Q&A with Australian Merino knitwear experts; Toorallie
When it comes to Merino wool, we have come to expect superior warmth and comfort; but impeccable style, sustainability and uncompromising quality are undoubtedly unique to Australian Merino wool based label, Toorallie. We caught up with Simon Smith, one half of the label, to chat about timeless dressing, family legacy and environmental accountability.
A quick thinking question to warm up! Describe Toorallie in five words:
Practical Australian Merino wool knitwear.
Toorallie has a nearly 200 year old family history. What has been the most important thing to you in carrying on your family legacy?
I always remember my father saying quality first, and that has always resonated in everything we do. When you put quality first then the rest follows, and this speaks to more than just the garment, from our photography to how we manage our team and even the way we feel about all things in our work and life.
Your designs are inspired by the continual exploration of the practical Australian spirit. What do you think distinguishes Australian fashion from anywhere else in the world?
The worlds a wild place. Mainland Europe has a very flashy fashion signature, the UK seems to have a subdued, traditional yet effortless ease, while the US is a mess of super casual and flashy. Toorallie is looking toward the UK more than any other. Our strategy is to modernise the brand and design with simplicity and pops of interest as compared to the ‘look at me’ type designs and colours that we offered in the past. Practicality is so important as this grounds the garment, adding value so that a piece can be worn for different occasions and doesn't quickly date. We are also moving towards being more relevant to the next generation; the 40-50’s who dress differently and require different colours. It's an interesting challenge as we don't intend to polarise anyone along the way.
There has been a real shift towards sustainability within the fashion industry, with much greater environmental accountability and transparency expected from brands by consumers. Have you found this shift challenging or inspiring?
We talk a lot about this. Thankfully its quite easy for us as we already do most of this - naturally. We only ever use traceable merino wool and sometimes Supima-cottons which are traceable to the US. We never use any synthetics or compromise quality and this keeps us naturally sustainable.
Recently we rebranded the entire business and all the new swing tickets and labelling is made from 100% recycled materials and each items is 100% recyclable. We also have a zero single use packaging policy with all our factories so we never have nasty plastic bags in our stores or our studios. All our garments are packed in re-usable zip bags.
The quality of your garments has been paramount to the success and longevity of your label. How have you ensured you maintain this standard as your business continues to grow?
We find this easy, we simply never compromise on quality and never have, so we don't know how that looks as such. We moved our head office over the last week and I took the opportunity to throw out any references that didn't point to our quality and our brand strategy. I find having boundaries such as these make it easier for our designers and graphic designers to thrive as well. Without boundaries they don't have a North Star and they start wondering off track.
We consider the idea of 'sustainability' as synonymous with time. Our garments are built to endure daily life, time and time again. We focus a lot on minimising pilling or strengthening colour retention - and of course making sure the style is contemporary with a classic edge.
Merino wool has so many unique qualities. What is something special about this natural fibre we may not know yet!
Circular products are all the rage these days and merino wool is possibly the best example of all the worlds fibres. I did a wool info session with my staff the other day and I spoke about how wool is naturally anti-static which means it naturally pushes dust away, which is super helpful when selling light coloured garments. Merino wool, especially when its machine washable like most of ours, is just so practical compared to cotton.
There is a definite sense of timeless style within your collections, what advice would you give to women hoping to curate a more conscious and long lasting wardrobe?
When building a wardrobe designed to last for years, it's important to firstly consider your personal style and habits. What's lacking or abundant in your wardrobe - too little colour, pattern, skirts? Think about what you reach for on a daily basis, even how you tend to care for your clothes; Do you make time to hand wash or dry clean?
When selecting products, make sure you will wear them more than once, and that the pieces you are choosing will style well with current items in your wardrobe. When you are tired of an outfit, recycle it, swap items with friends, or re-sell your items via consignment.
What's on your vision board for the next chapter at Toorallie?
Well the last 18 months has been massive for Toorallie! We engaged a specialist marketing company to do a top-to-toe on the brand to help us establish a clear direction for the future. This has ultimately resulted in us doing a full re-brand of the labelling, new web site, new design direction, new graphic designer to articulate the positioning… and the list goes on!
On top of this Steve and I have bought out our silent shareholder and moved our head office, so we've done a lot in the last period. The next step is to solidify and realise our new Practical Spirt brand positioning. When we look forward though we see a much clearer path and our ultimate ambition is to keep in our niche and offer the best Australian Merino Wool knitwear possible, to the level of expert.