PHOTOGRAPH BY LEKHENA PORTER
WORDS BY MAGENTA PORTER
“I don’t like the look of the ‘new’. I want to reuse things that already exist.
Bichon is anything but ordinary. The idea of the Based on Naarm The accessories brand was launched in Eastern Europe in 2015, when designer and founder, Mima, stumbled upon an underground supplier of scrap leather on her travels.
Upon her return to Australia, Mima brought back what she had learned in Serbia to her native soil, replacing European leather scraps with perhaps the bluest Australian material she could find: the old sheepskin. mutton. Bichon, known for its unique leather and sheepskin bags and other bespoke accessories, is now regularly worn by Australian it-girls and sustainable fashion enthusiasts across the country.
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I spoke to Mima, soon to be a mother of two, about the complexities and challenges of running a growing business on her own and the importance of reuse and reuse of quality materials.
Whether it’s searching for sheepskin across Melbourne or stocking up on unsold ’80s belts, this local Australian designer isn’t just saving the planet one bag at a time, but championing a fashion production. slow and quality, at a time when speed reigns supreme.
How did Bichon start? What was the original inspiration behind the label?
It started a bit spontaneously when I was living in Eastern Europe, Serbia, a few years ago in 2015. I was working on a magazine and other creative projects there and discovered this leather place. which had disposable scraps which were just amazing from many big brands like Gucci and even Louis Vuitton.
They just give it to you, because it’s pretty much rubbish to them, which is sad. Whatever caught my eye or the unique things, I turned them into something really simple, so I just started with little leather pockets that were shaped like an envelope. Because that was exactly what I got from this place, I could never find similar materials again, so it was still a very small series.
Where do you get your unique materials?
The whole concept of trying to find corpses and scraps is what’s important, I want to reuse as much as possible. I don’t like the look of the “new” – fakes and fake materials are so man-made and difficult for the environment to break down. I want to reuse things that already exist. When I wasn’t in Europe, I didn’t have this quirky place to get my materials.
I was looking around Melbourne and most of the time I came across shearling. I found huge sheets of it years ago – this old man was selling it in a market and he basically used it for bedding. I find some really old stuff. People find it strange that I want things that are 10, 15 years old. I ended up testing it and dyeing it in different ways. This is how the Bichons moelleux were in a way integrated into the brand.
It’s always a little hard to get some of my materials and that’s why it’s really hard and that’s [the bags] still a limited edition because I don’t know if I can repeat it. Sometimes it’s about buying old sheepskins from the Facebook market and old sheepskins, it’s a bit of a process. New sheepskins do not give [the bags] the look I want.
How does Bichon minimize waste?
I’ll completely reuse anything I can, so much so that I don’t want to throw out any leftovers. I will try to reuse sheepskin and other materials in any way I can. Right now I have bags and bags of stuff that I keep just in case so nothing gets wasted. It is sometimes difficult because we let ourselves be tempted… I offer short suspenders for my bags which are all old stock belts from the 80s, and people always complain that I never have enough! But that’s because I can only find five at a time.
People always ask me why I only make ten bags instead of 50 or 100, but I wouldn’t be able to meet that demand, I would have to collect materials forever to do it. It would also do [the bags] not so special. I don’t want the brand to get big, although I would like to provide more, I just don’t have the means and it wouldn’t be the ethics of the brand to do so. I feel like I always miss waves of popularity in fashion because I never have enough to produce for the wave… but I just think, whatever, it will come back!
Do you have upcoming projects or ongoing collaborations?
I collaborate with Underground cut, a Melbourne-based jewelry brand – I have something in the works with them right now. Artist-wise, I have an annual hoodie drop with Gabriel Cole (@yourboygab) which is just a fun project between the two of us, which we hope to do again. There are a few new things coming out, like a tote bag, which will be made to order. I like to break the sheepskin. I don’t just want to be known as the fluffy bag brand, so I’m looking to do more leather and canvas pieces later on.
To find out the latest drop in Bichon, go here.