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The women behind Melbourne label Two Threads

BY Anastasia McInerney / RMIT journalism student | 31-Aug-2017
Meet design duo Karen Fennell and Sally Anderson, the bowerbirds behind the Melbourne womenswear label. #TwoThreads @TwoThreads @twothreadsclothing #twothreads #melbourne #label #upcycled #ethical
A wooden shelf lined with jars stacked glass-to-glass covers a wall of the Two Threads studio. Each jar is host to a selection of vintage buttons, both colour and size grouped. More than just a decorative ploy, the display stands in honour of the label’s humble beginnings.

Friends Karen Fennell and Sally Anderson stumbled on a box of vintage buttons at a market one afternoon. So marvelled by their newfound treasure, they decided to begin crafting jewellery. And from a button formed a stitch, with the ladies’ creative outlet diverting into women’s fashion.

Since its inception in 2004, the Melbourne-based clothing label has cemented its unique quirkiness to provide women with an everyday wardrobe of workable separates. The label’s transeasonal garments aren’t defined by the weather. And these ladies, hailing from Melbourne’s Highett, know a thing or two about changing temperatures. In fact, most of the pieces are sleeveless– giving the option to layer items underneath, or wear bare armed.

“We’re not making heavy wool pants. We just don’t do that. We use natural fibres so it’s not warm or cold, either. You could wear it now or you could wear it in the middle of summer,” Karen says.

The label thrives on its go-with-everything, comfortable pieces. It’s what Karen and Sally both wear, and found their friends searching for.

“We very much steer away from full on mainstream though. It’s not our thing,” Karen says.

With offshore manufacturing to compete with, the designers understood it would be a slow process to create Australian-made garments at a reasonable price. The label might now be called Two Threads, but it took a little more than a couple of stitches to start. Having never put any capital into the business, Two Threads was, and continues to be, self-funded.

“We started with one skirt. We did one skirt for two years. It was two years before we did a pant,” Karen laughs.

After trialling their creations on friends, Karen and Sally began selling their garments at markets. The “short, sharp, bump-in, bump-out” experience provided Two Threads with steady profits, and the perfect approach to selling their unique garments.

“Markets are a very easy way to access customers without rental. You’re at the coalface; you certainly know very quickly whether people can wear it, like it, don’t like it. They’ll tell you,” Sally says.

The label now offers the option to purchase online. But even in the age of digital, markets continue to be Two Threads’ most rewarding outlet– in more ways than just money.

“You can buy online all you like, but people want something else. By selling at markets, you create an experience and a relationship,” Sally says.

Two Threads’ clientele prefer the personal experience that department and chain stores lack. By providing a face to the label, and a story to the garments, Sally and Karen create lasting relationships with their clients.

“Some of our customers have known us for 10 years and are still buying from us,” Karen says.

Two Threads has expanded to feature at interstate markets like Adelaide’s Bowerbird Design Market, and festivals like Canberra’s Port Fairy Folk Festival.

“It’s like a travelling circus,” Sally laughs.

“It’s our carny weekend. It’s very Thelma and Louise,” Karen adds.

And while the ladies love to travel, the thrill of creating keeps them in the studio.

“You’ve got to have your bread and butter, but you’ve also got to have your higher end stuff to keep you sane,” Sally says.

While Sally and Karen provide complete size ranges in their pants, tops and dresses, they also dabble in one-off pieces. The designers most skillful creations are crafted using upcycled materials, perpetuating the life of a discarded piece of clothing.

“We’ve always liked the idea of reusing, reshaping, restyling, chopping. We’ve always done it, because we’ve always been mad op-shoppers,” Sally says.

“I like the restriction, the parameter you have to work in with garments you find. It’s not open ended– it’s what you’ve got,” Sally continues.

The first ever Two Threads-produced garment, an apron overlay, was created using recycled fabrics. After creating more upcycled garments and testing the markets, the designers found customers “embraced” the one-off designs.

“Some of our customers have bought three, four, five of our upcycled garments. They come back specifically for those sorts of pieces,” Karen says.

As well as recycling, the entirety of Two Threads remains Australian-made. From the fabric to the pattern maker, the sewer to the cutter, all the labels’ services are sourced locally. Even the tags are created in Australia, a service many take offshore.

Two Threads continues to thrive where it’s planted. Following on from its successful retail venture as part of a pop-up shop, Two Threads is now available at Design A Space in Fitzroy. Whether they’re selling at markets or festivals, playing online or relishing in retail, Two Threads’ Karen and Sally will never be far from patterns, fabric, and a sewing machine.