>> This is how I roll as I ricochet from Hermes silk scarves to socks with hot dogs and cheese in a high-to-low brow vortex. It is like, oh my god, so RAN-DOM – a catch-all word to encapsulate the internetz over run with cat GIFS, rap star cursors, mega old images of TLC and Aaliyah and emoticons. It’s this sort of world that Melbourne-based socks label Unempire occupies too. I only got an email prod from Unempire designer Zoë Lea a couple of hours ago and considering that socks-wise, I’m pretty loyal to Ayame and Tabio for all my day-to-day and occasion-based hoisery needs, this little props post might come as a surprise.
That said, it is indeed hard to resist socks that feature prawns, croissants, cheese, cheese-dipped nachos, frankfurters and my beloved fortune cat – especially when photographed with aforementioned food items IRL. You want to delve deep into the mind that deems it necessary to send socks that make you rumble in the tummy out into the world. After being made redundant from for a big fashion company, Zoë decided to design something useful and do her own thing and came up with Unempire – the words “unemployment” and “empire” fused together to put two fingers up to stick it to the Man. Turns out that behind the peace signs, the mega LOLZ-food n’ feet and ironic (or totes serious?) rapper loving, Zoë does have a cause or two to fight for. On her info page, she talks about how her socks are made in Taiwan – and no, not by an evil generic child-laboured factory but by a manufacturer who are certified members of SEDEX (a non-for-profit organisation responsible for empowering sustainable and ethical supply chains). Zoë seeks to debunk a myth that outsourcing manufacture offshore immediately means you’re cutting corners to maximise profit. “They (my Friends in Taiwan) turn my silly drawings into a really fuckin’ top notch wearable reality, and they do it whilst being friends to each other and friends to our beloved Planet Earth,” she concludes on her info page and so behind the lightweight foodie fun, there’s a hefty ethos.
It carries on as in an interview with website The Rogue, Zoë talks about the shift of shopping patterns in Australia (although not exclusively so…) – something I touched on when I rounded-up MBFWA on Business of Fashion. To compete, you need something idiosyncratic and well, it doesn’t really get any more niche-like with Unempire’s fetish for food and feet.
Times are indeed tough in the fashion industry due to the shift toward online shopping, especially with huge global Meccas like ASOS that just beat out everyone in prices and product mix. Plus, online shopping aside, the world is a very small place now thanks to the internet. Ideas are very quickly shared, copied and re-packaged for a cheaper price to a wider market share. So on a mainstream retail level, there is always a cheaper version of the item you want. The higher the manufacturing volume, the cheaper the price, and Australia is a small country in terms of population, so the quantities produced by even our largest fashion companies are no match for the cheap-fast-fashion juggernauts based in China and South Korea. I think to survive, Australian businesses really to focus on quality and originality – offer a product and service that cannot be replicated by cheap overseas manufacturers. Find a niche and fill it. “Fashion” is very accessible, but quality and originality are not…So, IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME y’all.
Hear that? Now get ye to Unempire’s Big Cartel store and feed your feet…