Hands up, who went to August Swagger? I did and I’ll confess, it was rather exciting to put three-dimensional faces to the brand names I’ve been loving on vicariously through the internet. One of those brands was the fabulous Fussy Gus, brainchild of (in her own words), “crazy, emotional, passionate, feminist, vegetarian, creative, mother, lover of life” Jennifer Bray, or Jen to those who know her.
Launching her clothing label at the start of 2015, the initial leggings Jen touted at those early market forays were the stuff of maternity leave musings, “I cringe a bit when I look at what I was making back then,” admits Jen. However, fast-forward to mid-2016 and both her collection and its style have evolved remarkably to encapsulate a look that is “functional, playful and fresh.” Reflecting the urban, funky cool of her Melbourne dwelling, much of the designer’s line has taken inspiration from the 80’s and 90’s to inform the hooded dresses, patch-embellished sweater tees and graffiti-emblazoned jumpers incorporated in her collection. With her site currently under construction in anticipation of the Fussy Gus Spring/Summer release, Jen reveals that the new collection (due to land mid-September) will pay sartorial homage to the swinging 70’s. Though don’t expect flower power and lace from this maker, because girly girl does not feature in her issue of Vogue.
A fan of hyper colour and unisex styles, Jen recalls a pair of “totally inappropriate electric blue ankle boots I conned my grandmother into buying me when I was about 10” as being her earliest encounter with style. Fighting to assert her personal taste into her mother’s clothing consciousness, Jen’s formative fashion education could best be described as a battle of wills as she tried to overhaul her mother’s preference for the generic pre-teen offerings of K-mart and Target. “I was always very mad at my mum for never letting me buy the clothes I wanted,” she says. “I begged her to let me have a hyper colour tee or a pair of LA Gears… but to no avail.” Professing herself the black sheep of her family, Jen’s creativity is just one additional element that sets her apart “I never fitted in with them,” she says of her familial brood, “but creating, designing and making were always my thing.”
A pile of Speech Pathology journals and tomes on Primary Education account for Jen’s academic explorations, however the enduring presence of a sewing machine and love of art and design hinted at the underlying passion of a would-be creative. “It was one of those antique Husqvarna’s with a manual wheel instead of a pedal,” she says fondly of her original machine, which has long since been replaced with a newer, more efficient model.
It was the arrival of her son, Angus, which prompted Jen to graduate her sewing (and sewing machine) from a hobby into a full-time career, and served to inspire her brand’s moniker. “The name Fussy Gus comes from my son Angus or ‘Gus’ who was the fussiest baby I’ve ever met,” says Jen. “I almost lost my mind that first year. No-one prepared me for the long, long days of rocking and crying. So when my husband got home, making clothes was my outlet.” Those teething pains behind her, the designer is looking ahead to the future of her label, “I see Fussy Gus evolving,” she says, “It can’t stay the same. Not when there are so many other small businesses marketing to the same customers. I would hate for it to feel stale; I’m always trying to think of something new and different that other people are not making.” With that being said, Jen is wary of keeping things consistent and ensuring that any new designs still retain that classic Fussy Gus aesthetic, “simple but eye-catching funky unisex outfits,” she says.
Taking up the reins to her business single-handedly, Jen pays tribute to her other half as providing a much-needed support system, “my husband is extremely helpful and supportive,” she says, adding that he is the key to their well-run household, “he does more of the cooking and housework than I do.”
The designer is also quick to recognise the support she derives from the online community of fellow makers and loyal customers on whom she has come to depend for advice, feedback and friendship. However, the self-confessed “one woman show” admits the time may have come to employ some more helping hands, “it’s getting to the point where I probably need to get some more help with sewing, but I find it really hard to give over the control.” She jokes that if she were ever to encounter a wish-toting genie her first port of call would be to put said genie to work on the sewing machine, “then I’d ask for more hours in each day.”
Reveling in seeing her hard work appreciated and loved by so many via the horde of Insta-mums posting #fussygus tagged pictures of their kids, Jen admits that this is the highlight of her job. “It’s such a good feeling to see your work being worn by so many kids!” Growing her brand organically Jen is certainly an advocate of pacing herself, “I’m a terrible sales person,” she admits, “and cannot be pushy with my products. It’s just not me.” Contemplating her reticence when it comes to business savvy, the designer says her biggest challenge has been on the money-making side of her brand. “It’s not cheap making cool kids’ clothes from scratch! I suppose acquiring some business skills would be something I will work on for the future.”
Ruled by a belief system that is all about taking charge of her own happiness and success, “I believe in making things happen,” says Jen; there’s no doubt that Fussy Gus is set for greatness. Capitalising on the network of unique creatives she’s been introduced to via her business and social media, Jen is adding a collaboration with Hello Honey Stationary illustrator Melsa to her portfolio. Previously partnering with Miles and Tate and Cin, among others, to inform her collection; this latest creative alliance will see a series of hand-drawn designs covering tees for her Spring/Summer release. “I’m so excited about what’s next for Fussy Gus,” says Jen. “The Summer of Love collection will be available mid-September and I love it so much. There will be red and burnt orange and blue and rainbow. There will be fun retro designs… Shorty shorts, cool tees and party shirts made from vintage fabric. I’m super proud of it! I hope everyone else loves it too!”
So, from one Mum with her hustle on overdrive to those aspiring to do the same, what wisdom can Mrs Fussy Gus impart? “Organisation and forward thinking are the most important parts of running a small business. It’s all about time management and planning,” she says, before adding, “and never under value your own work.” An important final sentiment; after all if you weave love into your work, chances are it’ll be a mere cross, stitch and a hop to a loyal clientele who love it too.