After a well publicised financial struggle, Australia's favourite denim
label is finding new ground, writes Mitchell Oakley Smith.
A lot has changed at Ksubi in the 12 years since it was born from a garage on Sydney's northern beaches, the brainchild of mates and surfers George Gorrow, Dan Single, Paul Wilson, Gareth Moody and Oska Wright. Little needs to be said about this early days, simply because it's all been said before: notorious stage antics, a name change from Tsubi to Ksubi as a result of a US trademark infringement, late-night parties and, in 2010, voluntary administration threatening to end the denim label that had, in merely a decade, grown to a point of turning over near $20 million annually.
Bleach - the company that owns Insight and Something Else - purchased the label, retaining its team and creative vision but allowing it to develop with the financial support and infrastructure that a company that size commands. Michael Nolan, Ksubi's long-time creative director, says that things are starting to settle. "It's no secret that from 2008 things were not great for us and it takes a while to get back up-and-running from that," explains Mr Nolan at Bleach's industrial warehouse headquarters in Sydney's inner west. "With the team we've got, I think we're in the best rhythm that we ever have been. "Mr Gorrow, having seen the company weather more than a few storms, adds: "It's falling in to place."
One of the changes that followed the brand's buyout was structure. While Mr Gorrow and Mr Nolan assumed the title of creative director (Mr Gorrow across denim, marketing and eyewear, and Mr Nolan across fashion) a designer, then 23-year old Guy Hastie, was hired to help shade a more fashion-forward offering. A denim designer and the consultation of Harper's Bazaar's Christine Centenera now aid mr Hastie. It's still a collective, a melting pot of ideas, but it's more cohesive than the previous "op-shop approach", as Mr Gorrow coins it. The aim, essentially, is to elevate the brand from purveyor of denim jeans to luxury fashion label, but the team is intent on doing so by utilising deny in a designer context. "Our quality, fabrication and silhouettes have been elevated," says Mr Hastie. "We're pushing it further and further each season, keeping the old Ksubi feeling but modernising the collections."
That new direction began to take shaper in the brand's autumn/winter 2012 collection W.A.R. and is crystallised in Bad Sports (photographed exclusively by Manuscript), Ksubi's spring 2012 collection shown at this year's Australian Fashion Week, as the new factories that came with the buyout have now adjusted to and are familiar with Ksubi's aesthetic and approach. But the shift is evident beyond the garments' production. "It's quite sporty and a bit street," explains Mr Hastie, referring to a hooded jacket in a paper-finish cotton. "There are classic street silhouettes created from denim, mixed with high-performance fabrics like mesh, nylon and fleece.
Ksubi last showed its wares in 2010, the first show since the Bleach acquisition, but this year's event was far less of a production. "We only did shows when we felt like we had something to say," explains Gorrow. "This year we didn't want to do a traditional runway show, but we also didn't want the epic AC/DC concert [as in 2010] where we had massive light rigs and thousands of people in an arena." In many ways, this year's presentation was a backlash against that large-scale, hell for leather mentality, focusing more strongly on the clothes, in this case because the clothes are, indeed, worth showing.
This renewed confidence in the product they're selling has led to discussion of an international show - yet to be confirmed - later this year. "It's early days yet," says Mr Nolan, "but we feel really in sync and are really happy with what we're doing." Mr Gorrow, too, is pleased with the new era, a far cry from those early days of slashing denim with garden tools the evening before (and morning of) the label's first fashion show. "The collection is really refined, in contrast to it being quite raw, and I think that direction is really cool," he says."