It takes hard work, a creative mind and true passion to make it in the fashion business. There’s no magic click of the fingers to transform rags into retail masterpieces, though if a genie did spring from that proverbial lamp what would a fashion designer wish for? “I would wish for more hours in the day, a roll of never ending fabric and a housekeeper,” says Ayesha Michael, creator of kids fashion label, Scruff Candy.
A flair for the dramatic almost saw Perth-born Ayesha pursue a directorial career “I would get goosebumps as soon as the curtain drew at a performance and would feel an overwhelming urge to tear up when that music started. I wanted to be a part of this,” she says. However, with her creative arts academic career complete, caution set in and the need for something practical and stable dashed her Tinsletown dreams aside for “a real job”. From learning lines to liquor, Ayesha found a real job she loved working in sales at a winery, but her innate desire for creative stimulation went unfulfilled. “I started painting, sewing, drawing, seeing more and more theatre, learning the drums and guitar,” says Ayesha. “I was chopping and changing between all the things that I thought only acceptable to have as a hobby.”
Ringing in 2013 and the birth of her son, there occurred a shift in both Ayesha’s priorities and her plans for the future. Dressing her son in onesies and rompers gifted by friends and family, Ayesha admits she quickly grew weary of the generic options for boys’ clothing, “Did he have to wear Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Trucks or Dinosaurs? Of course not, because style isn’t just for grown-ups!” she says. Thinking outside the box, she bought a few things, dusted off the old sewing machine and started creating little neck accessories for her son to wear. “Seriously he was the coolest kid on the playground and after numerous compliments on his outfit and the lack of boys clothing available I decided to take this project further.”
Sad to leave the job she adored, “I mean who doesn’t love a glass of wine or two, especially after a day of being a stay at home mum and running a small business from home, right?” Ayesha took her sales and wholesale experience and applied them to the foundations of her own business, which she launched on 24 February 2015. “We launched with scarves but we always intended on making it a brand that could dress you from head to toe,” she says. “Our intention is to be an affordable, alternative brand that adds edge to a basic outfit.”
Describing her own style as an eclectic mix of Indie, Grunge, Vintage, Retro, Mod, Alternative, Arty Chic and Street, “Or if you prefer in less words you could describe it as Non Fashion,” she laughs, Ayesha asserts it is her style that prompted the Scruff Candy moniker for her brand. “One day I’ll be all about black leather, an old faded Ramones t-shirt and sky high boots (Scruff) the next day I’ll be wearing polka dot socks and a cute leopard print dress (Candy). I love the juxtapositions of different patterns and textures and tend to take pieces from all genres and mix them into one, creating my Non-Fashion look.”
Citing singer Bjork’s Academy Awards swan dress as her earliest fashion-related memory, Ayesha explains that its value is in the statement it made. “I love how you can just say “The Swan Dress” and everyone knows exactly who, what, where. These days everyone is trying to make a fashion statement with outlandish costumes like Lady GaGa & Rhiannon but back then. It was a statement! I would love to create a piece like this that would still be talked about 20, 40, 50 years later.”
A self-taught fashion designer, Ayesha’s sole style education came by way of an elective Art & Design class at school. “I spent two terms absolutely engrossed in Punk and Grunge fashion,” she recalls. “You could say I was in love. It was also the moment that I realised I was a bit different. I liked totally different clothing to all my friends and wasn’t happy to settle with what was on the racks. While they were dressing in “on trend” garments from Supre` and being slaves to one look, I was going for the more thoughtless, uncoordinated look with an edge.”
Thoughtless and uncoordinated her brand is not, but it is undoubtedly overflowing with edge. “I have never been able to stick to one style and feel that how you dress is really just a bit of fun,” says Ayesha, a sentiment evident in the alternative threads that comprise her collection. From the new Hip Candy studded leather belt to the label’s iconic Rock your Rolls design and the skull and bones Jawbreaker hooded scarf, every piece is as unique as it is practical. “I do love doing unique products that aren’t readily available for children,” says the designer.
A line infused with the lyrical inspiration of 1980s and 1990s heavy metal, punk and old fashioned rock and roll, Scruff Candy creations often find their point of reference in Ayesha’s CD collection. “Music evokes different moods in me and almost gives me an almost out of body experience to create something that wouldn’t have been possible in silence,” she says. So with the sounds of The Shins, The Strokes or The Flaming Lips playing on repeat, the designer’s process begins. “Once I start I consider the following: Is there a gap in the market? Has this been done before? Is there a demand for it? I usually do lots of sketches. I keep a notebook or my phone beside my bed and wake up in the middle of the night and jot down ideas. Sometimes they grow on me sometimes they fade. If it keeps pestering me then I know we need to action that piece.”
Exploring the magic of leather, in contrast to the polar fleece and jersey cotton which make up much of the Scruff Candy collection, Ayesha is in the process of rolling out the product of this material venture in the shape of her Hip Candy belts, with further expansion of a leather range to come. Ignoring the traditional trends that emerge seasonally, Ayesha’s sartorial goal is to offer pieces that cater to and complement individuality. Though despite her fashion choices being unaffected by societal shifts, her business decisions are reliant on them. Without a traditional shop front, social media has become the designer’s prime vehicle for generating sales which means she must have a constant ‘finger on the pulse’ to keep up with demand.
Maintaining an awareness of the industry at large Ayesha professes a deep admiration for the business model of high street brand Zara in particular. “Design, create and sell a range within weeks. Then start all over again. This keeps the brand fresh and people interested. Even though I have some staple items in my range, I try to keep my ideas new and constantly revolving,” she says, confessing that Zara would certainly be top of her list of potential collaborations. “I would also love to collaborate with Michelle Bridges. I really need to get her baby boy in one of my Rock your Rolls onesies!”
Speaking of celebrity endorsement, who would Ayesha’s famous baby pick be to represent the Scruff Candy name? “The Crown Prince George,” is the designer’s answer. “The Marshmallow scarf is my signature piece and Prince George would sell it well. Plus how awesome would it be to get him in a pair of skinny black jeans, faded flannel shirt and a marshmallow scarf!”
Expanding her home-run business into a studio to accommodate the designing, sewing and screen-printing that are the very pillars of her operation, Ayesha has recently expanded her team, bringing in some extra hands to make lighter of the ever-increasing Scruff Candy workload. As she continues to build her brand and take it from small business to worthy contender alongside the likes of Zara and co, the designer’s parting words to others in her position are to be prepared for the long haul. “Taking your idea from a dream to reality takes a lot of hard work,” she says. “When you think people or businesses have been an overnight success. They haven’t been. You do not see the half of it that goes behind the scenes.”
Crediting her success to her husband’s support and their mutual commitment to putting family first, Ayesha adds that a healthy dose of passion and caffeine are equally important. “Never put yourself down. There are too many other people that will do that for you,” she says, relating the best piece of advice she ever received. “Exposing your business to social media there are so many people out there ready to tear you down. We take a very positive view to our work and we do not release anything unless we love it and are excited by it. If you know you love something those trolls will not convince you otherwise.”