As I walk up Sydney’s Devonshire Street on the sunniest of winter mornings, it suddenly hits home just how beautiful my city is. And, with all the excitement of travel and the glamour surrounding international runways, I realise just how easy it is to forget how much home-grown talent we’ve got in our own backyard.
I’m walking toward Sydney designer Magdalena Duma’s eponymous store, a little jewel on Crown St, Surry Hills. I’m early for our interview, so I decide to sip a chai at nearby Triple Shot Café and take in the Thursday morning scene.
With its multitude of cafes, boutiques and novelty stores, it’s almost easy to miss the beautiful gold script and mysterious dark interior that heralds Ms Duma’s flagship store. Immediately as you enter you are treated to a full five-senses experience. Scented candles glow against the strong black decor, softened by muted gold accents. The playlist is a smooth mix of European artists. Your eyes are drawn to striking table ornaments; my favourite, of course, is an animal skull that graces the centre table.
As Magdalena introduces herself to me, I notice that with her slight Polish accent and clear style, she fits in perfectly with her classic surroundings. But, what impresses me more than her undeniable good taste, is the fact that this designer not only loves fashion, but she’s a woman genuinely in love with the industry. And, with Australian fashion suffering as it is, it’s her drive and passion that makes Magdalena Duma the perfect candidate for my first designer feature.
Magdalena Duma the label was born during a time when I was caring for my sick mum. After years of working in the fashion industry, I was fed up with the world of fashion and wanted a change, and thought that caring for my mum would be a good time to reflect on what I wanted to do.
Every morning before my mum would wake up I went to a cafe, bought myself a coffee and reflected on my life and future. The cafe was near a fabric shop and each and every day I’d see fabrics that I liked and wanted to make things out of. Then finally one day I bought a few metres, made a few styles and decided to try selling them at Bondi Markets. That first day I sold about 70% of my stock. I was amazed and it convinced me to continue on. A couple of weeks after my mum’s passing I had a dream that I would open up a store. So I did and that is when I started to take the business and the label seriously.
My original inspiration and style comes from my mum. I inherited her quirky and fashion-forward aesthetic. Professionally, my inspiration comes from the European designers. I love the fact that Europeans dress accordingly for very occasion, both men and women. This I feel is evident in my collections, where I create many different looks within the one season, from casual to evening; I feel that the same customer will wear and need both and I do my best to indulge them.
In the mornings and evenings you will most likely find me in my gym outfits; on the days I stay at home I wear tracksuit pants or my PJs. I love being daggy on the days that I do not have to dress up – there’s a luxury in that as it happens so rarely.
When I go out I always wear Magdalena Duma; I am my best customer.
I designed the store myself. It is very much a reflection of my home, with similar furniture and objects in both spaces. I feel that it is an extension of my living room and I like the feeling that customers that come in are entering my own private world. The boutique is both a source of inspiration and a place of work.
I think that online shopping is only cheaper for the multinational brands and/or brands that do not have a strong identity and are doing similar styling as others. For many years Australian customers were paying twice or more for the same products – for example, with designer pieces from America – and with the internet that became very evident. Simultaneously, they were – and still are – getting worse service in retail stores, which made everyone question the whole system. As a result, they now opt to pay less and not deal with poor customer service; it is a very simple equation.
I think the way to survive this change in the marketplace is to really focus on innovation and customer service. If the designers have something unique to offer – something that cannot be bought anywhere else – and they sell the product with exceptional customer service, then labels will not lose the customers. Instead, their customer base will feel valued, and build naturally through word of mouth – the best form of advertising there is!
As for fashion devotees, they really need to think where the product is coming from and what sort of industry they are supporting. Normally, cheap is not exactly made in the most reputable factories, with the best standards and quality materials, as evident with what happened in Bangladesh [more than 1,000 workers were killed when a building housing garment factories collapsed in April this year – the tragedy sparked an international outcry over substandard working conditions in Bangladesh, and the human cost of producing cheap clothes.]
It is not going to last a long time and will end up in a landfill sooner rather than later, creating pollution. Some fibres like polyester take thousands of years to break down, unlike natural fibres that only take a few. A piece of clothing that is a little more expensive but is made of good-quality natural fibres will last a long time and will not harm the earth as much as their cheap counterpart.
By nature I am a very private person and I struggled with social media on a professional level; what is appropriate and what is not. I was also unsure what people would find interesting about the label and, consequently, myself. To come to that I had to ask myself what do I want to know about people that I respect and appreciate. Once I answered that question it made complete sense to me to share some parts of my personal life with the public: what inspires me and my collections, how I come to use the materials that I use, what places and images fill me with a creative spirit as well as what my upbringing was like, which helps me translate all the creative information into my designs.
I also feel that the wonderful thing about social media is that it is still a largely free platform. Small businesses have the ability to directly connect with their customers and to keep them up to date with what is happening. You no longer have to put your name in a phone book and hope for someone to come across the page you are on; you are now able to go to each and every costumer’s home directly and reach out to them.
Know who your customers are: do not imagine who they are – ask them, get to know them. Many times we have an ideal image in our minds of who will buy our product, but the reality is that those imagined customers are just that – imagined. The real customers simply buy into the dream, he/she does not necessarily live the dream.
I am not sure if it is a prediction but after a number of very colourful seasons and a dark winter we will see white and lots of it in all forms of clothing, pants, dresses and shorts. It will be very refreshing just after the gloom of winter. I am very excited!
After taking a sneak peak at her newest collection, I’m excited too. Magdalena Duma forges ahead with her own style, and while she may not want to claim her next collection as a prediction, I’d have to agree with her opinion on spring fashion. I look forward to the upcoming months, where whites and creams herald in a little bit of warmth and a lot more sunshine. I’m envisaging a lot of lace and intricate design.
As we finish up our meeting, Magdalena decides to show me her workroom. It’s here that I can see the inspiration behind her innovative label. Her design mock-ups hang above a classic working space, while behind a sweet little cube bookshelf sits her white desk. This is capped off by an inspiration board that could have been lifted straight out of an H&Der’s creative dream.
Simplicity is central to her designs, punctuated with strong modern accessories. Her bestselling pencil dress adorns a mannequin – it’s a beautiful purple to reflect the vibrancy of past seasons. As Magdalena explains, her work space reflects her home space; a place that inspires creativity. As she puts it, life shouldn’t be lived without inspiration.
Feeling fashionably satiated from the down-to-earth conversation, I drift out of her store and back down Devonshire Street. I have a feeling one blog post will not be enough for this designer. Already having designed for some local celebs and international models, I predict that Magdalena Duma will have a lot more to show us in coming seasons.
If you’re ever in the area, then you should definitely head over to her store:
525 Crown St,
Surry Hills, Sydney
Or, if you’re interested in a design of your very own (she has even done some wedding dresses) contact Magdalena directly:
www.magdalenaduma.com | +61 404 049 517
If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out more from Indi in EVERYDAY RUNWAY.