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In the Bag: Charlotte Hicks

Words by Yu Mei

Charlotte Hicks at Australian Fashion Week 2022

Charlotte Hicks wants to do things differently. After spending over ten years in the fashion industry designing for leading global brands, the Australian founded ESSE Studios in 2019 — a ready-to-wear label born out of frustration with the waste fashion has become synonymous with. Like Yu Mei, ESSE’s goal is to craft products that transcend trends and seasons, creating functional staples designed to stand the test of time — both physically and aesthetically. This natural alignment in values is what led to Yu Mei collaborating with ESSE for their 2022 Australian Fashion Week show, held at the Sydney Opera House’s beautiful Bennelong Restaurant, with Charlotte curating a selection of Yu Mei bags to accompany her timeless designs down the runway.

Read on to hear about Charlotte’s goals with ESSE Studios, thoughts on sustainability in the fashion industry, and keys to building an investment wardrobe.

Career

I think my parents were definitely a big factor in my pursuit of a career in the fashion industry, as I was exposed to it at a very early age. My father is a jewellery designer, and my mother — a very chic woman — studied fashion design, and went on to work in the industry before having children. I think I knew I wanted to start my own brand when I was 17, but wanted to wait until the time felt right, and I had a bit more experience under my belt.

I studied Fashion and Textile Design at the University of Technology Sydney, and I should have known back then — with a sleepless three years at fashion school — that I was in for a bit of a wild ride. All I can really say is that it has been the most beautiful, rewarding and often terrifying career path to choose. But I wouldn't change a thing. When you pick this path, you're sort of in it for all the ups and the downs.

With my own label, ESSE, I always knew that I wanted to do it differently. There are so many things wrong with this fashion system, and I really wanted ESSE to be about distilling what it is that I love, and a departure from what doesn’t serve me ( or any of us ). I had been a part of the engine for so long, so I wanted ESSE to stand for the right values — things that drew me to the industry in the first place.

At ESSE, there are many ways we go about encouraging a more sustainable message. I think the biggest thing for us at the moment is growing and scaling in a way that feels authentic, and staying true to the goal of ESSE being a purpose-led brand — one that puts product out there for more than just product’s sake. I want to make pieces — and build a business — that’s considered. One where every decision made, from operations to design, has integrity at its core.

The conversation about sustainability in the fashion industry is incredibly complex and multifaceted. I am pretty open and honest about the fact that there is a serious argument for the fact that we really don't need more products in general. We have a very serious waste problem. However, there are also arguments for products that are produced in a way that gives back to the land, and the world around us. However, to genuinely create a sustainable model, you need to be questioning and challenging everything at every turn. Make better decisions, and most importantly, set your business up to be nimble and improve with your findings. Things are going to change quickly, and you need to be able to implement them. You need to be hungry for innovation and knowledge. Resource, time and energy needs to be put into this part of the business.

There are so many challenges when it comes to creating a more sustainably-focused label, largely because there are a huge number stepping stones to get where you want to be. Then you get closer, and realise you are still so far away. It can definitely be a longer, slower road to ‘success’ — but define 'success'!

Design

Fundamentally, I want to change what’s in a woman’s wardrobe, and help them love themselves in the clothes they wear. I also want to enable them to make better, more informed decisions about their pieces.

It was a really special moment to work with Yu Mei so intimately on our Australian Fashion Week show — there was such great synergy. It was a real privilege and honour to show at the Sydney Opera House’s Bennelong restaurant. Our brand is deeply rooted in architectural influences, and this venue is the pinnacle of Australian Architectural Innovation — so it was very special. Something I found interesting is that Bennelong Point was a tidal rock island, in the heart of the Gadigal lands. It has been said this was a location for Aboriginal women to congregate on the rising tide, eat shellfish by the fire and tell stories, and a site that has a rich history of communal celebrations and storytelling. That really resonated.

Utility

When it comes to getting dressed in the morning, it totally depends on my mood. I think so much of how we dress these days depends on how we feel in our own skin. Most days for me are about an outfit that is equal parts chic, easy and comfortable. ( 1 ) I also really need a practical element — my days can get very physical, and you need your outfit to perform for you and not get in the way.

I cherish the pieces in my wardrobe that have the most sentimental value for me. That might be a quintessential piece of ESSE that holds a special place in my heart, or something that has a story behind it. I also am really sentimental about the pieces that have been passed down from my mum or grandmother. I have some incredible pieces that have lasted generations and seen a lot of things — they are my keepsakes! ( 2 )

Recommendations

When it comes to building an investment wardrobe, the best place to start is with the key pieces you always return. Think about if you were packing a suitcase tomorrow — what would you always need with you? Then there’s the staples that work well for everyone — a pant, a blazer, a shirt, a dress. It's really about those ESSEntials ( wink wink ) that you know work for you everyday, always.

[1] Charlotte lives by a dressing formula for success, not too dissimilar to Jessie's own, or our Art of Packing system.

[2] As with Ilkin Kurt, Charlotte’s grandmother also plays a role in the way she gets ready. Some pieces in her wardrobe have been passed down from her mother and grandmother — we admire Charlotte's commitment to items that have lifetimes that span across generations, longevity is also one of the ultimate goals of a Yu Mei bag.

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