The Design Journey

I interviewed Australian fashion designer Julie Tengdahl from Tengdahl Australia last week about her ability to remain relevant in a shifting market and how she approaches designing the gorgeous collections she produces for her flagship Brisbane Arcade store and on-line platform

Luxury, exclusivity and beautiful fit…that is Tengdahl. The fashion collections are designed in the traditional method but never miss a modern beat. Julie Tengdahl is a true designer who approaches each collection with the same passion and vision as though it was her first. After over 30 years in the fashion industry you would forgive her for becoming somewhat jaded, especially in the current market conditions but nothing could be further from the truth. These days she has the benefit of experience, a trusted archive of designs and an ongoing desire to produce first class garments for her loyal customer base. The treasure trove that is the archive of designs acts as a focal point of consistency for the brand with so many of the timeless designs able to be modernised and re-fabricated. New designs are added into the mix every season and as Tengdahl will tell you, this is not a one woman show, there’s a talented and skilled group behind the scenes who help her create the striking fashions which are made here in Brisbane.

Travel usually starts the design journey for Julie as she finds relaxation and change of scenery very inspiring at the end of the season. It clears her mind and kick starts the creative process all over again. Sometimes the fabrics come first, sometimes the story at the centre of the collection comes first, sometimes it’s a lovely collision of both. Tengdahl has returned to sourcing fabrics locally using agents and importers like myself to assist in the process. Twice a year she produces her own textile designs on silk and silk blend bases to represent the story of her new season. She may also select a number of designs from our print library to create the ultimate colour and texture base to work with. I’ve known Julie for a while now and her ability to work with colour & pattern in combination is quite unique.

Knowing your clients and drawing on your own personal style are also very much part of the design process for Tengdahl who also practices meditation which helps her focus. Her experience can easily combine what’s trending now, what’s available in fabrics and what her customers want. Last week I had the privilege of a sneak peak at the new Tengdahl collection & was literally squealing with delight when I saw the beautiful pieces the skilled Tengdahl team were working on.

Without links to wholesale Tengdahl is free to time the delivery of product into her store and online platform to suit a sudden change in the weather or a spike in demand because of her choice to manufacture locally. She finds local manufacturing easier than manufacturing offshore and over the years has built up a network of contractors to help support her business. Local manufacturing gives her the ability to respond to the market quickly and deliver what is popular at any given time. The ability to produce smaller quantities also maintains the exclusivity of the product.

While consumers are certainly changing the way they shop, Tengdahl thinks that having a physical store is just as important as an on-line presence. She feels that customers still want the full retail experience which involves high service and trying on the outfits with the assistance of an experienced sales person who knows the brand and most likely already knows the customer. With online, the challenge is to connect and communicate effectively with the customer so she thinks that the future will be services like “live chat”.

Julie and I have both been involved in our local fashion industry for over 30 years so we’ve seen lots of changes over that period. We had a bit of a laugh when I broached the subject of social media and how she “copes” (the question much more a reflection of myself I believe). Tengdahl of course is on Instagram, Facebook & Snapchat but she says it is an aspect of the business that she finds tricky to negotiate because she hasn’t grown up with it. She is very much on board though because it works as a support system to the brand and replaces old school print advertising. With modern technology the sky is the limit but it is still so important to know your customers, be relevant and personalise your conversations with them. The volume of work involved in utilising social media to its potential can be a difficult balance to strike and she is still learning about this.

I often write about the difficulties in the modern fashion industry, with high volume and low pricing, low labour costs offshore and the devaluation of the clothes generally. I think Tengdahl has found that elusive balance between quality, exclusivity and a sense of luxury. There is something very glamorous about the Tengdahl store for me so it would be the greatest shame not to have the sensory experience that involves seeing & feeling the fabrics and try on the fashions in person. Using traditional methods of design and manufacturing and combining them with modern technology and social media, Tengdahl has created a new formula for delivering high end fashion to the market place, while supporting the local industry she is so passionate about.

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