Designer duo Spunky Bruiser turning fast fashion on its head

Christian Olea walks down an aisle at a Salvation Army op shop.PHOTO: Designer Christian Olea collecting pieces for Spunky Bruiser’s custom order. (ABC News: Claudia Chiu)
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MAP: Sydney 2000

Designers Bex Frost and Christian Olea turn discarded tapestries and other recycled materials into stylish, tailored streetwear for their sustainable clothing label Spunky Bruiser.

They trawl Sydney’s op shops picking out pieces to use for their custom-made clothing.

“Rather than buying things in bulk, we actually select each piece with purpose,” Bex says.

“We try to do everything as ethically as possible and have fun along the way.

“It’s about trying to show people that having something either made for you, or buying something off the rack that you actually relate to more deeply … that’s an investment worth paying for.”

Items causing ‘family guilt’

Christian Olea and Bex Frost look through a rack of jackets at an op shop.PHOTO: Christian Olea and Bex Frost browse through jackets at an op shop. (ABC News: Claudia Chiu)

One of Spunky Bruiser’s defining features is the use of old tapestries on their custom-made leather jackets.

A tapestry on the floor of Spunky Bruiser's workroomPHOTO: The process of removing old tapestries from their frames is arduous and time-consuming. (ABC News: Claudia Chiu)

They consider tapestries the “starting point” of their creative process, with the different colours and textures dictating what will be integrated into the design.

“They are often an item that causes a bit of family guilt, because they know how long Grandma or Mum spent doing them, but they don’t really like the aesthetic of it on the wall,” Bex says.

“But when you change the setting, when you change the use of it, all of the sudden it’s spectacular.

“That’s why all the choosing of the colours to go with it, and the type of textures to go with it, are really important, because it’s actually about honouring the time spent on that initial piece of textile work.”

Many donated clothes go straight to landfill

Christian Olea and Bex Frost sort through a pile of off-cuts on the floor of their workshopPHOTO: Christian Olea and Bex Frost sort through their collection of off-cuts. (ABC News: Claudia Chiu)

Many people have the misconception that clothing donated to op shops goes straight on the rack.

Bex says the reality is that once it has been sorted through at a sorting warehouse, or “pre-op shop”, many of the clothes go straight to landfill.

“A lot of things people are throwing out aren’t actually good enough to put on a shelf or rack to sell again, so the actual quality of the fabrics themselves means that there’s not really any alternative other than it going straight to landfill,” Bex says.

Christian Olea and Bex Frost at sewing machines in their workroom.PHOTO: Christian Olea and Bex Frost in their workroom. (ABC News: Claudia Chiu)

“Sometimes it can feel like it’s just too big of a problem to solve.”

But the designer duo are hopeful they can make a difference, one customer at a time.

‘It’s sensitive work’

Racks of clothing in the Spunky Bruiser shop in Darlinghurst, Sydney.PHOTO: The Spunky Bruiser shop in Darlinghurst, Sydney. (ABC News: Claudia Chiu)

Spunky Bruiser has started doing custom orders for people using family heirlooms entrusted to them to reinvent.

“It’s sensitive work because there’s a lot of sentiment in a lot of garments and textiles and again, it’s just sitting at home doing nothing,” Bex says.

“But if they bring it to us, we can put it together with some complimenting materials and make something they will get daily use out of.


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