Alistair Birrell isn’t exactly what I imagined. Having stalked his new business, Mr. Draper, on Instagram for a few months now, I must admit, when we finally tracked Alistair down and learnt a little more about his background, his career path did surprise us! It includes running his own fledgling fashion label, working for a big logistics company, and working in the Royal Australian Air Force. I’m pretty sure that’s a first around here…!
Alistair grew up on a small farm just outside of Apollo Bay. He moved Melbourne for University in the early 2000s, and during his studies, started a successful little T-shirt label with a close friend, which operated from 2005 through to about 2009.
After finishing university and wrapping this business up, Alistair was ready for a change. ‘I wanted to see and do something completely different… I guess I was a bit burnt out and searching for inspiration’ he recalls. After working in logistics for a big company for a few years, he ended up joining the Australian Air Force, where he worked for just over four years, travelling all over the place on various assignments.
‘It seems like a really random thing to do but it made sense to me’ Alistair says of this unexpected career move. ‘A complete change or reset is sometimes exactly what you need in order to gain perspective. I’m glad I did it, it’s given me energy in a lot of ways and it taught me a lot about self-discipline, something self-employed folks can never have enough of’.
Alistair left the Air Force last year to start Mr. Draper. After a few years in such a controlled and disciplined environment, he’s relishing the opportunity to be creative again.
Recalling lessons learnt from his first business, Alistair was keen to keep Mr. Draper ultra minimal, with very simple products and processes. He designs all the linen and napery personally, and up until very recently also did all of the manufacturing himself. After sewing several thousand napkins, tea towels and handkerchiefs (!) he finally took the advice of a mentor and sought some help, working with local social enterprise The Social Studio to outsource some of his sewing. ‘They are a very cool operation and fits perfectly with Mr. Draper’s values of being open, transparent and inclusive’ Alistair says. Needless to say, all Mr. Draper products are made in small runs in Melbourne.
As for the product, well… I have to say, it’s seriously beautiful. After experimenting with different textiles including cotton and bamboo, Alistair settled on 100% pure linen imported from the UK for his entire range. We’re particularly impressed with his exquisite colour palette – the muted soft pink, rich maroon, olive green and spicy tobacco hues are our top picks!
Having only been in business for less than twelve months, Alistair originally launched his shop on Etsy. Just this week, he’s finally followed this up with the launch of his first stand alone website. He has also enjoyed gathering a likeminded following on Instagram over the past 12 months, which he says has been great tool in getting his product out there. ‘Apart from connecting me with a bunch of people who turned into customers, I’ve also met a lot of really cool makers’ he says. Having recently taken on a large, light-filled studio space in Gertrude st, Fitzroy, it seems Mr. Draper is ready to take off.
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