Rebekah Delaney is a Sydney-based designer-maker and creator of leisurewear label, Bask. Featuring simple and wearable shapes made from 100% linen, every piece is lovingly made-to-order by Rebekah, with a focus on high quality and minimal wastage.
We visited Rebekah's studio in Randwick to hear about how she got started, her love of linen and her passion for thoughtful design.
Annie: Have you always sewed?
Beck: No, it's very much self-taught. I went to COFA and did textiles, spatial design and ceramics. I didn't actually technically learn to sew, I've always done bits and bobs but never things that were quite wearable. Even when I started this a year ago, I look back at the things I was making and think, I don't know how I let that fly! I've only been making things with this particular linen for the last year and I feel like we've got a mutual understanding now. I don't think it's particularly easy to work with because it's quite thick and it stretches in weird ways. So I guess I've taught myself to sew using the fabric that I use. Everything is outrageously simple but that's because that is what I like wearing and that is what works!
Annie: Simple is nice though. Why complicate things?
Beck: I go to the shops and think, I just want a t-shirt, but I can't find a t-shirt without a corset at the back and sparkles at the front.
Annie: So you taught yourself to sew?
Beck: I mean, we did a little bit at uni. My grandma and my auntie are very good sewers, good at making everything really. But I was thinking this morning, I've always had a bit of a thing for linen, because even when I was in my early teenage years I would buy old linen tea towels from eBay and make them into skirts and tops and upcycle. I do lots of Googling.
Annie: Google is great! I taught myself to knit and crochet from YouTube, these days you can teach yourself most things.
Beck: If you put the effort in! I really don't like wasting fabric, so I make up for my lack in experience by making lots of calico practice ones and it usually works out by the time I have the real deal. I keep all my offcuts to make curtains and things out of. I've just started making patchwork curtains. It breaks my heart to chuck things out, even just corners.
Annie: So once you finished uni, what did you do?
Beck: I went overseas to India and Hong Kong for a couple of months and moved to Perth for six months when I got back. I did a ceramic residency at Freemantle Art Centre, which was more ceramic fine arts, but I was just starting Bask at the same time - I was getting samples from Lithuania and working out the beginnings of a range. Like you, it started because I wanted to make things for myself, but it turned out quite nice! I drove back to Sydney in March this year, about six months ago.
Annie: So you started Bask when you got back to Sydney?
Beck: Well started getting serious, yeah. I worked out the range and what it was all about. I did the NEIS program, it's brilliant and keeps you in line and accountable for things, and makes you think of the practical side of making, which as you probably know from COFA, while it was brilliant there wasn't a lot of practical stuff, it was all conceptual and no business stuff. I think a lot of people are in the same boat when they finish uni and don't know how to go about it.
Annie: You said you were figuring out what your label is all about. What is it all about?
Beck: The things I make are really simple and (I hope) flattering on people, but they're made to wear - the whole homewares company was meant to be about precious objects not to be precious about. I won't buy something that says 'dry clean only'. These things you can absolutely thrash. You can do ceramics in them, you can go fishing in them, you can go hiking in them, you can get them salty and dirty. I really want to make things that people can spill tomato sauce on and not mind. That's what I do. I don't want to worry that I'm going to sit on a rock and pull a thread. I want to make things that people can wear and enjoy. I wanted to make things that were really strong, quite versatile and very wearable. You can wear them over and over again. I like the phrase 'leisurewear' because it's almost like weekend wear. You pop it on on a Friday and get into weekend mode!
Annie: Is everything 100% linen?
Beck: Yes, but the cord is 100% cotton.
Annie: Where do you source your fabrics from?
Beck: I did a lot of Googling and got samples from different places. I found this company, they're about ten years old but they are a multi-generational company and they've been making linen for years. It's all from Lithuania and the linen itself is beautiful quality. It's not hugely processed, which is neat, cause sometimes you'll even get a bit of flax fibre in there.
Annie: It's really nicely textured, it feels like a very soft plant!
Beck: In the nicest way! Like I said about sewing the pieces themselves, at first they are a bit stiff, like a pair of jeans when you first pop them on, but you wear them a few times and it kind of melts into you a bit and the same thing happens every time you wash it, it kind of resets and gets softer every time.
Annie: Why did you want to work with linen?
Beck: I really, really like it. I like that it's so robust and tactile, it's not too smooth. I like that it does get a tiny bit scratchy when you wash it and then softens out again. I like that it's quite responsive and it stretches slightly but not to become sad and droopy. I don't wear anything synthetic because I don't like the idea of it so much. There are very environmental positives to it, too. It doesn't need pesticides, little watering, minimal processing. It's also antimicrobial, so doesn't smell and it doesn't breed bacteria. I have things I made a year ago and wear daily and they're going strong.
Annie: How did you learn patternmaking, did you teach yourself?
Beck: Yeah, I taught myself. Everything is really simple.
Annie: There is still a lot of skill in making a simple thing fit a three dimensional human body!
Beck: To begin with I had an idea of what I wanted to make. The very first thing I was making were rompers which were really activity gear. When I drove back from Perth I wore them every day. It's funny, there are photos of me in my jumpsuits with my Bunnies hat on, rock fishing, yeah. I guess it was just a combination of different cuts of existing clothes. I had a lot of calico practice runs and eventually pulled through.
Annie: When did you launch the label?
Beck: The website launched the end of June 2017. It was a soft launch because it was the middle of winter and it's very much summer clothes, resort and holiday wear. It's really hard not to take things personally when things don't fly off the shelves. And also, when you're starting, it's hard to think that not everyone else in the world's life revolves around what you're making.They don't know what you're doing every day, what is available and what you have in stock, they're not there with you.
