The early pioneers of the Australian fashion industry laid the foundation for its development and success. Two notable iconic brands were Akubra and R.M. Williams.

Hugh Jackman as the R.M. Williams boots ambassador in a 2019 campaign | Image Courtesy of: Youtube, R M Williams
R.M. Williams, who established his eponymous brand in 1932. R.M. Williams gained recognition for his high-quality leather goods, particularly his iconic boots. The company’s commitment to craftsmanship and authenticity has allowed it to thrive over the years.
Today, R.M. Williams continues to be a prominent Australian brand, renowned worldwide for its durable and stylish products.
Like R.M. Williams, Akubra is another iconic Australian brand known for its high-quality hats, particularly the traditional Australian bush hat. The story of Akubra dates back to the late 1800s and is also deeply intertwined with Australia’s pioneering history and culture.


Whilst not strictly fashion or luxury, several Australian surf and swimwear brands have also emerged and gained lasting international success over the years.

1. Billabong:

Founded in Queensland in 1973, Billabong is one of Australia’s most iconic surf brands. It has achieved global recognition and has a strong presence in over 100 countries. Billabong offers a wide range of surf and swimwear for men, women, and children.

2. Rip Curl:

Established in Torquay, Victoria, in 1969, Rip Curl is another prominent Australian surf brand with international acclaim. It has a strong presence in Europe, North America, and other parts of the world. Rip Curl offers a comprehensive range of surf and swimwear, including wetsuits, bikinis, and boardshorts.

3. Quiksilver:

Although originally founded in the United States, Quiksilver’s Australian division became a major contributor to its success. Quiksilver is known for its surf-inspired clothing and accessories, including surfwear and swimwear for both men and women. It has a significant presence in the international market.

4. Seafolly:

Seafolly is a renowned Australian swimwear brand that has gained popularity worldwide. Established in 1975, it has become a prominent player in the global swimwear market, offering a diverse range of stylish and high-quality swimsuits, cover-ups, and beachwear for women.
These are just a few examples of Australian surf and swimwear brands that have achieved lasting international success. There are many other notable brands with international recognition, including Roxy, Speedo, and Tigerlily, among others.


Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia 2019 -Resort 2020 | Image Courtesy of: Red Photography
Sydney Fashion Week, which for many years became known as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, has been one of the most prominent fashion events in the Asia-Pacific region. At its zenith it showcased the latest collections of established and emerging designers from Australia to the global as well as local markets.
Many would argue that the Week today, now known as ‘Afterpay Fashion Week Australia’ has  its best days behind it. That aside one cannot take away the amazing impact that the Week had in its early days in providing an international springboard for many emerging Australian labels.
Sydney Fashion Week was first launched in 1995 by the New South Wales government as a platform to promote Australian fashion and foster local talent. The inaugural event took place at Sydney’s Royal Hall of Industries, featuring a mix of established Australian designers and emerging talent. It aimed to position Sydney as an aspiring fashion capital and draw attention to the country’s unique design aesthetic.
In its early days, Sydney Fashion Week was incredible and it experienced remarkable growth and success. It was a must-attend event for fashion industry professionals, including buyers, editors, influencers, and celebrities. The event has helped put Australian fashion on the international map and has contributed to the rise of several influential designers.
Sydney Fashion Week has provided a platform for Australian designers to showcase their collections to a global audience. It has helped launch the careers of renowned designers such as Ksubi, Zimmermann, Dion Lee, Romance Was Born among others. These designers have gained international recognition and have expanded their reach into global markets, thanks in part to their exposure at Sydney Fashion Week.
Simon Lock and IMG (International Management Group) have also played significant roles in the growth and development of Sydney Fashion Week.
Simon Lock is an Australian entrepreneur who played a pivotal role in shaping Sydney Fashion Week during its early days. He was appointed as the event’s director in 1996 and served in that position until 2004. Under his leadership, Sydney Fashion Week saw significant expansion and international recognition.
Lock brought his expertise in event management and marketing to elevate Sydney Fashion Week to a global standard. He focused on attracting international designers, media, and buyers to the event, helping to establish it as an important platform for showcasing Australian fashion on the world stage. Lock’s efforts were instrumental in securing partnerships with major sponsors and establishing relationships with influential industry figures.
IMG, the owner of many of the world’s major fashion weeks is a global sports, fashion, and media company, part of the Endeavor group, has been a key player in the success of Sydney Fashion Week. In 2005, IMG acquired the rights to produce and manage the event, bringing its expertise in event production, marketing, and international reach.

IMG’s involvement brought a new level of professionalism and international exposure to Sydney Fashion Week.

