As someone who began his first business at the age of eleven, Melbourne-based British-born designer Christian Kimber was always destined to strike out on his own. Driven by an inability to find the menswear he wanted to wear, Kimber identified a gap in the Australian market.
In 2011 he began designing footwear that was picked up by stockists like Harrolds in Australia and Barneys in New York. Kimber’s swift ascension to success is due to a combination of determined hard work and his label’s expert fusion of premium menswear with elements of contemporary streetwear, a vision that has remained consistent since the brand’s conception.
“The vision has always been about making luxury quality clothing accessible to younger guys in terms of cost and style. As I have developed as a designer in Australia, that style has been predominantly influenced by the contemporary Australian urban lifestyle. This manifests in three key ways: quality, comfort and functionality,” Kimber says.
All of these values are evident in his retail space in Melbourne, which cultivates a relaxed and welcoming environment. Situated in Fitzroy, the store boasts comfy armchairs, pot plants, a chess set, and even a fire place—all of which lend a calming vibe to the retail experience and encapsulate the kind of laid back but high-end that Kimber does so well.
Unlike many first time fashion designers, Kimber’s biggest issue when starting out was how quickly the label grew, a testament to the quality of his products and the loyalty of his customer base.
“Basically my original vision for success, having a global wholesale footprint, wasn’t aligned with the things that make me happy. I love selling, designing, and feeding those things by being in store with customers, which makes retail a much better fit,” he says.
This realisation led Kimber to re-structure his business, enabling him to spend more time doing the things he enjoys, and ensuring that he does them to the highest standard possible. This drive to produce work of a high standard is most evident in the label’s products and Kimber’s fascination with craftsmanship. The vast majority of his designs are handmade in Italy, with Kimber overseeing the process from inception to completion. Despite working with the same artisans who produce goods for labels like Hermes and Ralph Lauren, Kimber’s focus on creating accessible luxury fashion results in products with lower price points but the same quality as high-end fashion labels.
Filling that gap between everyday brands and luxury labels has always been important to Kimber. “As a young guy I could not afford to buy the designs I wanted to wear. It’s really limiting given the role clothing plays in self-expression, so I went about finding a way to open that world up to a younger generation of men, educating them on the importance of quality at the same time,” he says.
This slow-fashion approach to business is admirable, and making a positive impact through supporting craftsmanship is clearly important to Kimber. “I’m interested in craftsmanship because it’s the difference between fashion and style. I want to create pieces that will outlive me. When you understand the difference between something made on the cheap and something hand crafted by artisans, you’ll be as passionate about what you wear as I am about what I create.”
But being self-employed and passionate about what you’re doing can be a difficult thing in and of itself. Kimber admits that maintaining a healthy work and life balance is something that he’s constantly checking himself on. “If my wife was not the voice of reason I might never stop working, which is really dangerous. I used to work seven days a week but have started taking more time off for mental health. Starting a business takes a lot out of you emotionally and I find that I need to use my time off to do something completely different.”
Maintaining a level-headed approach to business and valuing organic growth over instant success has been central to the label’s evolution, with Kimber counting the label’s loyal clientele as their biggest asset. The unique, bespoke nature of Kimber’s products relies on word of mouth, and first time customers tend to have an understanding of the label and what they’re buying into before they make a purchase or visit the store.
“I’ve worked to deliver on a traditionally under-served category here for some time, which I think has really paid off. It’s about letting the market tell you how and where to grow as much as you direct it, and staying close to customers has been key to this for me.”
Despite experiencing a seemingly fast-tracked path to success, it’s clear that Kimber places great value on cultivating a more sustainable, slow-fashion approach, both with his products and business model, and his advice to any creatives with aspirations of owning their own businesses reinforces this line of thought.
“Take your time – there is no rush. I see a lot of young guys here trying to start something for the wrong reasons and they end up burning out after a couple of years. The second thing I’ll say is that slow money is the best money. Long term success is not about quick wins, it’s about building something enduring, not following trends.” And if the last few years are anything to go by, Christian Kimber’s undoubtedly created something that’s going to endure.
Produced in partnership with Zenith.