It’s now just one week before Bec + Bridge present their spring summer 2020 collection at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. As one of the hot favourites every year, Bec Cooper and Bridget Yorston’s cult-followed Australian label always delivers a show that sees fashion lovers desperate to snap up the new pieces immediately. In advance of our full show report on Monday 13 May, GRAZIA’s contributing fashion editor Alissa Thomas sat down with the impressive duo to find out just what makes a 17 year working relationship (and friendship) endure and prosper…
Here’s the scenario: You’re 18-years-old and just started university. You’ve decided to study fashion, but you’re not sure what your future career will be just yet. You’re open to other direction. Maybe medicine? Maybe interior design? Whatever, you’ll decide later. A few weeks into your tertiary life you make a new friend. A likeminded girl who seems fun and has a similar approach to life. You start to do everything together. You work on assignments, you party and even, for a while, room together. During this time, you and your bestie imagine what it would be like to start your own fashion label. Between late nights out and uni work, you decide, what the hell? Why not throw around some ideas and maybe even make a few pieces. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, well that’s fine too. But maybe we’ll make it big! Maybe celebrities will wear our pieces! Maybe we’ll have our own stores! You both laugh before getting back to the assignment…
17 years later it’s clear that, yes, it worked. Because this is Bec + Bridge’s Big Bang story. Perhaps more of a quiet whisper than a Big Bang, was the beginnings of what is now one of Australia’s most successful fashion labels. A brand as inspiring in its careful growth as it is in its ongoing partnership between the two women who started it.
I arrive at the new headquarters of Bec + Bridge to interview the co-owners on a very warm Sydney day. Having just moved into the space, I’m taken past the under-construction entry to an impressive new showroom (currently home to their winter 2019 collection). Bec Cooper and Bridget Yorston are the brains and names behind this ready-to-wear Australian label. Yet they’re more than the brains. They’re the feeling, the creativity and the cultivators behind a company with relentless ongoing success. A brand that has become synonymous with youthful Australian fashion, with party-dress style, fashion swimwear and often with the latest it-looks from the land of A-list celebrity. However, Bec and Bridget are nothing if not humble realists. From the get-go, it’s clear there’s no ego here. There’s no pretentious “fashion” nature. This is a company run by two super smart, stylish women who are also mothers, wives and, fortunately for life and business, each other’s best friend.
“I think because we were friends first then started a business so soon afterwards, we don’t really know one from the other. This business partnership is based on a friendship so it’s all happened naturally. I think it’s also because we love what we do, we love our business. We take it very seriously but it’s not the be all and end all for us. We have a lot of perspective, and did even before we had families.” Bridget recalls.
“We never set out to start a business, so that changed the way we viewed it. We never had a particular plan or goal, it all just happened quite naturally.”
But how many of us dreamed up a hare-brained business with our bestie when we were 18? All ideas and excitement but never any follow through. Not so for these two. “It’s been a long journey and it’s been a slow journey which is a positive. We feel like we needed it to have a slow, organic burn. We never set out to start a business, so that changed the way we viewed it. We never had a particular plan or goal, it all just happened quite naturally.” Says Bec. Is this slow-growth non-strategy one of the keys to longevity and success in such a fickle business then? I enquire. “Yes, I think so, and I think our partnership has always been really strong. That’s been a huge factor for us.”
It’s a valuable lesson in slow and steady wins the race. When so many entrepreneurs dream of overnight success, it’s refreshing to be reminded that ‘take your time’ is a better game plan. To enjoy the process and not sweat on a rushed, final outcome.
I ask the two women how different Bec + Bridge is now from its origins as a company of two to now having to over 30 employees in their head office. “I think these days it’s a much broader collection,” says Bridget “and I think as we get older, the age bracket for the customer has definitely expanded. Though it still surprises me that we have friends who have teenage daughters who love our brand. I’m often shocked because they’re 13! But then I also have mums at school who buy the brand and they’re in their 40s. The brand has to grow with us, so we still want to wear it too!”
Bec is a mother of two and Bridget, a mother of three. It’s clear that family is everything to these women, and their business life must live harmoniously with their family one. Over the past few years, as they have raised small children, both women made conscious decisions to keep any expansion in the business close to home. “I guess that’s one of the benefits of having your own business, you can choose where to focus your energy. Our team is incredible and I think we’ve had to rely heavily on everyone over the past few years. But there are definitely times when you wish you had more time in the office! When you’re walking out the door yelling out to your staff ‘oh also can you do this, and can you do this’!” Says Bec, laughing.
“I guess that’s one of the benefits of having your own business, you can choose where to focus your energy.”
Bridget explains “There’s always been enough growth here to keep us motivated and excited about what we’re going to do next. And I think the fact that we still have full control over [the company] is great. The slow growth has meant we’ve never had to bring anyone else in. It was important from the get-go that the business wasn’t going to become this huge stress in our lives. We’ve always had to have that balance and we’ve been quite protective of it. We’re also quite conscious of it for our team, as well.”
