When you think of global luxury fashion destinations, Australia probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind—Paris, yes, but Sydney? It’s likely not at the top of your list. However, there is one area of the industry in which Australia knocks the ball out of the park, and that’s affordable fashion labels.
While the rest of the world was enjoying the wallet-friendly luxury of a Zara or H&M on every corner, Australia received zero interest from international players in fast fashion for decades. In fact, the first Zara store didn’t open Down Under until 2011—a full 13 years after the first U.S. flagship opened—and H&M launched its first store there in 2014. Add to that the fact that neither brand delivers online in Australia yet and that the country’s first Forever 21 store just opened last year, and you can see that the fast fashion options were pretty slim.
Personally, this made for some incredibly frustrating window-shopping during my time living in Australia—there are some trends that only Zara can deliver within my budget. However, there’s been one huge advantage: Boutique, affordable fashion labels face tough competition from major mass-market brands across the United States and Europe, but Australia provides the perfect opportunity for little labels to thrive.
Couple that with a close proximity to China and India—where, let’s face it, the majority of the world’s fast fashion is manufactured—and it’s clear why Australia is a breeding ground for budget-friendly independent labels. Oh, and right now the Australian dollar is really low (US$1 buys roughly AU$1.40), making it a particularly appealing place to shop at the moment.
“Customers are looking for designers with clear brand identity, and Australia’s affordable fashion brands encompass a laid-back style that is globally on trend,” IMG Australia’s Fashion Brand and Strategy Director Emily Weight explained to us.
“We aren’t seeing customers actively seeking labels bearing the ‘made in Australia’ moniker, so the manufacturing is inconsequential,” she added.
Siham Elmawey is head designer at Cameo (arguably the country’s most successful budget brand) and agrees that the fast fashion market is hot in Australia right now: “Given Australia’s close bond with China, it does make it easier for Australian brands to manufacture there as we have a good reputation in the market. At Australian Fashion Labels [Cameo’s parent company], we also have staff on the ground in China who work closely with our vendors to ensure that they meet our standards.”
Regardless of why, the fact remains that there are dozens of cute and cheap Australian brands that you’ve never heard of but that would feel right at home in your wardrobe—so click through the gallery to shop a handful of our favorites.