Dyspnea was founded by sisters-in-arms Jameen Zalfen and Rachel Motteram over 7 years ago in Australia off the back of a shared university course and a mutual love for fashion. With no concrete business plan, Dyspnea has been founded on a love for fashion and excitement and continues to thrive and expand its brand, and in turn their team of hard-working women. Producing hand-made, custom-order and increasingly size-inclusive festival/party wear and always-evolving their ethics, Dyspnea is giving us hope for a happier, more sparkly summer.
Dyspnea has grown from a two-woman business to an international team of empowered women producing bespoke, hand-beaded party wear in less than a decade. Your garments are truly breathtaking – was the signature sheer, hand-beaded, pastel garment always the vision for Dyspnea, or did this evolve over time?
That first sentence was so nice to read, I guess sometimes you forget to stop and be like oh, yeah, check the progress! When we first started out, we were obsessed with fabric manipulation and loved bending pattern making rules, this however wasn’t easily translated into pieces we could sell online, after a few more years of evolving we eventually got to where we are with a few bloopers along the way. The beaded sheer items were the pieces that were well received by our followers and the rest is history.
To touch on the elephant in the room, the economy and the fashion industry have been massively affected by the pandemic this year and last – with many big fashion houses hosting virtual runways for the first time ever, how did the Dyspnea team cope?
To be honest, at the very beginning we were worried, our clothing is for festivals, sweaty night clubs and going out. However, we are so incredibly grateful to our wonderfully loyal customers if anything we expanded, we hired instead of fired and bought more space in our warehouse. Our team has become exceptional at communicating and tighter knit if anything.
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You have a range of designs available on Dyspnea; from mini to maxi skirts, tulle bandeaus with matching beaded gloves (which I need) and comfy but sexy lingerie. Everything a woman needs to feel like Beyoncé for the day, regardless of their body shape – do you find your custom has increased since expanding the sizing of your garments? How was this received by customers?
To answer the question – yes! It was always our goal to expand our size range. Rach, my stunning best friend and business partner is a size twelve and I watched first-hand the struggles she went through trying to find that fun, drop dead fit to go out in.
When we were first starting in 2013 we were shocked at how the fashion industry just did not cater to curves. When we did fashion weeks, we were given all the comp cards of the models we could choose from and they barely went above a size small. We swore the next fashion week that all those 'rules' were going in the bin and it would be our way or the highway. The beauty of offering made to order allows the customer to put in their exact measurements we aren’t all just the ideal size ten on paper. No shape is the same.
If you could choose any piece from a past or present collection, a piece that truly embodies the Dyspnea dream you had in 2013, which would it be and why?
Oh, my goodness, what a cruel question! I reckon we would collectively say the Motherfluffa Dress. This piece was a slither of tulle with these fluffy poms sewn on very meticulously by Rach. She was up all night before a show sewing these on that caused a killer migraine. I had to go ahead and keep the shit together whilst she tried to suppress the migraine pain. But watching that beauty fly down the runway together was worth all the pain and the name was born – The Muthafluffa.
How important is having an empowered, female-dominated design and production team to produce women’s garments like Dyspnea’s?
Top of our list, it honestly just drives you even more. I have found that working with women we are on the same page we understand each other. We have our shit days/period cramps etc. and were all like ‘oh, you poor bitch, chill out, take the day off, see you tomorrow.’ When we have worked with (straight) men things don’t flow as well, it’s very hard to explain however we notice it and for that reason avoid it.
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Inclusivity and diversity in modelling are hot topics in our social media society and the Dyspnea garments are shown on a variety of body types on your website – how important was it to the team to showcase all body types and give a realistic fit of the garments on different women and make the brand inclusive overall? Was this an easy process?
Brutally, I don’t think we're there just yet for online however we will be this year. Instagram was just natural as we have such gorgeous customers of all shapes and sizes. We started a size guide highlight which we are always expanding on and have found this has been super helpful for customers selecting their size.
