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SOME­TIMES IT’S ALL IN THE NAME. WHEN TWO FRIENDS AND COL­LEAGUES SPOT­TED THE GAP IN THE MAR­KET FOR WELL-DE­SIGNED CLOTH­ING YOU CAN THROW IN THE TUMBLE-DRYER, THEY DE­CIDED TO MAKE IT HAP­PEN.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING W - STORY MI­LANDA ROUT K POR­TRAIT JULIE ADAMS

Bassike (pro­nounced “ba­sic”) was hatched in a ram­shackle fi­bro beach house with a stone fire­place over­look­ing Palm Beach. It was there, amid vis­it­ing wildlife and un­in­ter­rupted views of Bar­ren­joey Light­house, that Mary Lou Ryan and Deb­o­rah Sams de­cided to cre­ate a line of beau­ti­fully de­signed and beau­ti­fully made cloth­ing for women and men that could be worn every day – ba­sics, in fash­ion-speak.

“We were locked away in our own lit­tle world. It was a very cre­ative space and it was fun,” says Sams of Bassike’s first real of­fice. “It was so nice not to be dis­tracted by what ev­ery­one else was do­ing ,” adds Ryan. “We could just re­ally fo­cus on the prod­uct and how we wanted the brand to be, so we spent a lot of time work­ing on that. We re­ally im­mersed our­selves.”

That was 12 years ago. The pair are now about to open their 10th store, they have more than 100 em­ploy­ees, they work in a cus­tom-de­signed of­fice space in nearby War­riewood (with no more un­ex­pected en­trances from pos­sums or snakes) and they are about to ex­pand fur­ther with their eyes fo­cused on the US. The clothes they de­signed in that “divine time” in Palm Beach have be­come their sig­na­ture pieces – white or­ganic cot­ton jer­sey T-shirts – and are all still avail­able to­day.

“It was about cre­at­ing wardrobe sta­ples, essen­tials that you could wear with pieces that you al­ready owned, that were clas­sic, qual­ity,” Sams tells WISH of their orig­i­nal aims. “[They were pieces] that you could ma­chine wash, tumble dry and wear every day. It was about wear­able fash­ion as op­posed to buy­ing the $800 dress that you could wear once to a wed­ding. That was our whole con­cept; ev­ery­day cloth­ing that was use­ful but also beau­ti­fully de­signed and of a beau­ti­ful qual­ity.”

Sams and Ryan met over 20 years ago while work­ing as buy­ers for Gen­eral Pants Co. They were the new girls on the block at the head of­fice in Syd­ney and in­stantly be­came friends. Sams, who grew up in Whale Beach, had been ex­posed to fash­ion all her life as her fa­ther worked at AMCO Jeans in prod­uct de­sign. “Whale Beach was an idyl­lic place to grow up. It was very quiet. I grew up surf­ing,” she says. “From about the age of five I was quite aware of what I wanted to wear. I had a favourite ap­ple dress and I would pull it out every day. I think fash­ion is the sort of thing that gets in your blood. So it was al­ways a dream for me to pur­sue a ca­reer in fash­ion.”

Sams started in the in­dus­try by work­ing in re­tail, first at Es­prit in its hey­day and then at Marcs with leg­endary founder Mark Keigh­ery. She worked for five years on the re­tail floor be­fore start­ing at head of­fice and work­ing as an as­sis­tant buyer and then jump­ing ship to Gen­eral Pants. Ryan had a sim­i­lar ca­reer tra­jec­tory, but in Mel­bourne. She also grew up lov­ing fash­ion, de­vour­ing mag­a­zines, but never in­tended to make a ca­reer of it.

“It wasn’t re­ally a con­scious de­ci­sion, I fell into it,” Ryan re­calls. She also started at ground level with an ad­min­is­tra­tion job at Witch­ery. “I worked in var­i­ous jobs that led me to a buyer’s as­sis­tant role, which was a great op­por­tu­nity. At that stage I had no ex­pe­ri­ence so I pretty much learned on the job. I learned the trade from the ground up.”

The pair worked to­gether at Gen­eral Pants for a num­ber of years be­fore Sams left to go to Syd­ney denim la­bel Ksubi. It wasn’t long be­fore Ryan joined her – by then they were in­sep­a­ra­ble work spouses. At that point, they “had grown up a lit­tle bit”, ac­cord­ing to Ryan, and were ready to look for­ward and con­sider what they wanted to achieve in the fu­ture.

“We spoke about do­ing some­thing to­gether,” Sams tells WISH, sit­ting next to Ryan amid their lat­est col­lec­tion. “And then the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self to de­sign and come up with a new cot­ton jer­sey con­cept.” It was a wash­able or­ganic cot­ton jer­sey, a ma­te­rial that had pre­vi­ously only been around in an ex­pen­sive dry-clean-only form that wasn’t highly wear­able. This one could be washed and tumble-dried. “We knew we had a prod­uct that was unique and no one had been play­ing in that space when it comes to or­ganic cot­ton jer­sey in a con­tem­po­rary way.”

