Australia's fashion scene is indicative of the country's DNA, it's a melting pot of various cultures. What gives it its unique character is the beach and surf lifestyle that attracts so many to the country. Unfortunately, Australia's location makes it difficult for people to access the brands they crave from overseas and, until recently, few stores were stocking the labels they desired.
Dani Mercer, Conor Mercer and Jake Polce launched LESSONS in 2014, and in an incredibly short amount of time it's become home to some of the biggest contemporary brands from around the world. Initially a hidden basement store, then a web store, the team opened its first official location last year in Perth CBD, Western Australia. On the rails, you'll find names such as Astrid Andersen, KTZ, MISBHV, Places + Faces, VFILES, YEEZY and many more.
We wanted to talk to the team behind LESSONS to find out more, so we arranged a call in the middle of the night to talk building relationships with brands, supporting upcoming labels and other stuff. Read the interview below and shop the online store here.
When did you start LESSONS and what inspired the idea?
LESSONS started in 2014 in a hidden basement. The inspiration came from us all heavily shopping online from overseas stores, as there was nowhere locally to source these designers (and getting killed with hectic shipping costs). We saw a major gap in the Australian market and an opportunity.
Describe what LESSONS is for those who are unfamiliar?
LESSONS provides Australia with a local access point to international designers not previously available on our shores, both with our physical location in Western Australia and our web-store.
How do you build and maintain relationships with brands? What was the first brand you worked with?
Travelling to LA, New York and Paris for Men's Fashion Weeks and showroom meetings, something we hadn't seen Australian stores doing, was crucial in building relationships and securing these designers locally. We travel four times a year to maintain and further develop these relationships, some of the designers we stock have become our good friends.
KTZ was the first major brand we worked with — we still remember stepping out of the lift elevator into our first meeting and it being in Kelly Cutrone's apartment in New York with the KTZ owners and Kelly sitting at a table. I think we were all a bit shell-shocked, the whole meeting is still a bit of a blur.
Talk us through streetwear culture in Australia? When did streetwear first reach Australia and how has it developed?
Streetwear is such a broad term, and we feel like all aspects are now being covered over here, from higher end luxury through to surf and skate we feel like there's a platform for each segment.
In general, we've seen fashion in Australia developing rapidly over the last few years with key people and stores helping push and drive it forward, for example, Sneakerboy and StreetX who kill it. In terms of the culture in Perth (where our store is located), kids are really well-educated and versed with what's going on in fashion internationally.
Where do each of your personal interests in fashion stem from and what do you still love about it today?
Our interests in fashion stem from what we've each done and where we come from. What we love about it today is being able to see and experience it from a behind the scenes point of view. We also love that it transcends clothing and allows for collaboration across different industries — we're lucky to work with some amazingly talented people from around the world.
What are you looking for from a brand or designer when deciding what to stock at LESSONS?
It's always been really important to us that LESSONS introduces a brand to Australia or at the least to Western Australia — the idea of exclusivity has been what's set us apart from other stores in Australia.
We look for brands that influence culture and also like to work with designers we connect and can grow with, meeting the actual designers is a huge part of this.
It's also really important to us that LESSONS has a balance in terms of price-point and is accessible to a wide demographic, we want everyone to be able to experience the store and shop with us.
It’s great to hear about all the big name brand’s you’re stocking, it’s a strong look for LESSONS. However, how are you helping or how do you plan on helping smaller, lesser known brands and designers?
Our vision from the outset was always to source brands we felt were up and coming regardless of hype, and provide them with a platform in Australia. We're always on the lookout for brands and designers who are adding something new to the conversation.
The Incorporated is a perfect example of this for us. We heard the buzz of this brand while we were in Paris during Fashion Week and went to their showroom in St. Germain to view their first collection. We vibed with the guys behind the brand from day one and were one of the first stores worldwide to release Collection 1 — we also have a collab dropping soon, keep an eye out.
Do you feel any responsibility as a retailer to support sustainable fashion brands and those working towards positive social and environmental change?
Our initial focus was to bring our current designer list together. Now that we've nearly achieved this and are almost three years in, we can start to turn our attention to the idea of sustainability. We're putting this into practice with our in-house LESSONS brand which is wholly sourced, manufactured and produced in Australia, with the first collection of basics releasing shortly.
What are your ambitions for LESSONS?
Expansion and continuing to bring Australia exclusive designers from around the world. The Fall/Winter '17 season is going to be crazy for LESSONS. We've secured some amazing designers such as Palm Angels, Marcelo Burlon, Yeezy Season 5, Unravel Project, Faith Connexion, Kappa Kontroll, Enfants Riches Deprimes and more. We'd also love to throw more events and parties like the one we put on last year with ASAP Ferg in attendance.