What started out like a little more than a good idea and a little less than a business plan has grown into a recognisable fashion brand whose stylish creations grace the shelves of many retail stores across the country and abroad.
The Ark Clothing Co. was established by Christine Metcalfe and Jenny Layton – two young mums with a passion for making cloths they loved wearing – twenty five years ago in Melbourne.
“We were two women who simply craved clothing that you could simply slip on, that made you feel good, and that you didn’t have to think about,” Metcalfe says.
The company – which has since joined META and the META Australian Made Clothing Hub as dwindling support for local manufacturing capabilities force Australian clothing designers and manufacturers offshore in the fickle fashion industry – is committed to not only beautiful design, outstanding service, workshops and styling, but also giving back an element of its business learnings to others.
The Ark has five branded stories, an internet store and has wholesaled to 100 retail stores across Australia.
The company and its staff of sixty remain loyal to Australian manufacturing operations, despite being almost a lone ranger in a sea of fashion sold in Australia that has almost entirely been manufactured offshore.
“It would have been made pretty easy for us to move offshore, but the truth is that there’s an incredible manufacturing operation here in Australia, and we’ve managed to maintain all local operations since we first started more than two decades ago,” Metcalfe says.
“But we’ve only been able to achieve this because we’ve got a great Australian base that we’ve established over many years. In fact, one of our machinists has been with us for the entire 25 years, since the very beginning.”
Global clothing giants that have moved onto Australian shores have made it difficult for the company to maintain its competitive advantage, but Metcalfe says that the health of the supply chain and the value proposition extends far beyond the swing tag these days.
“We’re operating in an industry obsessed with designing for young, trendy waif-like creatures and no one considers what we want from our fashion labels as consumers. Our point of difference is that we create all our patterns and designs here in Australia, and also manufacture in Australia on models that actually reflect the size of modern day Australian women,” she says.
“As a business and a manufacturer, we’re conscious of surrounding ourselves with people that inspire us and share our values of respect, trust and honesty.”
The founders made the bold decision to apply for ethical accreditation a few years ago, which meant massive upheaval for their manufacturing partners.
“We felt that seeking ethical accreditation was the right way to go, as it reinforced the principals that we have always stood for an encouraged. Not surprisingly, our gorgeous ranges and commitment to being Australian made and ethically accredited has been the compass for our journey. Our footprint in Australian fashion has been further enhanced by our stunning retail stores and our brand presence in many of the best independent boutiques in Australia,” Metcalfe says.
“Our clients really value that we’re entirely Australian-made, and in many cases, they are far more pleased to purchase from us after learning about our strong support for the Australian manufacturing scene. As long as support for what we offer remains strong in the market, we’ll continue to support local manufacturers.”