So the pair de­cided to take the leap, leave their se­cure jobs and take a risk on what was a “bit of a pipe dream”. It was a scary time for all in­volved. “But once we de­signed the fab­ric and we had it in our hands, we knew we had some­thing quite spe­cial,” adds Ryan. They worked out of Sams’ home be­fore mov­ing the busi­ness into their fall­ing-down beach house. Af­ter de­sign­ing the ini­tial key pieces, they re­ceived their first sam­ples in De­cem­ber 2006. It was not what they ex­pected.

“We had a few pro­duc­tion prob­lems in our first de­liv­ery, as you do,” says Sams, laugh­ing about it now with Ryan, many years on. “The ac­tual shrink­ages we put on the gar­ment were in­cor­rect so ev­ery­thing came in a bit over­size, ac­tu­ally quite over­sized. But it turned out to be more a pos­i­tive than a neg­a­tive be­cause once we put the gar­ments on, we found the look of the brand: seams were twist­ing, we had our raw hems, our chain-

stitch back neck. It was the Bassike DNA. All those lit­tle de­tails that we still have on our cot­ton jer­sey to­day were ac­tu­ally in our first col­lec­tion.”

The pair used their net­work of con­tacts – built over their ca­reers as buy­ers – to show their de­signs to high­end fash­ion bou­tiques across the coun­try, from Elle in Perth to Cac­tus Jam in Mel­bourne. “These re­tail stores would im­port a lot of de­signer brands and they would do beau­ti­ful pants and tai­lor­ing and they had noth­ing to pair it with,” says Sams. “The cot­ton jer­sey was the ground­ing they needed in their store. We would of­ten wear a pair of beau­ti­ful Dries Van Noten pants and wear it back with a Bassike T-shirt and that is sort of how the high/low-con­cept trans-sea­sonal prod­uct came about.”

Their first de­liv­ery was three months late but it was worth the wait as it sold out im­me­di­ately. About a year and a half later, they opened their first pop-up shop in Avalon, also in the north­ern beaches, de­spite be­ing warned not to – it was smack bang in the mid­dle of the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis. The pair did not lis­ten.

“It was a pop-up store that is still popped up to­day,” Ryan says of what be­came their first per­ma­nent re­tail store. “It was a great op­por­tu­nity to present the brand in its en­tirety and re­ally that was the start of us open­ing up mul­ti­ple re­tail stores, be­cause we got the sense that peo­ple wanted to come into our space and shop the full col­lec­tion.”

Sams and Ryan then be­gan slowly ex­pand­ing Bassike’s of­fer­ing, driven mostly by the fact cus­tomers wanted more than the cot­ton jer­sey T-shirts. “They wanted to buy denim so dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties came about,” says Sams. “We were in­tro­duced to a denim maker from south­ern Ja­pan, from a place called Ko­jima” – a small town in Okayama that is the heart of Ja­pan’s denim in­dus­try – “through re­ally good friends of ours. We also had this op­por­tu­nity to work with the be­spoke denim fac­tory, which has 14 ma­chin­ists. They pro­duce the most beau­ti­ful denim and so we took that op­por­tu­nity and we are still work­ing with them to­day.”

The duo went on to open stores in Syd­ney, their first Vic­to­rian store in Hawks­burn in 2012, and their first in­ter­na­tional store in Venice Beach, Los An­ge­les, in 2015; they plan to open their first Queens­land store in Bris­bane by the end of the year. And now they are ready to go big­ger in the US.

“We would like Bassike to be­come more of a house­hold name in the US, like it is in Aus­tralia,” says Sams. “So we have a fo­cus on the US, we have one store there, in Venice Beach and that busi­ness is do­ing well and we are see­ing a lot of growth there. We are not try­ing to take on the world, but we are look­ing at dif­fer­ent pock­ets and dif­fer­ent mar­kets where we feel the brand trans­lates well. Cal­i­for­nia is a no-brainer, cli­mate-wise and the way peo­ple dress, and it’s not that far away.”

It seems that af­ter 18 years of friend­ship and 12 years of own­ing a brand to­gether, they are un­likely to get sick of each other any time soon. “It just works. We are lucky as part­ners. We share de­ci­sions every day and you re­ally have to trust and re­spect each other,” says Ryan. “We also used to be flat­mates,” adds Sams, laugh­ing, “If you can sur­vive that, you can sur­vive any­thing.”

“We are not try­ing to take on the world, but we are look­ing at dif­fer­ent pock­ets where we feel the brand trans­lates well.”

Deb­o­rah Sams, left, and Mary Lou Ryan

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