The company leveraged its global network and resources to attract international designers, buyers, and media outlets to the event. This helped to further elevate the profile of Australian fashion and create opportunities for designers to expand into international markets.
Under IMG’s management, Sydney Fashion Week continued to evolve and innovate. The event expanded beyond the traditional runway shows to include digital presentations, interactive experiences, and industry-focused programs. IMG also introduced the Mercedes-Benz Presents program, which showcased the collections of a selected designer each year.
Furthermore, IMG’s involvement enabled Sydney Fashion Week to tap into the broader fashion calendar. The company aligned the event with the international fashion week circuit, strategically positioning it within the global fashion industry.
In the 1990s, the Australian fashion industry experienced several breakout moments that propelled local designers onto the international stage.

Akira Isogawa, a Japanese-born Australian designer, achieved significant success during this period.

Isogawa’s designs seamlessly blend his Japanese heritage with contemporary Australian style, showcasing intricate detailing and exquisite craftsmanship. His work has been showcased on runways worldwide, and he has received numerous accolades for his contributions to the industry.

Collette Dinnigan was another renowned Australian fashion designer who gained prominence in the 90s.

In 1995, Dinnigan was the first and only Australian designer to be invited to show on the prestigious Paris schedule | Image Courtesy of: The New Daily
Known for her feminine and romantic designs, Dinnigan captivated international audiences with her delicate lacework and intricate embellishments. Her brand achieved global recognition, and she became the first Australian designer to be invited to show at Paris Fashion Week. While Dinnigan closed her label in 2014 to pursue other ventures, her impact on the Australian fashion industry remains significant.

Ksubi, formerly known as Tsubi, emerged in the late 1990s as a rebellious and edgy streetwear brand.

Founded by a group of surfer friends Dan Single, George Gorrow and Gareth Moody, the label quickly gained a cult following with its distressed denim, bold graphics, and provocative Fashion week shows and designs. Ksubi’s early success exemplified the growing influence of Australian streetwear on the global fashion scene.
After years of financial woes the Ksubi business, went broke and changed hands with the founders leaving the business. The Ksubi brand is now reborn in the hands of the General Pants group, who have grown the brand internationally with a series of flagship stores in key international cities.

Sass and Bide, founded by Sarah-Jane Clarke and Heidi Middleton, also gained prominence in the late 90s.

The brand’s signature aesthetic combined bold prints, innovative silhouettes, and a sense of bohemian luxury. Sass and Bide achieved international recognition through collaborations, runway shows, and partnerships with major retailers.
The founders however sold the business to the Myer department store business several years ago, and it would be fair to say, a lot of the brand’s magic walked out the door when they did.


While these designers and labels experienced successes, the Australian fashion industry has faced numerous challenges. One significant obstacle is the tyranny of distance. Australia’s geographical isolation makes it more challenging to connect with global markets, resulting in higher shipping costs and longer lead times. This hurdle has often made it difficult for Australian designers to compete on a global scale.
Additionally, the Australian market’s relatively small size has limited opportunities for growth. Australian designers often need to expand internationally to achieve sustainable success. However, breaking into the international market can be daunting due to competition from established global fashion capitals and the need for significant marketing and distribution efforts.
In recent years, the Australian fashion and retail industries have together faced additional shocks and challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on the industry, leading to widespread retail closures, disrupted supply chains, and a decline in consumer spending. Lockdown measures and restrictions on public gatherings further hindered fashion events and runway shows. The industry had to adapt quickly to the changing landscape, focusing on e-commerce and digital marketing strategies to reach customers.
The closure of physical retail stores and the shift towards online shopping have also posed challenges. Retail closures have resulted in job losses and financial strain for businesses. Additionally, the rising costs of rents, mortgages, energy, wages, and operating expenses have put pressure on retailers and designers. With inflation and increases in the cost of living running rampant, consumers have less discretionary income to spend on fashion, impacting the overall demand for Australian brands.
To address these challenges and foster growth, the Australian fashion industry has taken various initiatives. Designers and brands have embraced sustainability and ethical practices, responding to the increasing demand for conscious fashion. Collaborations between designers, retailers, and government bodies have aimed to support local talent and promote the Australian fashion industry on a global scale. But is it enough ?
Government support and funding programs have been crucial in nurturing emerging designers and facilitating their entry into international markets. Fashion weeks, trade shows, and industry events provide platforms for designers to showcase their collections and connect with industry professionals.
Despite the challenges, and pretty much against all odds the Australian fashion industry continues to produce ‘unicorns’.. That is, world class talented designers and innovative brands. The international success of Australian labels such as Zimmermann, Dion Lee, and demonstrates that with creativity, resilience, funding and strategic planning, and lots of luck, it is possible for Australian grown fashion to thrive in the global marketplace.
The Australian fashion industry has a vibrant history shaped by early pioneers and breakout designers. R.M. Williams, Akira Isogawa, Collette Dinnigan, Ksubi, and Sass and Bide have made significant contributions to the industry with their unique styles and successes. However, the industry continues to face massive challenges  and the most recent shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, retail closures, inflation, and cost of living increases have further impacted the industry.
Nevertheless, the industry despite being on shaky legs continues to evolve, adapting to changing circumstances and embracing sustainability and innovation in an attempt to overcome the  challenges and maintain a presence in the global fashion arena.