As we are purely online-based, I am always looking for a way to make the customer feel confident in their purchase with us. It doesn’t matter how hard or easy it is, it’s essential for our customers.
If you could have the most extra of celebrity ambassadors for Dyspnea, people who embody the very core of the brand and take pride in loving themselves that bit extra, who would they be?
A dream has always been and will always be Rihanna. We don’t really focus on celebrity hype, if it happens it happens and that’s awesome, however, it's really our customers we adore and look up too-they are the reason we are where we are now.
Dyspnea is big on sustainability within the fashion industry, and an active member of the sustainable, slow-fashion campaign, how are you reducing your footprint on the environment while continuing to run the brand efficiently?
Describing yourself as sustainable as a fashion brand doesn’t quite sit well with us, however, being sustainably minded and always listening and looking for alternative options to reduce your footprint is feasible. We hold our monthly sample sales of items that didn’t make it to production, one-off, worn samples so we have no dead stock sitting in our warehouse. We order very limited quantities of styles and if it sells out, we re-order avoiding dead stock at all times. All our scrap fabric is made into hair bows and we're looking at scrunchies as well. Our packaging is reusable, and the packing slip is compostable. We are looking at options to decrease our carbon footprint this year.
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Following on from this, many big brands have been exposed this year for disgusting work conditions, exploiting workers and paying next to no wages. These are the same brands that claim that they simply can’t ‘go ethical’ because it’s not feasible on such a large scale, what’s your thoughts on this from a sustainable brand’s perspective?
That is a load of bull shit, full stop. It is within your control and your responsibility as the owner to ensure the whole process of making the garment is safe, paid correctly, everyone is happy and respected/protected and reworking your profit margin to accommodate the above.
You recently presented your So Wet edit on the site, a combination of all the Spring/Summer 2021 favourites for the upcoming season – featuring mini slip dresses with matching gloves that give me serious 2000s vibes – can you tell me a little about this collection, why did you choose the 2000s as your inspiration? What has been the most popular piece?
To be honest, our design process wasn’t focused on the 2000s at the start, we don’t really focus on an inspiration ever, it's more what would work for this body type and look smoking. When it came to the photoshoot, it all came to life and we smashed So Fresh back in the day so, why not!?
Dyspnea does custom designs alongside dropping new collections and collaborations, do you find that the custom garment option has been received well? I have to ask, what is the most extravagant custom piece you have designed?
It definitely has! It is a whole new system for us however we have such wonderful customers who really believe in us, the results have just been jaw-dropping. There was this one custom set Rachel made in 2015 for Miley Cyrus and we flew it to Los Angeles (that’s another story I was meant to go over to meet a boy and that bloody flopped, so we turned it into a business trip) and met the stylist at the time. We got one or two photos of these stunning baby pink lace flares and crop top before it disappeared into her large closet and we haven't heard from her ever since...
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Although Dyspnea specialises in bespoke party wear, you recently collaborated with Abrand to produce the Abrand 4 Dyspnea collection. This collaboration had a slightly lower price point, and a more casual feel than the signature Dyspnea garments in the form of chic 2000’s style cropped T’s and baby pink jeans. Giving the Dyspnea customer options for both of their personalities. Was this jump into streetwear undiscovered territory for the team? Can you see Dyspnea branching out further into streetwear in the future?
This was very new to us! And we have loved every second of it! It’s definitely broadened our target, it's everyday wear but sassy. The gals at Abrand have been so wonderful to work with, as well as really rewarding seeing the product in-store the whole process has been a blast! We’ve actually got a lot more in the works this year with them… But it’s a little secret.
In 7 years, you have achieved and grown so much – what is your creative vision for the next 7 in the Dyspnea family?
Now you really have my brain thinking. We started this brand with no business plan (don’t do this at home, kids!) and just went with the flow, took everything in our stride and kept going. We went into a buying appointment once and Rach was like, "Have you ever done this before?" and I was like "nope." And that is how we’ve done business for the last 7 years. We want to have fun; we want to enjoy the process and be surrounded by wonderful humans who want the same because otherwise, what’s the point?
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