Gemma Baxter, Owner of To Barwyn and Back
Gemma Baxter was searching for a new architecture firm to work for when she realised that putting her dreams down on pieces of butcher's paper sounded like a much better idea. It's from these butcher's paper dreams that To Barwyn and Back was born, a label created to support and encourage adventure, a concept we love. Read on to find out about how sometimes you've just got to "do it".
What do you do?
I design and make clothes that support and encourage adventure.
Some adventurers who currently sport my wares include bicycle couriers, bicycle commuters, afterwork social sports players, skaters, roller derbyists, bike polo-ists, people who love to dance, musicians, and the list goes on.
I am currently working on a collection of garments that critically evaluates what fashion lacks for the people who move, who sweat, who leave the house and expect that the day will take various planned and unplanned twists and turns. They don’t want to feel precious, but instead feel free and encouraged to move and be active as perhaps a child would.
After over three years of work as a professional in the field of architecture, I felt the need to really explore and build my functional fashion ideas without the constraints inherent in architecture, namely tradition and budget. My architecture studies shaped my approach to fashion - I am interrogating what I perceive as my ‘clients’ and working to support their needs through creative problem solving.
At the moment I’ve only launched two garments, The Game Singlet, and The Sportz Shorts - which are classic pieces that I’ve handmade in order to save some cash to invest in more fabric and as an exercise in getting to know my customers and the industry. The full collection, to be launched later this year will endeavour to allow adventure and play, often through the adaptability built into the garments, as opposed to fashion that feels serious. I am continually seeking fabrics and threads to work with that utilise current technologies. Some of the qualities I look for in fabrics are: UV blocking, waterproof, quick-drying, windproof, antimicrobial, breathable, moisture-wicking, reflective, highly-visible (which includes bright colours and glow in the dark fibres) and fabrics that are resilient.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
I guess one thing that I repeat to myself, or keep at the forefront of my mind is simply, you do you. I feel like I’ve finally found my own bit of grass, a patch that is very me. It’s built from my experiences, my relationships, and my expertise and as a result it’s very easy to wake up each morning and stay up late at night working on it.
I believe the success I’ve had so far with to Barwyn and back is a result of how honest and personal the project is and I feel that people seek out honest connections in this modern market, oversaturated with mass produced superficial products. I want to continue to have conversations with all my customers and discover why something doesn’t work, or isn’t quite comfortable or supportive. It is a label intrinsically about my experiences and ideas, and that is unique and inimitable because no-one else can do ‘me’.
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
I would say the first milestone was living in Shanghai for a year in between architecture degrees. Shanghai was vast and dense, thick with people hustling; it made Brisbane look like a village. I felt a strong sense of ambition and productivity there - it seemed like both locals and expats possessed a similar hunger for newness and innovation. It was so incredibly inspiring, and it was where I was first introduced to bike polo and the kids that live on their bikes.
The next milestone occurred after an architect I‘d worked with had to downsize, and I was hunting for a firm whose projects aligned better with my creative visions. I’d spent a large chunk of savings on a slick portfolio and by the end of the process just felt so turned off by the idea of returning to work in a firm with the same restrictive parameters. I decided to sit at home with large pieces of butchers paper and search for an alternative. I immersed myself in bike, messenger, skate, kid-gang films and old magazines (mostly The Face and Vogue) in order to nut out what felt like a business that was based on exactly who I am and what I love.
A few months later was the third milestone, when someone convinced me to dive in and make business cards and a website, start taking myself seriously, and that was the catalyst for to Barwyn and back finally coming to life.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
At the moment, I’m working on some garments for talented Brisbane lady-band 100%, working with Adelaide-born musician Joy & Sparks on a video clip which will reveal the first collection (featuring local movers), a collaborative tee with international cycling team Slow Squad, and some custom singlets for a local bike polo team.
If you could choose to hear any female contemporary present at Make Nice, who would it be and why?
That’s a tricky one, most of the females that inspire me I meet in person or read about online, and it happens so often that I feel like I’m getting sugar hits of lady legends on a daily basis. If I were to pick one incredible female, it would probably be Robin Standefer - one half of New York architecture firm Roman and Williams. I’m always really curious about creative ladies that form one half of a design team with someone who is also their life partner. I think women bring something very special and unique to both working and personal relationships. Additionally, the incredible architecture Standefer has produced with her partner Stephen Alesch would amount for an informative and inspiring presentation at Make Nice.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
Just do it. My housemate of four years, who is a dear friend and incredible support has often said this to me in some way or another. I have a bad habit of spending great amounts of time churning out concepts; I need to feel very sure of the idea before I can physically create something, but it’s often in the production of the idea that I come across a better or more interesting solution.
I’m always so nervous about creating something ugly that it inhibits me. And it’s people close to me who encourage me to just produce! So I keep telling myself - just do it! Start getting it done, you can always refine and evolve something, but while it’s an idea bouncing around it your head, it’s never accessible for others to receive and respond to. I see my clothes as one side of a conversation and they aren’t valuable unless others participate.
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?
Having not formally studied fashion, it’s difficult to compile a skilled female network in that field, but I would say in a broader sense, the creative field and small business field has been very supportive and I’m constantly receiving emails and invitations to lady entrepreneur events, creative lady meet ups and other network opportunities.
To be honest, I haven’t reached out enough to other females in my industry to develop connections and that’s one of my to-dos in the coming months. My family and close friends are an incredible support to me, constantly contributing ideas or connecting me with other talented pals and I honestly haven’t felt more driven and passionate ever in my life about this career path.
What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?
Some musical artists I’m currently rotating through include Blood Orange, Tei Shi, Mø, The Preatures, Grimes, Homeshake and Rufus. However, I mostly stream the radio online - Triple J, Triple R or PBS depending on the time of day.
I’m obsessed with good film clips at the moment because of a current collaborative project. I love the work of CANADA, A Nice Idea Every Day, all Tame Impala’s film clips are beautiful and Avocado Galaxy’s ‘World Champion’ is funky as hell!
Some magazines I’m currently frothing over (and often buy in lieu of groceries…) Office mag, the Gentlewoman, Hero, 1 Granary (Central Saint Martins’ student magazine) and Wonderland.
My mum and dad sent me a children’s book last week entitled ‘What do you do with an idea’ by Kobi Yamada, and I cried the entire time I was reading it. It’s a beautiful tale about a young person going through the emotions that come with having an idea and presenting it to other people. Now I refer to it whenever I’m feeling a bit lost. Cheers Mum and Dad!
What is your dream project?
A dream project for me would be working with Melbourne City Council to make better, more illuminated, safe, inviting and exciting bikeways throughout the city. Through my business, I would love to have enough of a customer base to be able to contribute a percentage of profits towards plans for improving cycle-ways to get people up and riding/commuting more.
What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?
I guess reflecting on architecture, I was working a lot with male tradespeople and consultants during those experiences the men were always very respectful and never condescending (I think at times they were a bit shocked by my genuine interest in their field and their expertise).
I guess because I haven’t studied fashion formally or hang in fashion circles I haven’t experienced any hardships regarding my gender. I think my biggest hurdle is how my youth and inexperience is perceived as a weakness when I speak to consultants. Conversely, I think it makes me hungrier for information and experience, and less cynical because I’m going in with completely fresh eyes. I’ve found through experience that confidence is an attractive and powerful tool for business interactions, and if I want to be taken seriously, I need to take myself seriously, regardless of the industry I’m in.
How can we find our more about your work?
Website – tobarwynandback.com
Instagram – @tobarwynandback or @gemmawhitaker