Brigitte MacGowan grew up in a creative house. ‘There was no chance of not pursuing a creative career. It was in my blood,’ she says, praising her mum, an artist and seamstress. After completing a Graphic Design degree in Perth, Brigitte moved to Sydney and worked for a number of creative agencies before resigning to help her husband Hamish start his wine-making business, Angus the Bull.
Eight years and a young family later, Brigitte was ready to get stuck into her next creative project, accessories label State of Escape, founded with her friend and business partner Desley Maidment.
Offering seven sleek, contemporary tote bag styles in an array of colourways, State of Escape is inspired by Brigitte’s passion for all things nautical, and each bag is 100% made in Sydney. Each collection is also season-less, sale-less and made-on-demand (we’re thrilled to hear this ethos becoming a bit of a trend in local manufacturing these days!)
We recently chatted to Brigitte (via email, unfortunately, I couldn’t make it out on ‘Karen’!) about expanding to Japan, juggling work-and-family, and that afternoon voyage I missed out on…!
Alongside Desley Maidment, you co-founded State of Escape in 2013. How did you two meet and what sparked the idea to launch the brand?
We met through a mutual friend and very quickly realised not only did we get along famously, but lived on the same street and had children identical ages.
We loved spending time together talking about our careers and what life may have in store for us. The initial spark came, of all things, in the form of a pair of neoprene kid’s shoes! Needless to say, this lasted all of five minutes! What we did love was the idea of creating something together, so I sourced a sheet of neoprene locally and started sewing. Twelve months, multiple prototypes and hours of research later, we had what was the beginning of the ‘Escape’ bag. This was the real ‘aha’ moment.
Can you tell us a little bit about your design and manufacture process?
State of Escape was never about ‘designing a bag’, it was about what we could create from this amazing fabrication we had sourced. There was no reference, just a series of design problems to solve. The fabric was a little heavy, hence the perforation, which was traditionally used for orthopaedics.
Then questions like, ‘How do we create a functional framework?’ ‘How do we reinforce pressure points without disturbing the clean lines of the bag?’ Even the sailing rope ends are joined with a non-traditional material – heat shrink electrical tubing.
As the collection has grown, this has remained our design philosophy. It’s all about creative problem solving to find beauty in utility.
We still source all of our own materials, as we like to ensure all of our componentry is best in category. The ropes are manufactured by a sailing rope maker in Queensland, and the bags are hand crafted by a great factory in Sydney. This is really important to us as we only manufacture on demand (no minimum orders) which saves so much unnecessary waste. It’s also why you’ll never find our bags on sale.
Do you, or Desley, have a history of sailing?
We both grew up in water obsessed families. Desley’s Dad actually owned a boat just like ours and introduced us to the owner of our little Halverson. My Dad was also a mad keen sailor and Rottnest Island was our go to holiday destination. To the point where I’d beg when we might see dry land again!
The boat you see in the photos is our little escape – a 26 foot Halverson built in Sydney in 1960. She’s called ‘Karen’, named after the boat builder’s girlfriend at the time, who he went on to marry. Originally made for the Bobbin Head hire fleet, the model was affectionately referred to as the ‘honeymooners’ boat. My husband Hamish has lovingly (obsessively?!) restored it over the last four years.
On the day of these photos, we explored our favourite spot, Smith’s Creek. It’s right in the middle of a national park with no mobile reception, so a total digital detox. We call it our cubby house on water, time just to play, swim, chill and take in the amazing scenery. I can hear the audible sigh for them girls every time I say ‘isn’t it beautiful’!
We try to go as often as we can, which isn’t often enough. We’ll do sleepovers and Hamish enjoys the one on one time with the girls with no distractions.
Ahh dreamy! Back to business, what have you found to be the most challenging aspect of running State of Escape?
When we started the business we drew up a personal contract outlining our expectations of each other. The irony is that we said we’d each work 25 hours a week! It’s been a big adjustment for us and our young families as we now work full time plus some. Luckily we’ve managed to pull together the most amazing team around us who are as passionate about the business as we are. For this, we are grateful every day.
What is your working day like, and how do you balance this with raising your kids?
Desley, my business partner, and I both have two girls (aged 10 and eight) that attend the same school. Our lives really are parallel! This has made it so much easier to run a full-time business as we help each other out and are understanding of what we need to do in a day. When things are crazy one of us will remember that the kids have school photos or the swimming carnival the next day. Usually it’s Dee reminding me!
It sounds clichéd but we have met the most amazing, inspiring people of our journey. From our immediate team to our partners in Japan. It’s made for a rich life.
It happens across all creative fields and is seemingly unavoidable, but we’ve definitely seen some replicas of your bags around town. How do you feel about this?
The key is to be very aware of what’s going on and do what you can to mitigate it, but never let it become a focus.
If anything, it drives us harder to keep innovating, creating and sharing our story. At the end of the day imitators will only ever be that – imitators.
What do you see as key to a perfect carryall design in 2018?
The ability to work across multiple facets of your life both functionally and aesthetically. Live your life with only 2 or 3 bags that work as a team or individually – it’s about creating a system not excess.
What’s next for State of Escape?
We have so many things in the making at the moment, we’re not sure which way to turn. Collaborations in both the fashion and travel sectors, as well as a focus on Japan. We design a number of exclusive colourways and bags styles specifically for Japan (including a men’s line) and have started to roll out the same model for our new international retailers. It’s a really exciting time and we can’t wait to see where it takes us.