Annie: I think people are also so used to mainstream shopping, where you go into a shop and there are always several things in every size.
Beck: For now everything is made to order. I'm really keen to get things out there, so I'm flexible with sizing. People will come around and try things on and if they're a bit bigger or smaller I can make custom sizes. The beauty of having such small scale is that you can be flexible.
Annie: One of the things we're trying to explore with Locally Made is the relationship between the person and the piece of clothing. If you grab something off a shelf that's pretty cheap, it's impersonal and disposable, you don't have the same attachment to it. But if you've been to someone's studio and they measured you up and it's made to order, you can see the passion, effort, time and skill that has gone into it.
Beck: It's true. I haven't quite got there yet but I’m trying to push that I am an individual making the clothes and I really do care if you like them. I try to say that if there's any problems whatsoever please tell me and I'll fix it, I want you to wear them and I want you to be happy. If you've made a terrible mistake or think it should be shorter, I'll make adjustments.
Annie: It's so refreshing to be let into that process and so nice to have brands that want to show people the process and are proud of it, instead of brands who are trying to hide it! Can you see it getting to a point where you will need to outsource your making?
Beck: I'd like to, not because I don't like making it, but because I didn't realise how time consuming it would be just to oil the cogs and wheels of the business, speaking to wholesalers, or making things for individuals, general business meetings. I don't quite have enough time at the moment for the production side and the business. Also, I get quite carried away - which is good, I enjoy it - but I'll be in the studio all day making samples and stock and at the end of the day think, far out, I haven't answered all these emails. One of the things I really like about the small scale is I have a lot of flexibility and movement to develop and change. As a rule I won't make tonnes of stock so if I haven't sold it in six months I'd be sad. I'll keep making small runs, I guess I want things turning over quite quickly, because then when new things come up, I don't want stale stock. I'm hoping I'm making things that are relatively timeless and not dependent on transit fashions, but at the same time you develop your design style as you go, so the things I thought were great six months ago I've now made tweaks and adjustments to improve.
Annie: If you start outsourcing, would you want to keep it local?
Beck: Definitely. I like the idea of chatting to the people who are making my things. It's a bit of a quality control thing too; I don't want to send things off to have fifty pieces made and get them back not quite right. It comes back to the customer relations thing. I wouldn't sell something that I don't think is really, really good. If I can keep it local and visit the people making it, I can have chats and get feedback. The last time I had samples it didn't work because the fabric was too thick. I said, is there anything I can do to make it easier to sew, or make it clearer for you to have less hiccups along the way? She had a few pointers here and there.
Annie: Where do you get samples done?
Beck: One of them was in Marrickville, but the minimums were fifty or sixty and at the moment it's too much for me. There could be a huge opportunity for connecting people, I know a lot of seamstresses, even older people who hang out at home and would like little projects to do. There would be a market for small batch things and trusted machinists.
Annie: Buying enough fabric for fifty pieces could be out of reach for a lot of people starting their own business. I know for me, I'm open to the idea of manufacturing somewhere else if it would work out, but I would want to go there and meet the people and know it was ethical, and I don't have the resources to do that.
Beck: You're putting your own name on it and you're not doing it because it's a business and you're going to make squillions, you're doing it because you believe in what you're making. You pour your heart and soul into it, so you want to make sure that when the pieces are getting made they are being made to whatever standard you want. It's nice I made the first pieces so early on, because I'm still wearing them now and I can vouch for how well they will last. They won't split or fray, you can wash and iron them, you can spill bleach on them if you're me!
Annie: How do you find that people respond to your pricing?
Beck: I have always found pricing hard to navigate. As a young, independent label it can be difficult to communicate the value of your product and justify the comparatively high prices. Responses have been mixed although I have found once people see and feel the pieces in real life they understand where the quality lies.
For some reason people can justify spending more money on clothes from a bigger name brand, even if you can tell that they are big runs of an item and made from fabric that isn't such high quality. Hopefully people are coming round to the idea that if something is not necessarily locally, but made well and with heart, then they will last longer and you will really like them.
Annie: There seems to be a bubble of people making and supporting this stuff, but how do you convert people who are buying fast fashion?
Beck: I've been thinking a lot about what value I'm selling. I'm not just selling a white t-shirt you can buy from K-Mart, i'm selling something you can really wear and appreciate. I don't think you can replicate the things that are being sold as fast fashion, there needs to be a point of difference. You need to demonstrate in some way that the value of spending slightly more on something that is really thoughtfully made is worth the extra money.
There is a time and place for smaller designed goods. I don't think you're trying to completely convert someone to wearing wholly ethically and sustainably sources items. You're saying, here are some items that you will like, that will last, and you won't chuck them out next season. You can't do it by force and you can't just say to people, look at these people dying in factories in Bangladesh. People buy things because it makes them feel good, for whatever reason. When you buy something from a cheap, big store, you feel good because you got a good bargain. You have to show that, even if things have a higher price tag, you'll feel good in other ways, because in five years you'll still have that item and when you put it on you'll feel great.
A note from Bask: Our pricing mirrors production costs while avoiding the traditional retail markup. This allows us to deliver reasonably priced, premium wearables to people who are looking to move beyond fast fashion. We try to avoid flash sales that encourage impulse buying. Alternatively, we don’t underestimate the importance building of our local community. For this reason we consistently extend a 20% discount to friends, family and our engaged readers with code FRIENDOFBASK online.
Header photograph by Annie Hamilton