Interview: Maria from Sarsparilly, Vintage Inspired Clothing from Australia

One of the main reasons I still tolerate Instagram is because I love having a stream of colourful, cheerful and beautiful things to scroll through when I need cheering up or if I’m looking for some inspiration. I have the same feelings towards Pinterest and you can tell, from how many pins I’m managed to collect over the years! Anyway, if your Instagram feed isn’t filling you with joy, get yourself a Digital Detox going and start using your social media more wisely. Today, I’m celebrating, Sarsparilly, an Australian vintage inspired clothing brand that I stumbled upon on Instagram. I absolutely love the shapes of 50s fashion, so whenever I find a brand with this aesthetic I pay attention. Sarsparilly stands out to me because of their awesome choices of geek inspired prints alongside timeless, versatile silhouettes.  They’ve been selling made to order since the start but are about to embark in a new direction, so this was the perfect time to have a chat with owner, Maria. Grab a cup of tea, sit down and enjoy!

What inspired you to go down the vintage inspired route with Sarsparilly?

I started Sarsparilly in 2009, but when I started it, it was a completely different business.  I sold my own handmade clothing, but also true vintage pieces from the US and Japan and clothing, jewellery and accessories by other handmade artisans.  I ran it as a part time business while raising my first son and working a full time job.  I was living in an Australian town called Geelong where there is a place called the Mill Market.  They allow you to rent a retail space under the roof of a giant warehouse, everyone there sold retro, vintage and collectibles so it seemed like a great fit with Sarsparilly.  It was while I had a retail space there that I met Lisa, who moved into the empty stall next to mine.  I always had the issue that much of my true vintage was quite small, not a lot of large vintage pieces have survived and especially the Japanese vintage was very small.  Lisa suggested I try reproduction vintage pieces similar to what she sold.  From there I started bringing in reproduction pieces which I loved because you could get them in a large range of sizes, but what I did find was that because there weren’t very many brands like this in the world at the time, a lot of stores were selling the same product.  I decided to start designing and releasing my own pieces and sold them alongside the other reproduction labels I had sold previously.   In 2016 I relaunched Sarsparilly with all of my own designs and it’s grown to be what you see today.

Do you design your own prints? What inspires your print choices the most?

All of our current prints are designed by independent designers and not exclusive to us, however, as of our next big collection launch in April and going forward all prints will be our own.  We are really excited about some of the artists we have commissioned to design prints for our new collections this year so stay tuned!

Can you tell us a little more about your experience with getting government funding to start your business?

At the very beginning of Sarsparilly I was part of a program called NEIS (New Enterprise Incentive Scheme).  The Australian government offers people with a business idea the opportunity to study a Small Business Management Certificate at a technical college (or TAFE as it’s called in Australia).  After that training they offer business mentor support for a year (and during your course you create a Business Plan and have the opportunity to apply for funding via a bank at a reduced interest rate) and also give you a small amount of funds during the year to help support you while you were trying to get your business off the ground.  I had lost my job with a large Not-for-profit organisation and while sitting in a job agency waiting for an interview I saw a pamphlet advertising it and it all started from there.


What tips would you share with anyone new to dressmaking?

It’s a really great idea to get some lessons to teach about reading patterns, how to adjust commercial patterns to fit you better, certain stitches for certain types of fabric etc.  If you aren’t able to get lessons Youtube is pretty amazing for teaching yourself.

What advise would you give to someone who wants to set up a handmade business?

If you are making items to sell, make sure you price them accordingly, you don’t want to be working for nothing, but at the same time it has to be a price that someone would pay, it’s a bit of a fine line.  In any business I always suggest outsourcing the pieces of the business that may not be your strength.  For a long time I tried saving money by doing my own book keeping, but in the end I’m so glad I decided to outsource it so I could get on with the more creative things in the business.

Can you tell us a bit more about the steps you’re taking to be more eco-friendly and ethical?

All of our garments use fabric that is custom printed and we order that as we need it, so we don’t have rolls and rolls of fabric lying around waiting to be used, we only print what we need.  Also much of the fabric is printed by a printer that uses Eco friendly dyes.  Another way we are trying to be more eco friendly is by creating quality garments that you can keep for a lifetime.  They are pieces that can be re-sold or passed on, they wont fall apart after a couple of uses.  As we move into ready to wear, we will be moving offshore for production and have made sure to select a small factory that pays above normal wages within a safe environment.

What’s next for the brand? Do you have any dream projects you’d like to work on?

Things are changing so much for Sarsparilly in 2018.  We are moving from made to order with an 8-10 week turnaround to a ready to wear collection that will be available straight away.  We will be retiring our made to order business at the end of March and will also move into Officially licenced product collaborations.  We have some amazing collaborations lined up that we will be announcing on our social media very soon and also plan on launching a kids range later in the year.  So many things are happening, I can’t wait!

If you’d like to shop the brand you can find them on Etsy and on their own site. To admire their beautiful photography and keep up to date with their upcoming new releases, give them a follow on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter @Sarsparilly. If you’d like to read more interviews with small business owners, I’ve written some on the KITSCH.inc blog and there’s more to come here too!


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