From hippie child to queen of a growing fashion empire
WHEN I speak to Anna Walsh, founder of BodyPeace Bamboo Clothing, she has just returned from London where her designs were shown at the Pure Show - one of the biggest fashion trade fairs in the United Kingdom.
With orders received from retailers in London and Ireland, the European market beckons - not bad for a hippie child from Nimbin who started her bamboo clothing business less than five years ago.
The Byron Bay eco-clothing brand has expanded from a wholesale base in Byron Bay's Arts and Industry Estate to including five concept stores as well as supplying more than 200 retailers across Australia.
Anna Walsh, 46, has called the North Coast home since her parents arrived in Nimbin for the 1973 Aquarius Festival.
"I've lived on communities across the area; in Nimbin, Main Arm, Mullumbimby... I was brought up as a North Coast hippie child," she said.
This creative hippie child also had a head for business and bought her first home while still in her early 20s then ran a string of successful boutiques in Byron Bay, Ballina and Lismore.
"I am an ambitious woman; I always have to have a goal.
"I am creative, but I am one of those people who not only has the ideas, I follow through on them.
"I see that as a gift of my hippie upbringing: I go for it. I'm not indecisive and I actually enjoy the world of business. I'm comfortable in that space," says Anna.
"I have a lot of earthy practicality in my personality. I just say 'Why not? What's the worst that could happen'?"
After selling her three shops, Dresscode 2481 in Byron, Dresscode 2478 in Ballina and Dresscode 2480 in Lismore six years ago, Anna went travelling to dream her next move.
"I had seen bamboo fabric through one of my shops, I loved the feel of it and I could see the potential," she said.
"Trouble was, the samples I saw weren't very flattering. So that's when I thought: 'Why don't I use this and make clothes for real women's bodies - for people like me, who want good cuts, generous sizing and in beautiful eco-friendly material'."
That idea led her to China, where she researched her ideas in one of the few countries producing bamboo fabric.
"The whole China thing was overwhelming until I met up with a girlfriend and fellow designer who gave me a helping hand into the fashion wholesale game," she said.
"She could speak Mandarin and helped me find a supplier with the purest bamboo fabrics and offered to manufacture my designs through her factory. And, yes, I did check it out and no, it wasn't a sweatshop.
"Apart from the softness, bamboo is one of the best fabrics for the planet because very little water and no pesticides are used to grow it.
"Even more amazing, bamboo is a natural deodorant and has UV protection and the fabric has insulating properties which keep you cool in summer and warmer in winter."
"My first collection was in three sizes, three colours and five styles... Now I have six sizes, six colours and 50 styles," she said.
"I thought if I really want to make money, ultimately I have to be able to design something that can be manufactured on a large scale; not sew something and sell at the markets. Sell while I sleep.
"In the beginning I thought of doing a lot of eco-friendly fabrics, but I decided not to spread myself too thin and just specialise in bamboo.
"I'm known as the bamboo queen of Australia now."
The range has grown to include everything from a men's and a women's range of bamboo clothing including underwear, socks, dresses, trousers and tops through to homewares including a new range of sheets and pillows as well as towels and blankets.
Part of the success of her business has been in the timing, Anna said.
"I think people are wanting less clutter in their lives - they can buy a few classic pieces that are versatile."
As well as practical, the price point is also affordable, ranging from $10 up to $149.
Influenced by her time living in Japan where she had noticed women often wore plain colours and added bright colour through accessories, Anna deliberately kept her designs simple.
"The fabric is woven to my unique specifications, and then dyed in earthy, classic colours," she said.
"You can wear it out in the evening, to the beach, the gym, to yoga or to the office. It's really that versatile. It's also great for travel.
"Bamboo doesn't have to be associated with hippie.
"My designs don't go out of style; they cover up flaws, while showing off assets.
"Bamboo is so comfy, elegant, sensual and practical to wear. You can even wear it in bed.
"You'll be looking good, feeling great and helping Mother Earth."
As the business grows and the lucrative European and American markets beckon, the challenge for Anna now is to keep the business manageable.
"I'm learning to delegate now. I have 18 staff across the warehouse and five shops, and I employed someone to manage the staff."
Before she opens more shops or expands overseas, Anna is focusing on developing new designs.
Despite no formal training in fashion design, she has thrown herself into this creative aspect of her business.
"I'm sometimes embarrassed to call myself a designer... but after 20 years working in fashion retail, (she started in her 20s), I know women's bodies and what looks good on them."
She is also building a studio on her Myocum property so that she can work uninterrupted on new designs - and take in the beauty of her North Coast surroundings.
The 24ha property is jointly owned by Anna and her sister; they have raised their children here and both her parents also live on the property - connecting back to her roots of communal living.
"I've created a very nurturing space. I travel a lot for my business now, but when I arrive back home I am so grateful for living here."
Find Anna's BodyPeace Bamboo clothing at:
- Queen St Mall, Brisbane
- James St, Burleigh Heads
- Fletcher St, Byron Bay
- Centennial Circuit, Byron Bay
- Burringbar St, Mullumbimby