Mention the label Bec + Bridge to any fashion-loving woman in Australia (and probably anywhere in the world) and she’ll most likely tell you she owns some pieces and has some new ones on her radar. It’s a brand that skilfully includes most types of style-lovers while encompassing a wide berth of customer. It’s neither too high end to feel elusive, nor is it so commonplace that it feels overrun. They have managed to find a sweet spot between accessible and aspirational.
Bridget explains the positioning “I guess one of the reasons is that we’ve always wanted to be an accessible brand for people. We work really, really hard on our price points, so that it’s aspirational but affordable, which is actually our biggest challenge.” It’s the fashion trifecta! Accessible, wearable, affordable. The girls laugh when I say this, but agree, “I think we see ourselves as an inclusive brand. We have a warmth around us. We want to be welcoming, both as a brand and in our retail stores. It’s about that balance of making your brand specific in style without making it polarising.”
In July of last year, in the wake of her much-publicised engagement to Justin Bieber, Hailey Bieber (nee Baldwin) stepped out in New York City for a series of very-photographed dates with her new fiancé. Having worn Bec + Bridge several times before, the model chose the label’s ‘Cha Cha’ mini dress for her walk into the paparazzi. The dress caused almost as much of a flutter as the giant diamond on her hand. A testament to Bec and Bridget’s on-the-pulse designs, the past decade has seen Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, Bella and Gigi Hadid, Selena Gomez, Kylie and Kendall Jenner, Rita Ora, Dua Lipa, Sofia Richie and Emily Ratajkowski all wear their pieces. So is seeing a celebrity freely choose to wear Bec +Bridge still a surreal trip or just totally normal now? Bridget laughs “Oh no we still get a kick out of it! It’s exciting to see them choose to wear our label, definitely! I mean the power of celebrity is just so huge. It has been amazing for the brand and has definitely helped with our exposure overseas, particularly in the States.”
“We still get a kick out of it! It’s exciting to see them choose to wear our label, definitely. The power of celebrity is just so huge.”
I start to imagine what a morning for a designer would be like when something like this happens. Everything running normally, then bam! a Hadid/Jenner/Baldwin wears your dress and it’s panic stations in the quest to rush the dress into production and bring it into sale. Do they ever get a heads up before the celebrity unknowingly sends www.becandbridge.com.au into meltdown? “No! We don’t know. Sometimes their stylists will email us and tell us someone like Kendall has requested pieces from the range, and it’s amazing when they actually request it! But otherwise no, we literally find out on Instagram along with everyone else. It would be great if we knew beforehand, because often the day after we quickly have to put the piece back into production because it sells out so quickly!”
The vision of the autumn and winter collections displayed around us as we chat, makes me long to update my wardrobe with their new season trench coats, trousers and elegant shirts. This collection looks supremely elegant, but do they have an all-time favourite collection? “We’re very excited about this autumn collection actually.” Says Bridget “We both personally want huge amounts from it already and have put in requests for. That’s always a telling sign. But we always find ourselves referencing old collections in design meetings, pieces we’ve loved over the years.” Bridget agrees, laughing “Often the pieces we love the most aren’t necessarily the pieces that sell huge amounts. So often we’re like, we need to put that piece in again! And tell people again that they need it! No one realised how good it was!”
“Often the pieces we love the most aren’t necessarily the pieces that sell huge amounts. So often we’re like, we need to put that piece in again! And tell people again that they need it! No one realised how good it was!”
Closing out nearly two decades of designing womenswear, are the duo feeling itchy to conquer other categories, I ask. Mens? Maternity? Kidswear? People always ask me if I’m going to start writing about kids now that I’m a parent. “No! We really have no desire to do a kids range! We’ve got some exciting new flagship stores in the pipeline this year for both Sydney and Melbourne. And we’re also working on our wedding edit. Beautiful pieces aimed at the bridesmaid market that’s available year-round. It’s a whole new category for us. We had so many people coming to us for it, so it’s great to have it launched. The first collection sold out in the first two weeks!”
It seems to me that Bec + Bridge was a business written in the stars. A serendipitous meeting of two women destined to be partnered by friendship and career. It’s unfortunately a rare story, however, that a creative co-owned business survives so long. And not only survives, but thrives to become one of the most sort-after labels among fashionable women in the world. I’m curious though, if they’d never met, where do they think their Sliding Doors would have taken them?
Bridget: “Well, Bec was going to be a doctor…”
Bec: (laughing): “I was deciding between medicine and fashion. I think had we not met each other is probably the more crucial point which makes me unsure. Like if we’d both still studied fashion but not met each other, I’m more uncertain of what I would have done. Bridge, you probably would have done, interiors?”
Bridget “Yes, I was tossing up between fashion and interiors. Interiors has actually remained my side-project passion.”
Me: “Bec, do you have a side-passion project as a GP?”
Bec (laughing): “No! I would have made a terrible doctor.”
We finish our chat and I ask how the women feel looking back on it all. “It’s been a good journey” they both conquer. I’m left inspired…both by such a stellar business and by that lavender suit hanging on the rail that has my name on it.
Bec + Bridge autumn 2019 is in stores NOW.