At the risk of stating the obvious, the clothes we wear matter. And not just in the sense of sartorial splendour and self-expression, but for those across the supply chain and beyond working towards a more sustainable fashion future. To celebrate these creatives putting people and planet first, we’ve introduced a digital series called Nice Rack! (…get it) so we can go behind the seams with some of our favourite sustainable brands, together.
If you’re an Aussie fashion lover with a passion for patterns and a commitment to colour, we reckon there’s a high chance you have something from Obus hanging in your wardrobe. The legendary Melbourne brand – founded by Kylie Zerbst, who is also the creative director – has been around for over 20 years, releasing more than 50 vibrant collections inspired by the movement and magic of travel. Run by a small, endlessly creative team in Northcote, Obus has a strong focus on local manufacturing, a commitment to natural materials, an inclusive size range and a rainbow of instantly recognisable patterns and prints.
Tell us about yourself…
Hi! I’m Kylie and I’m the creative director of Melbourne label Obus! I spend most weekends adventuring outdoors with my family of three. We love camping and sailing, wandering through forests and really any activity that keeps us close to nature. I’m a collector of beautiful things, anything with its own story to tell… Small moments and treasures found on the beach or in markets while travelling have inspired whole collections so I’m always on the lookout.
When did you know you wanted to get into fashion?
The first seeds of Obus were planted over 20 years ago after my first big overseas trip inspired me to switch career paths. My background is in graphic design (I’m self-taught in textile and fashion design), and after seeing more of the world, I found myself wanting to do something more tactile. Obus started as a one-woman show and has organically evolved from there into what it is today.
An ‘Obus’ is a type of trolley bus used in some parts of Europe – it’s inclusive and open to everyone, and that’s the concept we like to come back to when designing.
Why were you inspired to start your label and what continues to inspire you as a designer?
Our collections are influenced by travel and are designed to make the wearer feel empowered and inspired on their daily journey. An ‘Obus’ is a type of trolley bus used in some parts of Europe – it’s inclusive and open to everyone, and that’s the concept we like to come back to when designing. Offering affordable, quality garments to our customers while at the same time supporting local businesses and the Australian manufacturing industry is no easy task though! It means our margins are really small, and that makes it extremely hard to compete with brands that manufacture offshore. Our team is inspired, resourceful and flexible at every step of the process, looking for creative ways to get the most value out of a garment for our customers and maintain a brand ethos we can all be proud of!
How do you incorporate sustainability/ethical practices within your brand?
My dream since starting Obus has been to run a healthy, sustainable business that always feels small enough to be personal. We are passionate about manufacturing locally, and produce the majority of our collections (about 80%) in Australia, working alongside family-run businesses that we have daily contact with. Some of our manufacturers have worked with us for so long that they truly feel like part of the Obus family. Design, patternmaking and sampling take place in our studio in Northcote, so we have an incredible amount of oversight from an ethical and environmental standpoint, which is really important to us.
My dream since starting Obus has been to run a healthy, sustainable business that always feels small enough to be personal.
Manufacturing locally allows us to produce in small quantities. These conservative inventory levels ensure the right amount of product for our customer base, reducing stock waste and maintaining the value of the product. Obus products are made from premium, sustainable fabrications like BCI-certified and GOTS-certified cotton that breaks down naturally over time; EcoVero viscose; and recycled PET that gives new life to plastics that already exist in the world.
We are also focused on continuing our circular fashion journey by partnering with local secondhand reseller Mutual Muse to help pre-loved Obus items find happy forever homes! Our items are made carefully, with longevity in mind, and should never end up in landfill. We offer rewards to our customers through the program.
Tell us about any standout moments in your career…
I’ve been running Obus for so long now there are so many things I could mention here… Seeing Obus on the runway in NYC; stocked in special boutiques worldwide; collaborating with some really fabulous brands; and working with an inspiring team each and every day! It’s been a wild ride but truly what I feel the most proud of right now is our newest collaboration with not-for-profit Create Impact.
We first worked together on an art auction four years ago, raising funds that helped complete three new schools in remote Ethiopia. When we heard that Create Impact was visiting the schools, an idea came to mind to involve the kids and create something really special.
The Obus and Create Impact limited-edition capsule has just been released and the response has been so heart-warming! The two prints, ‘Animal Kingdom’ and ‘Favourite Things’, feature drawings by kids from Segno Gebeya Primary School in Ethiopia and are so special. I’ve loved working with the kids’ drawings, and knowing that Obus has been a tiny part of their journey. Each item purchased from the collab directly drives much-needed funds back into community projects and for each tote bag purchased, a school child receives a school bag we designed for them!
It feels so special to be able to continue this partnership and have such a meaningful impact. Whenever we have an opportunity to make clothing that not only makes people look good and feel good but also does good, we feel really lucky!
What are your favourite pieces to wear?
A part of my role at Obus is designing our prints, and my favourite this season is ‘Grand Gesture’. I’ll be wearing it for special occasions over the holidays – it’s so festive! I’m print on print on print (always have been) or all the colours at once, but one of my other favourite pieces right now is the ‘Destination Swimsuit’, which is plain, simple black. It’s so flattering and feels amazing on! I LOVE our swimwear (made from recycled fabrics) and wear so much of it every summer.
There are so many amazing Australian brands that manufacture here, but in this super competitive fast-fashion market, they won’t survive without a community to support them.
What do you think needs to change in the Australian fashion landscape?
We need to support our local brands, choose quality over quantity, and understand that being part of a sustainable community means shopping carefully and consciously.
Labels that manufacture locally reduce the environmental impacts associated with off-shore production (packaging, transport), have more control over the conditions their manufacturers work in, and help ensure there are future jobs in Australian fashion. There are so many amazing Australian brands that manufacture here, but in this super competitive fast-fashion market, they won’t survive without a community to support them. By choosing to support these labels you allow them to keep creating beautiful clothing in a beautiful way.