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Locally made and circular by design: 24 hours in the studio with A.BCH founder Courtney Holm

Photography By Gavin Green for A.BCH, Becca Crawford @beccacrawford and Cristina Guerrero @acrispada for A.BCH
Published 12.05.22

“I was at the point where I either wanted to get out of the fashion industry entirely or do something radical to change it.”

A.BCH founder Courtney Holm has always approached fashion with the intention of doing things differently. At the most basic level, that has meant rejecting the industry’s traditional linear model and creating clothing from a point of complete circularity. “Our sole focus is proving a model of circularity is possible for the fashion industry now, not in 2030,” she tells RIISE. 

She treats designing like solving a problem, thinking about what’s missing in her and her friends’ wardrobes. Whether it’s a classic T-shirt or linen trousers, each new piece created surpasses trends and seasonality. “We are more focused on making a style that someone would have in their wardrobe forever.”

While block colours are A.BCH’s signature, so is the fact that everything is made locally in its company-owned circular factory. This has been made possible since she swapped her “tiny shoebox” studio in Collingwood for a much larger space in Melbourne’s western suburbs. 

Becca Crawford @beccacrawford + Cristina Guerrero @acrispada for A.BCH

When RIISE visits the A.BCH studio, Courtney greets us in a white linen shirt, tailored navy trousers and Dr. Martens boots. It’s the kind of ensemble that blends with the city’s effortlessly cool sartorial style. And A.BCH’s. 

Though she fits the profile, Courtney is not a native Melburnian. She was born in the USA and moved with her family to Brisbane aged 11. She lived in Sydney while completing her fashion degree and made the move to Melbourne after graduating. Eight years on, this is where she feels most at home. “I just realised how open and lovely the creative community was down here and I hadn’t really experienced that before.” 

Fashion has been a consistent thread for Courtney since moving to the cultural capital of Australia. That and Pilates, which she taught up until last year. It’s still part of her daily routine but, nowadays, her working energy is spent on A.BCH and designing circular clothing. 

Courtney shows us around the industrial-style factory that has become A.BCH’s home. Near the entrance, a sign quoting “wear your values” is nestled fittingly among spools of thread. Work stations run down the centre of the open-plan floor, piled with pieces of fabric and sewing machines. All A.BCH garments are made in-house here.

 

Becca Crawford @beccacrawford + Cristina Guerrero @acrispada for A.BCH

She points to a row of fabrics leaning against the studio’s brick wall. The rolls are made up of regenerative and biologically circular materials like GOTS-certified organic cotton, hemp, linen and TENCEL. “I’m quite strict with the materials that we put into our environment,” she says. “They need to be able to break down at the end of their lives or be recycled.”

Courtney spends a lot of time researching each fabric and fibre to make sure it’s able to be upcycled, composted or recycled at the end of its life. “[There are] things that I have to vet before we would work with a material and to make sure it fits within our circulatory parameters,” she says. This is a brand that truly sees things through to the end, even offering free repairs for life and a recycling take-back scheme.

A.BCH’s styles are timeless, trans-seasonal and designed to last. Unlike other fashion labels, Courtney doesn’t release new collections every season, which gives her the space to design pieces that have a genuine reason for being. “I’m not a very visual person; I’m more of a conceptual person. I think about something for a really long time to really understand what’s missing in my wardrobe…and then I get to a point where I’m ready to sketch an idea out.”

 

Becca Crawford @beccacrawford + Cristina Guerrero @acrispada for A.BCH

Having a supportive and close-knit team to bring each design to life undoubtedly makes a difference. There are only five others who work with Courtney in the West Melbourne factory, including garment workers and technicians. Leading us into the kitchenette, she explains that they often finish their day here, sitting around the table together talking and unwinding. Or they take advantage of the area’s local wine bars – like Mr West in Footscray – for knock-off drinks.

When her head isn’t in A.BCH, Courtney soaks up all that Melbourne has to offer, including its local cafes (one of her favourites being Cartel Coffee) and its beautiful beaches only 20 minutes from her home. But it’s the city’s creative energy that has really kept her here and driven her to build a fashion label that embraces doing things differently. 

 

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