CORE STRENGTH by Rosie Dalton, JANE Magazine
CORE STRENGTH —
How local label SAINT is prioritising a core collection and human connection over high-speed seasonal trends.
In todays fast-paced fashion industry, there is beauty to be found in prioritising a core rotation of highly wearable, timeless garments. Enter local label SAINT. Musing on the concept of slow fashion, the brands Australian designer Laura Howard tells me that, for her, it means ‘quality pieces made in a really thoughtful way, and made locally from natural fabrics. That’s also my definition of luxury,’ she explains. ‘If I can’t afford to purchase something this way, I shop secondhand. I’ve been buying this way for nearly ten years now and my wardrobe feels so much more special as a result.’
So, when Howard first launched SAINT in April 2020, she had a strong vision behind her and had already been working on the initial designs for about a year. 'I began by really looking at the pieces that were well made, crafted from 100% natural fabrics, neutral in colour, classic in design, and--most close to my heart--made locally. I wanted to create a brand that designs by these principles.'
A purist at heart, Howard has not strayed from this vision ever since founding her brand a few years ago--which is no easy feat, especially considering the strain that's been placed on the fashion industry by the global pandemic and resulting economic turmoil over recent years. And Howard is the first to admit that her journey has not been without its challenges. First and foremost: a fire that engulfed the SAINT studio in early 2022.
'My studio was housed in the historic Wickham Woolsheds in Newcastle, which sadly burnt down entirely during a fire on March 1st in 2022' Howard explains. With the help of her local community and a Go Fund Me launched by her sister, though, the the designer slowly started to rebuild and tried to approach that harrowing experience as a valuable lesson for her business.
While Howard had been sewing all of the clothes herself up until that point, 'the fire was a sign to make the transition to manufacturing,' she says. 'The pieces had gained quite a bit of momentum during the first couple of years, and it was common to have a one- to two month-wait on the garments. So it was the natural next step, regardless of the fire. I set up a sewing studio at my mother's house and continued to sew garments from there, whilst beginning the transition to manufacturing in Sydney.'
This transition marked a major step in the SAINT trajectory, too. One which led Howard to be working with makers who have over 30 years' worth of experience in garment making. With that level of expertise, coupled with the designer's passion for producing onshore and maintaining close relationships with all of her makers, it is little wonder that the resulting pieces feel so authentic.
'I regard makers so highly. Clothing is still made by hand but sometimes I don't think people realise this,' she explains. 'I'm very passionate about working with local makers--we have incredible craftspeople here and I am unwavering on my views to manufacture locally. I believe in supporting our local industry, not the mention minimising the unnecessary carbon miles involved in producing offshore.'
Visiting the makers and really involving herself in all parts of the process is an important part of what sets Howard apart from other designers. And the passion she feels for all levels of garment construction is immediately palpable. 'I get so excited visiting the makers,' she explains. 'Sewing itself really allows you to get into the work, its like a meditation. It feels kind of like magic to take pieces of fabric that have been cut in a specific way and to sew it all together to create something you can then wear out in the world.'
This respect for her craft and connection with her makers is a big part of what makes SAINT stand out from the crowd. And it has helped the brand to grow a cult following on Instagram. Despite her challenges along the way, though, Howard has remained true to the brand's philosophy and continued to prioritise human connection and a core collection of timeless pieces over the high-speed seasonal trends so typical of today's modern fashion industry. 'I haven't launched a new collection since the first six months of SAINT,' Howard shares. 'I knew I wanted to continue to work on something until it is the most perfect version of itself. I decided to focus on this before creating anything new. It was also a wild time in the world and the pieces I had designed still felt right, so I didn't feel the need to make anything new.'
This is a refreshingly rare mindset in today's fast-paced fashion industry, and it speaks volumes of the designer's quiet strength and confidence in the core collection she is creating---one that has longevity at its heart. 'My pieces are designed with the intention of remaining relevant beyond time and seasons, I think that is incredibly important,' Howard explains. 'Which is why I decided to refine the pieces I already had in the first two collections rather than work on new designs. Three years later, we are still making the same designs and I feel really proud of this. In saying that, I've had several pieces circling around me for a few years now. These will be released towards the end of the year.'
One of my own personal favourite pieces from SAINT's core offering is the Classic Leather Belt--which strikes a perfectly slim silhouette and a refined, streamlined design. Effortlessly eternal. This piece, too, is a testament not only to local production, but also to the generational craftsmanship that SAINT embodies. And, interestingly, it was the Classic Leather Belt that helped Howard to weather the storm of 2022's studio fire.
'The Leather Belt became a real hero piece during this time, quite literally saving the brand from closing for the interim after the fire,' Howard recalls. 'It was the only piece that wasn't made in the studio--these belts are made on my father's property in the Manning River, so I could continue to sell them while I was setting the sewing side back up again.'
The belts are made by Howard's dad, who she describes as a 'truly incredible craftsman'. Having worked with fine timber a lot--and having built the house that the designer grew up in--her father began honing his skills with leatherwork a few years ago now and now helps to produce wallets, laptop sleeves, and bags for the brand as well. But it is the Classic Leather Belt that has become a particular signature. 'I really think it speaks to the SAINT ethos,' Howard says. 'It has become a cornerstone piece for the brand.'
Impeccably made and effortlessly timeless, this waist-cinching piece represents so many of the core strengths that make SAINT such a special brand: quality, longevity, and an unerring testament to the beauty of traditional craftsmanship. A quiet kind of luxury amidst all the noice of an ever-saturated global fashion industry.
originally published September 2022 in JANE Magazine
BY Rosie Dalton
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Odin Wilde
Stylist Annika Hein
Hair and Make-up Xeneb Allen
Model Carissa, KULT