By Kartika Putra
Interview by By Jess Mackay
What do you get when you put a qualified engineer and a passionate fashion student on a bus in the middle of South America?This is not the introduction to a joke, this is Wolftress; a dynamic duo of Jessie Helyar and Kartika Putra working out of Sydney. ‘Empowering cultures through fashion’ is the mantra driving these two travelling entrepreneurs throughout the world in search of their next inspiration. Their ethical fashion brand, handmade by indigenous cultures from across the globe, is quickly gaining recognition in the industry.StartUp Creative wanted to find out how a home-grown fashion label is going to change how the world thinks about what they wear.
How did you come up with the idea for Wolftress and how did it start?
Tika: The only thing that was available to us as a backpacker were alpaca jumpers with alpaca pictures woven across the front. We saw the need to bring these textiles home, not in the form of touristy jumpers – but in the form of fashion that would empower the cultures who we collaborated with.
Jessie: We both shared a love for the artisanal skills we had discovered across South America. We thought, let’s take this fabric home and use it in stylish pieces that can fit in with the modern consumer’s life and at the same time share the story of the people who made it.
What attracts you to travelling off the beaten track?
T: We’re very privileged to live in a place like Sydney where multiculturalism is in abundance. For us, the beaten track is to explore something that has not been heavily explored. We are not saying that the places we go are untouchable, but we want to bring you the stories and cultures that aren’t readily available to our world.
J: I don’t want to travel to the other side of the world just to experience the same every day food and culture I live in daily. I travel for a shake-up, to reawaken my mind and to get back in touch with the basic necessities of life.
Ethical fashion has become a topic of discussion in the media recently, is this one of the beliefs or goals behind your brand?
T: We’ve come to the day and age now where it’s no longer an option to be ignorant on the items that we purchase. Wolftress stands for social responsibility, understanding the beauty of each purchase, the stories behind each garment and the social impact it has towards someone other than the buyer.
J: Everything has an effect on someone else in the world or part of the world people live in. I’m so excited to see the awareness growing and that consumers are considering ethical products more and more as part of their everyday decisions. Rather than introducing new skills or charity we would prefer to embrace the skills that already exist and build on those.
Do you think people will feel different wearing your clothes than they do with mass-produced brands or perhaps clothes that are made unethically?
T: YES, YES, YES. Each of our pieces have a story that can be shared, stories that can create substance in your individual persona and stories that has the power to preserve and empower cultures worldwide.
J: All our garments are made to empower the wearer. It comes with us on our journeys, comforts us when we are exhausted and empowers our pursuit to succeed. I hope people buy Wolftress products because they value what we offer and in doing so they also value themselves.
Your first line came out of Ecuador; what did you find there that inspired you?
T: Ecuador was a place where the locals wore their traditional dress proudly every day. It was as though we were watching a stage show – but it was their everyday life. It was these little scenarios that made us find a need to share these hidden beautiful worlds to the rest of the world.
J: Ecuador was the birthplace of Wolftress so it’s very special to us. We handpicked the coloured threads, met with the artisans and watched as they wove those threads into beautiful designs. It was our first real experience of how talented these people are and how much value these pieces hold in their life and history.
What is the key to building a business that you love?
T: Persistence and an understanding that living off your passion will require you to learn and spend times in areas that might not be to your liking e.g. marketing and accounting. If you want to base your life around a passion, it has to be sustainable for you to live off.
J: I think people either start a business out of love or do it for the money and then there are people who turn what they love into a way of making money. Our love for the concept behind Wolftress is what gives us the drive to keep pushing through but there is endless learning involved to be able to make this love turn into a business.
Tell us one story of failure or a time where you really needed to persevere to get where you are today.
J: The main story I remember was when we first arrived in Sydney and we knew what we wanted to do and started looking for advice from the fashion world. We were getting told we need to change the shape and the style and the functionality in order for people to buy it. So we made a whole collection based around what other people wanted. We put a lot of time and money into that collection and then when we looked at it we had no love for it. We had created something we weren’t excited for.
T: Through that ordeal, we learnt that there are many people that will give you advice along the way – you have to truly understand your own brand to make the decision whether that advice works for your brand or not. All advice is good advice, it’s just up to you to see whether you can apply it to your business without sacrificing its integrity.
How do you give back to the communities that you visit?
T: We are giving the communities a need and a reason to continue their craft. Sharing their stories about their existence is the first step. The second is to make people understand the lives behind the threads.
J: We buy the textiles directly from the artisans so we are directly supporting their livelihood. We also give them an outlet to share their story with the world.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs who have similar dreams for success?
T: Keep reminding yourself the reason why you started. People with larger than life goals have a vision in their mind about where they want to end up and concentrate too much on not reaching that end goal yet. The advice that I would give is to celebrate the little achievements along the way, enjoy the journey and be accepting to the opportunities that may arise.
J: I think the most important thing is passion. If you think something is worth protecting and you have a story worth telling then you have to give it a go. Not everything works but you can’t let that stop you. You just have to find the right way to make it work.
Tell us a bit about your next project, where is your next destination?
J: We can’t tell you too much but we’re actually answering these questions the night before we fly out! I’m so excited that I want to blurt it all out but I’m going to bite my tongue!
T: Like what Jessie said. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out! All we can say is that we choose destinations that are rich in culture and somewhat unsaturated by tourists. Where do you think we should go?
StartUp Creative is a unique business incubator, magazine, professional development and mentoring program tailored specifically for young people. Most 15 to 35 year olds lack the experience and knowledge required to develop their idea into a viable business. An incubator that intends to fill that gap – by offering a series of programs, workshops and coaching sessions to support young people considering starting their own business.