#1: CAMP COVE SWIM
Camp Cove Swim is a Sydney-based swimwear label combining bold prints, retro styling and a love of Australiana to celebrate the beauty of the female form. The bikinis are printed in Sydney, manufactured on the South Coast of NSW and incorporate recycled fabrics in their linings, making them a pretty excellent option in the world of swimwear.
For our first ever Locally Made conversation, we sat down for an early morning coffee and baked beans with designer and founder Katherine Hampton, to chat about starting her own label and her experience of making locally.
Annie: Morning! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. So - first things first, what did you study?
Katherine: I studied Advanced Diploma in fashion and clothing production at TAFE in Newcastle, and then at Ultimo TAFE. The Advanced Dip was more learning about the industry, operating a business, dealing with contractors and stuff like that. I'd gotten into the fashion degree at UTS as well, but I liked the way TAFE operated, how practical it was. I kind of already had my design going on. I didn't feel like I needed to learn how to design, which I guess is more the focus in those degrees.
Annie: Do you enjoy the technical side of things? Sewing and patternmaking?
Katherine: I do. It's not my favourite thing to do, I'm glad I don't do it every day. I think if I did patternmaking every day I'd probably go crazy! But I do a couple of days of patternmaking every six months and that I enjoy, because it's not super intense and I'm making what I want. I think a lot of people do TAFE courses not necessarily to end up in production, but because they want to learn how to make their creations.
Jess: What did you do when you left TAFE?
Katherine: So I was working in retail, in that accessory brand Diva. I’d worked there since I was 14. A girl who I used to work for in Newcastle ended up in the buying department. I'd made her some clothes before, so she knew what I did and she knew I was finishing studies. So she called me at the end of my course and said, ‘we've got an assistant buyers job in the buying department’. I thought, ‘wow, this is the best!' Working in the stores and seeing those products I’d think, ‘I could do that, I know what the customers want, I can finally have an influence on what goes into the store’, which was exciting. But I kind of hated it.
Jess: How long were you there for?
Katherine: A year, then I left cause I was over it. I wanted to do a bit of travelling and get back into designing garments, the fashion side of things.
Annie: When did you start Camp Cove?
Katherine: It was probably a year later. I started working in retail, in a Christmas Card shop in the city. I always wanted to do something on the side when I was working full time but I was mentally drained. I was travelling quite a bit too, I lived in Newtown and the office was in Brookvale, so it would take me over an hour to get to work so I'd come home exhausted. When I started working in retail I was like, I know this like the back of my hand, I've done this since I was 14. When I got home from work I had room in my brain to do something else. And my mum taught at TAFE in Newcastle in the fashion department -
Jess: Oh, what does your mum do?
Katherine: She teaches millinery and swimwear, I guess a bit of everything - patternmaking, sewing. She's a casual teacher and her work changes every six months, so she said, 'I've only got a couple of days work this semester if you want me to do some sewing for you.' I thought, 'you're going to regret saying that to me!' It was just as Instagram was starting to be used by brands, and I thought, 'I don't have a lot of money but I do have my mum, Instagram and some free time', so I thought I'd give it a go!
Annie: And how long did it take to get too big to be just working with your mum?
Katherine: It was basically after I launched. She's used to sewing just one garment, so it was quite overwhelming. I'm there wanting her to do more but not wanting to push her too hard. I was so grateful for what she was doing but she couldn't do enough in between working and using machines at TAFE - she'd have to wait until class was finished to use machines. Pretty much once I launched the range and stuff sold out within the first few weeks, I had to get it remade. Very quickly it outgrew her capabilities, not her skills, but the environment she was working in. So I thought, I need to find someone else, I need stuff done quickly so I can't go offshore - and I don't want to anyway.
Jess: Why don’t you want to go offshore?
Katherine: The time, the cost. The development process. It's not something I wanted to do, and also knew my quantities weren't big enough for a big factory. Everything was based off my own savings, I couldn't go overseas and make hundreds of things. I'd sell a few things and then be able to buy a bit more fabric. I don't know why I thought to put an ad on Gumtree, but I did, saying 'I have small quantities, I'm looking for machinists who can turn around stuff quite quickly, it's swimwear'... I thought, 'who is going to answer this! There will be no one out there who can do all this.' But within a couple of days this lady had written back and was like, 'yeah I've got machines in my house, I'm a specialist in swimwear, I can come round next week and give you prices.' My mum actually came to Sydney to meet her as well, I think mum was quite protective of her work!
Jess: Where is this machinist based?
Katherine: In Jervis Bay, which is cool.
Annie: Is it just one maker?
Katherine: She has at least two or three people working for her now. A little while ago when the last range came out I sent her a text message saying, 'oh everyone loves the new stuff, thank you so much for your hard work!' She wrote back saying, 'I'm so grateful for you to come into my life, now I can grow my business and hire all these people'. I don't go there very often, maybe if we're going camping down the south coast I'll pop in and see her. But I know she has at least 3 people working there. She always talks about how she'd love to train as many people as she can.
