We met with Belle Maartenz, owner of the A Line Label to discuss all things FASHION. As a young Sydney designer we discussed the antics of her first collection, starting a business from scratch, her top spots to grab a bite between pattern making (more about that later) and the pressures of being in the industry.
We met with Belle Maartenz, owner of the A Line Label to discuss all things FASHION. As a young Sydney designer we discussed the antics of her first collection, starting a business from scratch, her top spots to grab a bite between pattern making (more about that later) and the pressures of being in the industry..
What were you doing before you started your fashion line?
How did you come up with the name, The A Line Label?
I sat down with the dictionary and wrote down things that might align with my vision. I was then googling classic shapes of clothes and I was looking at Dior and YSL and I saw the A Line Skirt shape, which is a classic silhouette that I was really attracted to. My name is Annabelle, A is associated with the A team, so it was a nice triple entendre. Most of my collections have included A Line skirts in different fabrics, so I’m always reverting back to my vision and what I want for the brand.
So once you found the name, how did the process begin?
My friend Bec had experience in marketing and she helped me get in the mind of the consumer which was really important from the outset. I wanted the brand to represent clothes that people needed and wanted to wear, every day. She got me super organised with timelines, budgets and the business plans which also which gave me a confident boost. This was particularly important because when you say: ‘I am going to start my own label,’ people tend to give you a lot of criticism.
How did you start your first collection?
This was extremely challenging for me and I spent four months designing, sourcing patterns and trying to make connections in the industry, which was the most difficult aspect.
What was your inspiration in designing?
I would love the process to be romantic but it’s actually very practical. I design things I think people want to wear based on my own experiences. I do get inspired when I travel and read but I think it’s more a subconscious inspiration, as opposed to something tangible and concrete.
How did you even know where to start getting stuff made?
Honestly, if you don’t study it’s hard to have any clue about contacts in the industry so I was in a precarious position. One morning my intern (Mum), ran out of the shower and said: ‘Our ex builders wife is a dress maker.’ She was a Russian lady who lived in Umina beach, so I would travel an hour and a half each way to the Central Coast to do the pattern making and it wasn’t cheap.
Wait, so what is pattern making?
These are physical and digital patterns. The physical is when you have a block which is a piece of cardboard to represent the standard silhouette of a torso. From it you trace different neck lines and skirt shapes. It’s quite a technical process and one that I couldn’t do, so I would go up to the Central Coast with sketches, measurements, similar items and try and explain it to her. She would then make up the garment I envisaged as a sample and I would try it on. She did an amazing job but it became too difficult to constantly drive back and forth to the central coast and she wasn’t a commercial pattern maker.
What did you do then?
Quite frankly, getting clothes made in Sydney is a difficult process. Whilst it’s my point of difference for my brand, it has been my biggest challenge. I was flying blind in my first collection. However, I ended up finding a guy in Marrickville through my fabric wholesaler, which was a lot closer.
How did it go designing your first collection?
Oh my god, it was a nightmare! I ordered 60 dresses and every single one had a tiny drill hole in the centre. I couldn’t sell almost all the dresses! I had a full-blown tantrum, it was pretty funny looking back on it. It turns out that the pattern maker had put a drill hole in the pattern, because they thought I had intended to put a button there. I ended up finding six dresses that had little abrasions instead of holes, which I sold for a huge discount at Bourke Boutique, where my clothes are stocked. It was at that point I almost gave up. But, I ended up fixing everything and the release of my first collection in the store was hugely successful and I sold out.
And the second collection?
That was smooth sailing in comparison as I only did a capsule collection with 5 styles and 8 colour waves. My cutters wife is a commercial pattern maker who does it digitally. This is far more cost effective and time effective, particularly when you have to store everything physically. This made it so much easier. Although, an aspect of my collection was frayed edges and I did spend every day and night for two weeks, with a mask over my face, fraying everything!
How did you finance the brand?
This was another challenging aspect as I did it without any help. I started off with 18K that I had saved. It’s difficult budgeting because I find so many fabrics that are so amazing but are going to be too much of a stretch for me financially. I can envisage such an amazing part of my collection but I know that it’s not cost effective. It’s all about compromise.
What’s been the most difficult part of the way the brands been received by your friends and family?
I guess the most frustrating part is that most people assume that I’ve been funded by parents which makes all my hard work feel undervalued. That’s probably the worst thing but other than that I’ve had really positive feedback to all my collections.
The biggest challenge?
Working alone can be challenging. You don’t have the option to bounce ideas off someone else or lift each other up when you’ve had a bad day. I am in the process of looking for an intern (who’s not my Mum), which I think will help offset this issue.
Tell us about a day in the life of an A Liner?
There’s two different kinds of days. Days at home would be sketching and designing. I go on Pinterest and look at different finishes of hems or v necks for example, and then I will start drawing the silhouettes and come up with a good number. For this collection, I came up with eight designs because I like even numbers. Then, I will lay all my fabrics out and I’ll start bigger before consolidating and getting smaller until I’m happy with the final product. Once this part is complete I’ll start making documents for production which include what accessories are required with each style like buttons, ribbons, binding so that I know what to order. I will do the same for the fabric.
On days when I’m out of the house I’ll be doing photoshoots or will be at the fabric places. A lot of the time I’ll need to pick up 10 rolls of fabric. I have a few major stops across Sydney and if I’m delivering samples, I put them in garment bags and attach a document with all the necessary details for production. For example, they’ll know that for a certain style what fabric is required, that there’ll be two colour waves and the accessories so that there is less room for error.
What are your top spots to go to for a bite to eat or a coffee during your hectic days?
I love going to Bread and Circus because it’s around the corner from my fabric wholesaler for a chai and a sandwich box. It’s delicious! When I’m at home in Mosman, I love the newly opened Three Beans and The Penny Royal, both are great cafes. The Penny Royal have also started doing nights and have $12 Aperol’s. Speaking of cocktails, I love going to the Hunter after work. My go to items are the cheese boards and the calamari. Their HandPicked Shiraz wine is amazing!
What about for lunch?
Italian Street Kitchen, their Arancini balls are amazing. The Boathouse is also great in Balmoral, it has the best food.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to start their own label?
Work in the industry before starting the label. Someone like Pip Edwards for example, has been in fashion for such a long time and has built a name for herself, so her active wear, label PE Nation has had amazing reception by the public and media. I, on the other hand, knew no one starting out and the marketing component is not my forte so I think it would be hugely beneficial to work in the industry.