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Aje's antipodean odyssey

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Aje co-founder Edwina Forest is grateful for her team and the chance to open Fashion Week Australia

Edwina forest by ivana martyn zyznikow

Edwina Forest

Edwina Forest and Adrian Norris co-founded contemporary womenswear brands Aje in Australia in 2008, inspired by the communities and culture of the antipodean nation.

The pair describe their goal as “to satisfy a relaxed, coastal style in an elevated, aspirational way”. The brand declines to reveal wholesale figures, but retail prices range from A$75 (£40) for a T-shirt to A$900 (£471.50) for a hand-painted dress.

The brand currently has 19 standalone stores in Australia and one in New Zealand, and 17 international stockists, among them Nordstrom, Moda Operandi and Shopbop, and Matchesfashion and Harvey Nichols in the UK.

Now with a team of 120 in its Sydney head office, the brand celebrated its 11th year in business in May 2019 by opening Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia with its resort 20 collection.

Edwina Forest speaks to Drapers about the brand’s Australian influences and her own inspirations.

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

I love to start my day with a little yoga and meditation at home with a cup of hot Chinese herbs. I then get showered and dressed and retreat to my alfresco office, a little neighbourhood cafe, where I work without distraction for an hour or two before going into the studio.

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What was your first job?

My first job was in a high-end retail boutique while I was at University of Queensland. This training has served me well as being a predominantly vertical business, retail is of utmost importance. Most members of our staff have come from a retail background in some capacity. We deem retail essential to understanding the touchpoints and the narrative of a brand and maintaining the balance between commerciality and aspiration.

How would you describe the brand in one sentence?

Aje is an Australian fashion brand dedicated to raw beauty, tough femininity and effortless cool.

What’s your coffee (or tea) order?

While I adore the scent of coffee, it doesn’t agree with me. However, I love cafe culture, so always opt for an almond chai latte.

Where are your favourite places to shop?

I love to shop while on holiday – wherever that may be. That way, the pieces I purchase hold a sentimental significance as well as satisfying an aesthetic or practical purpose.

Aje resort 2020 (3)

Last fashion purchase? Why did it catch your eye? 

Mykita sunglasses from a boutique in Paris. I have an extreme sunglasses addiction. In general, I love pieces that have a classicism and elegance, but also a little oddity.

Emails or phone calls?

My email account is like a black hole. Anyone I hold dear knows that the fastest way to reach me is via phone, and I am much more interested in connecting with individuals in person.

Most important lesson you’ve learned during your career?

For a brand to sustain buzz, retain relevance and commercial viability but also true to stay true to itself, it takes measured decisions, as well as a lot of passion and magic.

Conscious fashion and practices are something we really care about and are constantly making strides toward. I feel the learning should never cease.

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What would be your ideal office/meeting space?

The Aje Studios are situated in the heart of Paddington, Sydney – an affluent boutique location near the city centre and a melting pot for creators of fashion, art, and wellness.

Many of the fashion companies in Sydney have been forced to move to industrial areas to accommodate the growth. However, we couldn’t think of being anywhere else so, as we continue to grow, we keep acquiring more space along the main street. We started with one, and now we have three rambling three-storey terrace-style buildings. It’s definitely not conventional, but it provides a beautiful family-style environment.

What has been your proudest moment since you joined the launched?

Last year marked 11 years of the brand and we were honoured to be asked to open Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia. Our show was met with international acclaim with was immensely rewarding, and terrifying.

Additionally, we have been fortunate to collaborate with two Australian artists – the late Minnie Pwerle and the late Brett Whiteley. Both collaborations presented ambitious challenges for us as designers to be respectful of and to adhere to certain parameters. To be able to combine the power of art and fashion in modern and innovative ways, was infinitely satisfying.

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What’s the last book you read?

Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra.

Last holiday?

My husband is French, so during the European summer, we use Paris as a base and hop around to other European locations. When in Paris, we crave simplicity, so we veer toward unknown pockets or cherished spots.

Who in the fashion/retail industry inspires you?

I am constantly inspired by my team. For so many years, Adrian and I were forced to work across all aspects of the business while acknowledging that we were handling areas that were not our specialty.

To now be in a position where we are able to work with incredibly talented people whose prowess and ability in different departments outweighs that of our own, fills me with daily inspiration and gratitude. I am a huge believer that magic happens through collaboration.

What’s the biggest challenge facing fashion today?

As an industry, we are facing more pressure than ever to initiate and influence environmental change. As a company, we are value-driven and committed to uncovering ways to educate and progress our sustainable processes across every pillar of our business. We’re navigating those solutions. It’s also important for Aje to continue leading with innovation and persist with our focus of diversity.

What one piece of advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t strive for perfection. Perfection is stifling and fleeting.

Who do you turn to when you need advice?

My husband, Felix.

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