Travis Scott x Ksubi | Image Courtesy of: Billboard
Today there are only a rare handful of Australian fashion brands that have managed to sustain international recognition, and success. Some of these successful Australian fashion brands with international presence include:

1. Zimmermann:

Known for its feminine and bohemian-inspired designs, Zimmermann has a strong international presence with stores in major fashion capitals like New York, Los Angeles, London, and Paris.

2. Dion Lee:

Dion Lee is known for its modern and innovative designs. The brand has gained popularity internationally and is stocked in high-end department stores and boutiques globally.

3. Ksubi is another notable Australian fashion brand with a strong international presence.

Ksubi is known for its edgy and streetwear-inspired designs. The brand has gained popularity globally and is stocked in various high-end department stores and boutiques around the world. Ksubi has a strong presence with its own designer boutiques in fashion-forward cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami, London, and Sydney, and continues to expand its reach internationally.

4. Aje:

Aje is an Australian fashion label known for its effortless and modern designs. The brand has a strong presence in the international market and is available in select stores and online platforms globally.

5. Scanlan Theodore:

Scanlan Theodore is a luxury Australian fashion brand known for its timeless designs and high-quality fabrics. The brand has expanded internationally and has stores in the United States, United Kingdom, and Asia.

6. R.M. Williams:

The story of R.M. Williams began in the early 20th century with its founder, Reginald Murray Williams, who was born in 1908 in South Australia. Williams grew up in the Australian bush and developed a deep appreciation for the rugged and durable footwear worn by stockmen.
In the 1930s, Williams began handcrafting boots in his Adelaide workshop, utilising his skills as a bushman and leatherworker. His boots gained a reputation for their exceptional craftsmanship, durability, and comfort. The brand quickly became popular among Australian stockmen and rural workers.
The breakthrough for R.M. Williams came in the 1950s when Williams designed the iconic Craftsman boot, featuring a distinctive one-piece leather upper and sewn welt construction. The Craftsman boot became a symbol of Australian craftsmanship and style.
Over the years, R.M. Williams expanded its product range to include clothing, accessories, and lifestyle products while maintaining its commitment to quality and craftsmanship. The brand became synonymous with Australian outback heritage and the country’s rugged lifestyle.
R.M. Williams gained international acclaim and recognition as a premium brand. It became popular not only among rural and outback communities but also among urban dwellers and fashion enthusiasts worldwide. The brand’s timeless designs, high-quality materials, and attention to detail resonated with customers seeking authentic and durable products.
In 2013, R.M. Williams was acquired by L Capital, a private equity firm backed by luxury goods conglomerate LVMH. This acquisition provided the brand with additional resources and global exposure, further strengthening its international presence.
Today, R.M. Williams continues to be highly regarded as a luxury lifestyle brand with a focus on quality, craftsmanship, and Australian heritage. Its products are available in R.M. Williams stores, high-end department stores, and boutiques around the world. The brand’s success can be attributed to its ability to blend tradition with contemporary style, creating timeless pieces that appeal to a wide range of customers seeking authentic, well-crafted products.

7. Akubra:

The hat company was founded by Benjamin Dunkerley in 1874 in Tasmania, Australia. Dunkerley initially started making fur felt hats for miners, farmers, and adventurers, but it was his son, Stephen Keir Dunkerley, who took the brand to new heights.
In the early 20th century, Stephen Dunkerley moved the Akubra operations to Sydney and focused on producing hats for the Australian military during World War I. The brand gained recognition for its durable and functional hats, designed to withstand the harsh Australian climate and protect wearers from the sun and elements.
Over the years, Akubra hats became synonymous with Australian identity and were worn by stockmen, drovers, and outback workers. The iconic wide-brimmed style, often with a distinctive dent in the crown, became an enduring symbol of Australian bush culture.
In the 20th century, Akubra expanded its reach and gained international acclaim. The brand’s hats were sought after not only by Australians but also by travellers, adventurers, and hat enthusiasts worldwide. Akubra hats were featured in films like ‘The Man From Snowy River’, ‘Crocodile Dundee’ and many others, it is worn by celebrities, and became a symbol of the Australian outback spirit, ruggedness, authenticity, and adventure.
Today, Akubra remains a highly respected and internationally acclaimed brand. The company is still family-owned and operated, with the fourth generation of the Dunkerley family involved in the business. Akubra continues to produce its hats in Australia, utilizing traditional craftsmanship and techniques passed down through generations.
The brand’s commitment to quality, durability, and timeless style has helped it maintain its international reputation. Akubra hats are sold globally and are popular among outdoor enthusiasts, fashion-conscious individuals, and those seeking a connection to Australia’s rich heritage and culture.
The Akubra story represents a blend of craftsmanship, tradition, and the spirit of the Australian outback, making it an enduring symbol of Australian identity and a respected international brand.
Rarely have Australian fashion brands been able to sustain long term success and a global presence. Will there be others to be added to this above list ? That is hard to say but, perhaps there will be others.

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