A few weeks ago, Dana Burrows teamed her signature floral-print, halter-neck, silk top and pant ensemble with stilettos at her cousin’s wedding and the next morning she donned the same outfit with trainers to walk around her local park.
“That’s versatility in an outfit,” says the brainchild of Melbourne brand Banded Together, which launched its range of silk pants, tops, shorts and camisoles with a conscious twist last November.
Dana’s move into slower fashion comes three years after the sale of her internationally distributed lingerie business Love and Lustre, which she co-ran successfully for 14 years. She sold the business in 2015 when she felt frustrated with the changing wholesale market, where costs were increasing and consumer value in products were subsequently decreasing. Versatility in an outfit, such as her floral pant suit, is part of a larger desire to change the fashion industry from within.
“It ran away from me a little bit and I wanted to do something that was more aligned with my beliefs,” she says of her former business.
“One of my core beliefs is fewer, better pieces and versatility in garments,” Dana explains.
“My whole thing is couch to cocktail. You have to be able to wear the garments in lots of situations, not just buy them for an occasion and stick them in your cupboard.”
Banded Together is a direct-to-consumer online business that avoids many of the typical inflated wholesale and retail mark-ups in manufacturing. Named Banded Together to highlight the fact that we are all united on the same journey, the range, which unites the manufacturer with the consumer, features impeccably tailored silk pieces in block colours and exclusively designed prints that sell for under $220. There are no delineated seasons, unlike the constant drop of new product in traditional retail outlets.
The idea for her business model was born out of a frustration with cheap, fast “homogenised” fashion that “lacked heart and soul.” She was inspired by Jimmy Choo founder and shoe maker Tamara Mellon, who runs a direct-to-consumer shoe company minus the traditional inflated prices, mark-ups and retail seasons.
“I felt like I had a responsibility to try and make changes to things that I didn’t like about the industry,” Dana says.
“It’s not about doing things cheaper; it’s about doing things better and smarter for people… I do look at making things the best quality I can, but priced in a way that’s more accessible.”
Dana uses natural fibres, like silk, that have a friendlier environmental footprint. She buys her silk close to the source in China and works with dye and print houses that utilise more environmentally friendly and ethical processes. She digitally prints her silks with unique designs, but the digital print process uses less water, which is better for the environment.
Each print has its own story, from the uniquely Australian hydrangea and Eucalyptus to the hand-drawn random star and her signature foulard, which Dana describes as a “rockstar” take on a very traditional French scarf and necktie print.
“I started with the Foulard print because I wanted something that respects the past, that looks to the future and that is also eternal. You can wear it this year and you can wear it in five years and it’s still a good print,” she explains.
After selling Love and Lustre, Dana spent a year working as a consultant to other leading brands as well as young entrepreneurs, before starting to storyboard concepts for her new brand. She developed the brand before she developed the garments and took her time, a process she describes as “taking slow fashion to a whole new level.”
It all started with her “perfect shirt,” which she revised more than 50 times. This “considered” approach has paid off, with many of Dana’s styles selling out in just two months, and with customers returning again and again.
“That’s been really exciting because when you start a business, you always have the early adopters who want to try something new, but they aren’t going to come back unless they love the product and I’ve had people come back every week. I have customers who have more pieces in their cupboard than I do.”
That said, one of her greatest challenges is in encouraging her target market, women 27 and older, to trust the online shopping experience. While the Banded Together e-store features all the typical enticements, such as fast delivery and easy returns, Dana says many customers still feel more confident to try things on before buying – a service she offers in her hometown, Melbourne.
Aligning her core beliefs with her social media and marketing has also been a challenge.
“You can’t start a brand now without actually showing what you stand for,” Dana says.
“But people expect new material every day and I just don’t want to use gratuitous imagery. Everything has to have a reason and a purpose”.
To this end, Dana has collaborated with influencers such as Emma Freedman, Elle Ferguson and Bec and Marissa Karagiorgos from fashion blog Twice Blessed, who all stand beside the Banded Together values.
Dana also collaborates with photographer Alli Oughted and a PR team to produce content that speaks to her customer and their lifestyle. Portraits of Perfection is a signature campaign on the Banded Together website that features interviews with, and portraits of, interesting and inspiring women.
“My motivation is how the clothes make women feel, not only what they look like. We talk to women about what they do and what they aspire to be,” Dana says.
Despite decades in the fashion industry as a manufacturer, Dana says one of her greatest learnings since launching Banded Together is something she’s known all along: to trust her gut.
“When you’re getting advice from different people on what you should and shouldn’t be doing, it’s really important to listen to it because some people are experts and they know more than you. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to trust yourself,” she says.