Style & Design

Sunny Coast Designer Abby Vuister Talks Side Hustles, Sustainable Swimwear And The Comparison Trap

By Claire Plush
22nd May 2019

Abby Vuister

Abby Vuister is a ball of adorable energy. Her laugh is infectious, her vibe is super carefree and she’s killing it in the swimwear world. 

Launching her sustainable swimwear brand, Abby Rose, at a Sunshine Coast market over six years ago, the label now lines the racks of its very own flagship store in Noosa. 

We sat down to chat with owner, designer, seamstress and all round cool girl, Abby, to see how she turned a side hustle into her dream career. 

How would you describe what you do? 

We are a sustainable swimwear label with our own boutique. We have a studio out the back and make everything by hand on site. At the moment, it’s just me and another sewer, Charlee, so we’re a very small team. 

How long have you been designing? Did you undertake any professional training?

I didn’t grow up in a fashion household at all. My nanna was a seamstress but I never did anything with her. I went to TAFE when I finished school at 17 and did a certificate in fashion design, where I learnt the basics of sewing, pattern making and design. I started Abby Rose six and a half years ago, because I couldn’t really find anything I liked and it was just something I really enjoyed doing. From the beginning, I was designing and making the swimwear at home, for friends and people here and there. I was totally self-taught when it came to swimwear, so I’d unpick other togs and see how they were made and learn that way. 

Your work is handmade by you, here on the Sunshine Coast? Why is that important to you?

To begin with it was because I loved creating it—from the design to the sewing side of it. And then as I started to go along and sell it, I realised it wasn’t the usual. It was a niche market to be actually making your own product, especially with swimwear. 

Obviously as business got busier, you get to a certain point where you have to make the decision whether you’re going to stay with doing that or not. And there were times where I contemplated getting it manufactured somewhere else, either in Australia or offshore, but I ended up making the decision to keep it handmade in the studio by us, because that was what my customers loved about it. I also found that it gave me an advantage in that I could really see what people wanted and the slight changes that people needed to suit their body shape—it gives me the opportunity to tweak things if I need to.

You use sustainable materials to create your swimwear, can you tell us a bit about that decision and where that drive came from?

When I first started out I was using fabrics that I could source locally. But then as I got a little bigger, I could start buying direct from companies. I found that the company that offered Lycra in Australia offered the choice of a recyclable option. It all comes from Italy and is made from regenerated materials, like old fishing nets and post-consumer waste such as carpet fluff. All of it is regenerated into a yarn which is then turned into a Lycra. 

I didn’t see a reason not to make that decision, when you know they’re using recycled materials. So I went with that option, and since doing that and learning more about sustainability in the fashion industry, it’s just become so apparent how much waste there is and how much fast fashion impacts the environment and people overseas who are being exploited. It’s hard to ignore that stuff. I care about other people and about the environment, so I don’t see how I could not pay attention to that and do what I can. 

You started with a market stall over six years ago and opened your flagship store in Noosa in 2017. How did you go about turning your side hustle into a full-time gig?

I did that pretty early on. I was making swimwear for about two years from home, and I was actually a dental assistant at the time. I started off doing Eumundi Markets one day a week and selling on Facebook to local girls who would then just come to my house and pick them up. I was doing custom orders at the time, so I would literally make anything that anyone wanted. Like, anything. Which helped me a lot in the long run with getting the brand out there. 

It was during that time I decided it was really what I wanted to do. When I found that I was making enough to survive off, I just went for it. In general, I tend to really overthink everything, but when it comes to business decisions, I just do it. From there I went to doing two days at the markets, creating a full collection and a website. I did the markets for five years, before walking past this empty space in Noosa Junction and then it all changed. 

You grew up on the Sunshine Coast. How do you think the lifestyle and your upbringing influences what you do?

I grew up on the beach and in the outdoors, so my upbringing was very relaxed. Swimwear is obviously a major part of living on the Sunshine Coast, so I think it was natural for me to sway towards that. My main inspirations for the prints and colours in my collections are taken from nature, and with the Sunshine Coast being such a beautiful place to live, there’s so much around here for that. 

I think it’s helped being on the Coast, rather than hindered me, because I am a relaxed creative person. If I was in the city working in fashion, I don’t think I would feel as in touch with what I’m doing. I don’t think there would be as much inspiration there. 

What’s something you’ve had to overcome and how did you do it?

One of the major things I went through is falling into the “comparison trap” with other people and other labels. Comparing yourself with other brands who you feel have a foot up on you or a better reach on social media, or you just feel like you’re not as good as them—that’s something I’ve really had to overcome. You’ve got to realise you are your own thing and stay true to what you want. It’s something I really have to focus on, because the opportunity to compare is everywhere. 

What’s your advice for someone who wants to pursue a career in fashion?

Start off small. Don’t throw everything you have in at the beginning. Because things can change so drastically in such a short time. You can start and then find you want to focus on something different in the industry, or you can realise that you want to change things up slightly to how you started. It happens all the time, so start off slow. 

Finally, what does an average day for Abby Vuister look like?

6am: Wake up and either head to yoga at Downward Dog Hot Yoga or have coffee and breakfast, meditate and then get ready to head to the boutique. 
9am: Arrive at work and get started on any admin, cutting or sewing.
12pm: The girls in the shop and I will grab some Mexican (from Paradise Arcade) or sushi (from Sushi Yah Man) and eat it outside in the sunshine. 
2pm: Sew, sew ,sew, serve customers, cut, cut, cut, serve customers. 
6pm: If I haven't been to yoga in the morning, I’ll head there in the arvo, or head straight home to have a wine on the deck with my hubby and dog. 
9pm: I am usually sipping tea, having some chocolate in bed and watching a series or reading.

Image credit: Amy Higg for Urban List

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