Most, if not all women, whether a size 6 or size 16, know that dreaded feeling of going shopping for a special occasion only to return home empty handed, disappointed, their insecurities inflated.
Fashion designer Effie Kats knows that feeling all too well, which was in part the inspiration behind her eponymous label, launched in 2018.
The 28-year-old offers made-to-measure outfits, think power suits and stunning gowns, for women of all ages, shapes and sizes.
With a sizeable social media following that is growing by the day, clients have the chance to meet with Kats face-to-face at her workroom in Melbourne’s north, where she works closely with her yiayia, who is one of the seamstresses on site. The process is seamless, offering clients one-on-one consultations to discuss design and fabric options, followed by a fitting process in the following weeks until the garment fits just right.
A FAMILIAR FACE, BUT A WHOLE NEW TAKE
Fashion-lovers are sure to be familiar with Kats, after all this is not her first foray into fashion.
At just 23, the Greek Australian launched Zachary the Label. With its popularity on the rise and Kats’ big dreams to go global, she brought an investor on board, and while there was growth, in hindsight she admits it all happened too quickly. Before she knew it she was being ostracised from the brand she created, administrators were being called in, and Kats lost everything she had worked for.
“A business partnership, like a marriage, when it’s not right it can become quite toxic. And it was,” she explains.
Feeling emotionally depleted, having lost all her confidence, Kats admits she was at a loss, taking five months out to do some serious soul searching.
At the time, tailoring had started to boom with high end brands the likes of Gucci and Prada, but Kats, her finger on the pulse, realised there was a gap in the market; no-one was making tailoring accessible in Australia. Enter Effie Kats.
“It’s interesting that the power suit for women is so symbolic … and coming out with something like that was almost my way of reclaiming my own personal power that I had lost for so long,” she says.
The same sentiment surrounds naming the label after herself, though she admits she was initially reluctant.
“I was asked to remove ‘By Effie Kats’ from the Zachary Instagram because I was told that it would ‘alienate’ maybe more of an Australian clientele … which I think was systematically trying to break me away from the brand; little psychological things that like that,” she recalls.
“But when I was in tears about it, my partner said to me ‘You are the brand; Zachary is nothing, you are the brand … You need to call this your name’. At first I thought it was kind of crazy, because Effie is one of the Greekest names!” she laughs, “But I thought you know what? I’m gonna do it, and I’m going to reclaim my personal power and I’m going to prove that Effie Kats is a brand for everyone.”
RECLAIMING POWER THROUGH VULNERABILITY
Looking at Kats posing for photos on her Instagram, there’s no sign of insecurity, but she is open with her followers about the reality behind the scenes.
With little budget for models when she started out, and a very personal project from the get-go, when her partner proposed that she be the face of the label, a conduit for her audience to connect with the designer, she was reluctant; a process she still finds daunting.
“I’m not a model – far from it; I’m 5’2 and it’s not something that comes naturally to me. I freeze in front of the camera, I don’t know what to do. Eight-hundred frames later, we get there!” she laughs.
Social media often gets a bad wrap, but Kats’ honesty is refreshing. In a way that honesty wasn’t a choice; the loss of Zachary, her failures and suffering made a public affair. But with that has come growth, albeit with a heavy price tag.
“My number one thing was I don’t care if I’m miserable, as long as nobody knows that I’m a failure, nobody knows that I’m suffering, it’s okay. But pulling myself out of that and getting to a place where I’m so happy now, you look back and go wow, that was so, so toxic,” she says.
“I think a lot of people are trying to live up to really unrealistic expectations. I want my Instagram to be a space where people can go and not feel intimidated. We have the same struggles … so if I can provide a space where people can get some understanding or hope, some inspiration that’s like the best.”
FASHION FOR ALL SHAPES + SIZES
Kats says that returning to fashion has been particularly special this time around.
By doing it on her terms and at her own pace, without the pressure of retail budgets and targets, she has been able to focus on the creative side of things, meaning she can offer her clients more.
But above all, designing clothes for women that fit them, and that they feel empowered in is what drives her.
Where Zachary was very demographic specific, in hindsight she says it cut out a large portion of the female population – the opposite of what she is doing now.
“I really like that I’ve gone from a brand that was sort of mass market to something different,” she says.
“I make for all kinds of women; I’ve got 16-year-old girls, I’ve got 70-year-old women. I’ve got girls who are a size 4 who can’t find clothes because they’re too petite, and then I’ve got women who are a size 22. So I think it caters to everyone, and that’s what I love. It’s that it doesn’t discriminate.”
A breath of fresh air for the fashion industry, you can hear it in Kats’ voice, she’s committed to breaking down walls.
“I was at Fashion Week this year and I was just so thrilled to see women wearing hijabs on the runway – that just blew me away because we have come so far. And I want to live in a world where it doesn’t matter what your name is, it’s what you do that counts. If I’m pushing those barriers then that makes me so happy.”
Since launching online, everybody wants a piece of Effie Kats, and it’s not hard to see why.
Will she branch out into bricks and mortar? She’s cautious, and rightly so, citing a volatile market, but if the market takes a turn, she’s not ruling it out. For now her focus is online, and making made-to-wear available to all.
So after her past experiences, would she ever bring an investor on again? The answer is, unsurprisingly, a sure no. For Effie, the message she keeps driving home, is that this is a very personal project.
“The thing is, when you’re bringing external money in, it brings other voices and opinions and I’m very, very clear on my vision. I know how I like things done, I know how I want them presented, and I don’t want to have to compromise that. So if that means I have to go slower, and let it take shape organically, then that’s okay because my happiness comes first.”