Annie: So you're committed to keeping it on shore?
Katherine: Yep. I think, for the values of the business, keeping things local. And ensuring that the people who are making my stuff are being treated properly. It's easier to maintain that in the country you live in. I trust my maker and I trust that her business in Sri Lanka is operated ethically, because I know that's important to her. But I'm not there, so I don't know what goes on. It's a personal thing.
Annie: You use recycled fabrics, right?
Katherine: Yep, polyester. The lining in all the printed fabrics is recycled. There were a couple of colours that I couldn't get, you're quite limited in the recycled fabrics. I'd love to do printing on recycled stuff but if I use poor quality then people won't want to buy it and there's more waste. I guess if you make something well and use good quality fabrics, it will last longer and make less waste, people can use that product for longer.
Annie: Is your pricing similar or higher to other swimwear brands?
Katherine: It's interesting, swimwear is extreme opposites. If you go to K-mart you can buy a cossie for $10. People always think swimwear should be cheap because it's so tiny, but the mechanics of it - the production, the way that it fits, being able to create a garment that you can wear in the water that doesn't fall off your body - it's not the easiest thing to do. There's a lot of science behind it.
Jess: What do you think about people saying they can't afford your stuff. Does that make sense to you? Are people too used to K-Mart prices now?
Katherine: Yeah it gives me the shits. The person who will say, oh your stuff is too expensive for me, but they'll spend $200 on alcohol on a night out, and you think, where is the logic in that? Or you go to H&M or Zara or wherever, and you go, oh those pants are only $50, I saw some at that boutique for $200, I'm going to get these.
Jess: I can get four pairs of pants for the price of one here. Why would you buy the expensive ones?
Katherine: Right? But the $50 ones go out of trend by the end of season. They're shit quality and don't last, so next season you have to buy more. And maybe if you'd bought that nice pair of pants from a boutique... but not everyone has that money to outlay up front. It's the culture, too, of getting the best deal. There's a disconnect between brands and consumers.
Annie: A disconnect of value, our values have been warped.
Jess: Yeah, it's a mentality that's drilled into us that cheaper is better, so now everything else seems so expensive. Maybe we're so used to getting stuff that doesn't last that you think, 'why would I spend $300 when I'll just need to get a new one at the end of the season?'
Katherine: I totally get it. And if I was a student with no money and needed a T-shirt to wear to work, I'd go to K-Mart. $100 for a T-shirt is my food for the week. It just needs to be a mainstream thing, that's the only time it will ever be attainable for everyone. It's tricky.
Annie: Do you think your consumers are aware that you're locally made and use recycled fabrics? Are they into that?
Katherine: Definitely, even on social media someone will post a photo of themselves in their swimsuit and say 'Camp Cove, made in Australia, recycled fabric.' I had a business that copied my stock the other day. I've had about 20 customers send me stuff.
Annie: I saw that, they were blatant rip offs for $10, the same shape, same colour.
Katherine: Exact same print. I emailed them and asked them to take it down. They did, but put up a variation of it, and put the other one on a different website that they own. I thought, 'yay I got them to take it down!' Then someone sent me a screenshot of the new one. That's the copy, here's the original.
Annie: It's exactly the same!
Katherine: You go on their website and it's like, oh yeah there's Seafolly, Frankie bikini, there's Tigerlily. Here's the one they put up as a replacement after I threatened them with legal action, and this was on their other website - they've just moved it from one website to another.
Jess: What do you reckon the next five years looks like for Camp Cove?
Katherine: We're still slowly growing. I want to be selling more in retail stores because there is a big group of people who can't buy swimwear online which I totally understand. But selling online has allowed me to grow my business the way I have been able to, without a huge investment. I want to continue making here for as long as I can. I hope over time that industry might change a bit, and there's an awareness that there is a demand, and the industry will expand. Even my boardshorts, I'd love to have them made here. I'd love to make T-shirts here.
Annie: Have you found that over the last few years there has been an increase in people who know and care and are into sustainable fashion?
Katherine: Definitely. I guess it's a bit of a trend. But if it's a trend I'm OK with it.
Jess: It's an expensive trend. It's a trend that represents a values shift if people are willing to fork out for it, it's not cheap.
Annie: If it was purely an aesthetic thing people wouldn't fork out. Although I think there is often an aesthetic that's tied to the slow fashion movement; that is simple, functional and timeless things, because they will last longer and not go out of fashion. It's a good thing.
Katherine: It’s a trend I can get behind. It's frustrating because so many big businesses are getting on it - it's a great thing but what's the motivation behind it? Is it just profit, because you think that's what people want?
Jess: As tokenistic as it may be, it's still adding an influential weight to that conversation and normalising recycled or organic fabrics in more mainstream fashion.
Annie: Not just tie-dyed hemp.
Katherine: I'd rather that than the opposite, with marketing putting their money behind something that discriminates against a group of people.