REALLY LOVE WHAT YOU DO, CAN STILL KEEP YOUR VISION AND BE PASSIONATE ABOUT YOUR CRAFT, IT KEEPS YOU GOING”
- ADRIAN NORRIS
The limited-edition pieces flowed strikingly down the cobblestoned path, a transformation from prolific art into wearable pieces. Edwina confesses it was one of the most emotional and rewarding moments of her career. She then pauses to say “The merger of fashion and art can be powerful because it breaks down the barriers of both”; and it was in that moment we understood the significance of each of their collections.
Images: Esteban La Tessa; courtesy of Aje.
The pieces are currently in all 11 retail stores, plus stockists including David Jones. Edwina and Adrian are adamant a bricks and mortar format isn’t just an old phrase taken from ancient business models. “Every store opening is a success; it signals different moments in our trajectory” says Edwina. The days of Adrian hand painting their first retail boutique due to a tight budget, have now flipped into him emitting his creative flare throughout stores by choice. They believe a physical store provides the sustainability that wholesalers often don’t deliver. Adrian smirks at Edwina as he reveals Aje had once fallen into the wholesaler trap. “Smaller businesses can get taken for a ride” he says. Aje isn’t without a history of dark days leading up to their success, but they do admit even through the worst, they never seriously considered partnering with an investor. Edwina is certain that if an investor is only bringing money to the table, it’s not worth the hassle. “The key is to surround yourself with smart people”, work as a team and it will carry you over the line.
Aje has clearly made waves around Australia and no doubt we will be seeing the duo creating more timeless collections in years to come. But for now, we close our eyes and imagine ourselves in our own bathtub, in the wearable Brett Whiteley collection, sipping copious amounts of champagne (what more could a girl want?).
Written by Katelin Rice