Meet Theo, a Melbourne-born clothing label with a soft spot for sustainability.
Established in 2016 with the desire to create sweatshop-free staples for the everyday wardrobe, we love what it stands and even more the people behind it.
I met the founder and designer Esther at Melbourne Design Market in June and I was absolutely in love with her minimal aesthetic and passion for handcrafted pieces with a story. I was then so chuffed when she reached out to me a few weeks later to tell me about her latest venture and that she wanted Hills & West to be part of it.
Now Theo has a new South Melbourne destination for minimal, quality clothing and accessories, all crafted with a unique and sustainable story and I wanted to give you a little insight into the label and the gorgeous creator behind it.
Tell us about Theo…
Theo creates sweat-shop free clothing staples for men and women. I design really simple, timeless garments that still have a bit of edge to them, and then they’re produced by a couple of families in Bali Indonesia or in our Melbourne studio by me. We produce in really small quantities so it means we can work directly with small home-based businesses with makers who are highly skilled and create each garment from start to finish – a very foreign concept to big labels that are made in huge assembly lines!
Theo did lots of design markets in 2016, which led to an opportunity to pop-up at South Melbourne Market in their temporary designer space. From there I really enjoyed the vibe of the market and it was great to chat with customers face to face, so when an opportunity came to apply for a more permanent space I took the leap! A few key people who work at the market played a big role in presenting these opportunities to me so a big thank you to them for keeping an eye out for emerging small makers and appreciating our contribution to the community!
How did the sweatshop-free become part of your story?
I personally find a lot of value in products that have been made by a specific person, rather than en masse in a factory somewhere so it played into my business perfectly that our quantities were too small to be produced by big garment factories and therefore we had to find a creative solution elsewhere. This lead to having direct contact with small makers who we can build genuine relationships with, ensure they are receiving fair payment for their work and that their working conditions are above board. What I wear is a reflection of both my style and my values and that’s why it’s important to me that sweat-shops are out of the picture.
What labels are part of the family?
We have ‘Hills & West’ of course and the black leather is already proving to be popular with Theo’s clothing aesthetic! We also stock jeans by ‘Outland Denim’, ‘Jack by Sam’ Melbourne-made jewellery, ‘Polaroid Soup’ leather bow ties, ‘Ra Ra Studios’ one of a kind ceramics, a selection of kangaroo leather wallets from ‘Blackinkk’, ‘Leisurecraft’ and ‘Ohme’, empowering lettering prints from ‘Meek & Valiant’, beautiful timber serving ware by ‘Wah Works’ and hand-poured concrete goodies from ‘Conform Studios’.
What is your inspiration?
I personally find it really disheartening when I see an amazing product at a market only to find out it’s been made in China. I have nothing against China of course (I’m Chinese!) but it’s the idea that products sold at a market should be wonderfully handmade, and it’s this idea that guides how I curate the goods in my store. I can honestly tell customers that we can put a face and name to every product in store and I’m hoping this will encourage shoppers to recognise the effort and the resources that go into making products, and therefore really valuing their purchases and thinking twice about over-consuming.
A little about Esther…
Personality-wise I am a walking contradiction as I am both the most starry-eyed dreamer and the bitterest of cynics (INTJ)! I love to be creative and hands-on (I made costumes through high school and sewed my own clothing) but I am also hugely analytical and logical. I find these play into my business well, as I get to design beautiful clothing that is also practical, and then organise everything from production through to marketing and finance and enjoy the creative processes within each! I love learning and problem solving so I’m always looking for ways to improve things be it fashion as a whole or cooking crispy skinned salmon!
5 things on the bucket list
I don’t really have a bucket list but off the top of my head I would love to travel through India (and get amongst the textiles and garment industries of course!), to sky dive, to speak Indonesian, to be pro at knitting and to have a thriving veggie garden (and the time to nurture it!).
I only follow a handful of bloggers loosely and they are The Minimalists, Mademois-elle Jamie and Janni Deler.
5 staples you can’t live without
Jeans (I have several pairs of Nobody’s on rotation but will soon be introducing some Outland!), t-shirts (definitely white, maybe grey and a striped option), a down jacket, a grey sweater and joggers.
Theo the label – where
SO:ME Space in South Melbourne Market
322-326 Coventry Street, South Melbourne
Theo also has a studio in Brunswick where she designs, samples and creates her minimal staples.
Please visit as it’s such a beautiful space and all the pieces have been handpicked and curated for their story and quality. Esther is also an absolute gem, so say hi and pick up a piece of Hills & West too.