Contemporary women’s fashion brand Alémais was crowned the winner of the 2022 National Designer Award in Australia on Wednesday, a fitting result for a brand that has achieved a huge amount of international success in just two years. The prestigious award, which was presented by David Jones as part of the Melbourne Fashion Festival, came with a business development package worth $120,000, including a cash prize, marketing support and editorial opportunities. Alémais co-founder and crea
d creative director Lesleigh Jermanus accepted the award on behalf of “every young designer, young student [and] brand that’s about to start that doesn’t believe they can do it”. Receiving the award is proof that “dreams do come true…with a lot of self-belief,” she added. All about Alémais Jermanus started Alémais in August 2020, after spending 16 years as a designer at a handful of Australian fashion brands including Marcs, Nicholas and most recently Zimmermann. Despite a wealth of industry experience, she wasn’t sure how buyers would respond to her first collection. “It was the rise of activewear, lounge dressing and really neutral colours and tones, and we went the opposite way and decided to launch with eclectic colours and patterns. That felt risky in a way, but it felt right at the same time,” she told Inside Retail. Needless to say, it turned out to be a hit, and eight collections later, Alémais is stocked in more than 170 retailers in 26 countries, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, Harvey Nichols and Le Bon Marché. “We went to see the brand recently in Le Bon Marché in Paris, which was a huge deal for us. A small Australian brand amongst a whole floor of international brands,” Jermanus said. A little closer to home, David Jones is a big supporter of the brand. “They bought our very first collection, and that created a confidence with our customers and gave us the confidence to move forward,” she said. The brand is also available online through leading luxury platforms, such as MatchesFashion, Net-A-Porter and MyTheresa, and its own e-commerce site. Jermanus has come a long way from designing dresses and packing orders on her living room floor. She now employs a team of 13 people in a small office in Sydney, where the brand is currently based. “There’s been a huge amount of growth over a short period of time, which can create stress in a business, on your cash flow and building relationships with suppliers,” she said. But having worked in corporate businesses before, she deliberately chose not to take a structured approach to business planning and growth. “The biggest thing to me is how clothing makes you feel,” she said. “We didn’t want it to be about ticking boxes and budgets that we had to achieve. We wanted to [see] if the brand could stand on its own in a saturated market in a difficult time, especially during a pandemic.” Given all that the brand has achieved so far, what’s next for Alémais? Jermanus said she wants to focus on innovation in design and sustainability and more inclusive sizing. “We’re coming back to how and why we started the brand and committing to being as authentic as we can be in our approach to design, production and business,” she said. Alémais is positioned as a “brand with purpose” that strives to reduce its impact on the environment and treat its suppliers with honesty and respect. It works with Ecologi to plant a tree for every garment sold. Pathway to success Now in its 26th year, the National Designer Award celebrates the future of Australian fashion by acknowledging designers in their first five years of business and providing finalists with opportunities for mentorship, networking and critical industry exposure. Previous winners have gone on to become household names, such as P.E Nation in 2018, Dion Lee in 2010 and Toni Maticevski in 2002. Besides Alémais, the finalists for the 2022 National Designer Award were E Nolan, a made-to-measure suiting label, Blanca, a contemporary womenswear brand known for its colourful shirts, Clea, a premium womenswear brand specialising in knits, Beare Park, a luxury label with a focus on wool, and Joslin, a premium fashion label known for its resort-inspired dresses. The finalists were judged on their creative design, innovation, high-quality manufacturing standards and unique styling. Joslin, which was founded in 2018 by Elinor McInnes, received the Sustainability Award, including a $10,000 cash prize and mentorship with David Jones. The inaugural People’s Choice Award went to Alémais. Bridget Veal, Eloise Bishop, Lesleigh Jermanus, Chris Wilson and Philippa Moroney (l-r) Source: Supplied The judges were: Chris Wilson, general manager of menswear, childrenswear and home at David Jones;Bridget Veals, general manager of womenswear, footwear and accessories at David Jones’;Graeme Lewsey, former Melbourne Fashion Festival CEO;Philippa Moroney, editor in chief of Jones;Eloise Bishop, head of sustainability at David Jones;Camilla Freeman-Topper, designer and creative director at Camilla and Marc;and Jillian Davis, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar.