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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

8 January 2013

Introducing Urban Don - Australia's answer to sustainable menswear

Contributor Rosie Helson

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This month, SOURCE Contributor Rosie Helson met with Don Pezzano of Urban Don, one of the few environmentally-conscious menswear designers in Australia to find out more about his approach to sustainable design.

Urban Don is new menswear brand based in Sydney that’s filling the gap in the Australian market for forward-thinking, wearable and sustainable menswear and accessories for both men and women.

Using deadstock fabrics, organic cottons, wool and reclaimed fabrics and currently selling mostly online through ASOS marketplace, Etsy and Bigcartel, Urban Don has been building up a sizeable fan base in Sydney, Melbourne and New York. There’s also a following developing in Berlin, which the brand’s designer, Don Pezzano, attributes to the dark, edgy style of his garments.

Deconstructed, minimalist hooded tops inspired by vampire and science fiction films are his bread and butter. Likening himself to a traditional tailor or even costume designer, Don’s commissioned pieces are mostly for those similar to himself – mature men who are also creative, environmentally-conscious and with a key eye for design. He does cater for women who are the key purveyors of his Saturday market stall, but the vast majority of his customers are male.

A self-taught designer, Don designs and manufacturers each individual piece himself, ensuring his garments are both unique and top quality. He sources materials from all sorts of places, even sometimes from trash bins, including Australian wool and certified organic cotton to supplement the reclaimed textiles. With millinery being the latest string to his bow, he has meticulously researched the origins of hat components, for example ethically-sourced feathers.

Certainly not one to shy away from a challenge, Don states that “it is the easiest thing to buy gorgeous fabric from a shop”, but where the excitement and interest is in searching for fabric with a history in order to give it a positive future. With Don’s enthusiasm, the research required to source fabrics sustainably almost becomes a breeze. It really adds character to his popular military designs when the old bags, tents and sacks used show a patina of time and wear.

Don feels that menswear is an excellent market for sustainable fashion because, as a gender, men inherently tend to buy less clothes, wear them until they are falling apart and thus want items that are built to last.

Whilst Don would like to streamline his business this year, the future development of Urban Don is rather more about the development of the designs. He knows he would like to experiment with natural and reused urban dyes like rust, similarly to India Flint, an Australian designer he admires.

Still only a young brand, there is much to explore. “Organic growth” is an overused phrase and does not adequately describe Don’s ultimate philosophy; he believes that it is more than okay to be a small business and to remain aligned with the ideal of slow fashion. Don believes that “mass manufacturing produces availability, however, limited, one-off pieces create desirability.” In 50 years time, Don would be very pleased if his designs were being sold as vintage.

When asked about his plans for the brand in 2013, Don explained that he does not work like that and rather looks forward to exploring things he has not even thought of yet. Don does not play by the rules. The essence of his creativity is fluid, rather than focused in rigid structures. Indeed, the (Australian) Winter 2013 collection is called ‘Lawless.’

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