meet our founder and learn why she created simétrie
Meet our founder, Simone Agius, as she shares her story about why she set out to create simétrie.
As a kid I was always creating - a box of recyclables was an imaginative crafternoon waiting to happen. From a young age, my Mother taught me how to sew, crochet and knit, so naturally fashion piqued my interest in Secondary School, which subsequently led me to study fashion at university. My Father has been a fitter and turner ever since I can remember, and I have no doubt that his flair for constructing and manufacturing has attracted me to wanting to use my hands to make and create.
After graduating university, I started working as a bag designer for a large Australian brand. It wasn’t until I saw the documentary The True Cost that I developed an understanding of the negative impacts of fast fashion, which led me to question the sustainability and ethics of my career as a bag designer more broadly. Although I had a real passion for the design aspect of my job, at the time I was missing the ability to physically make the bags I was sketching, as I had thoroughly enjoyed during my studies.
There was a pivotal point that made me question the ethical component of my role; manufacturing was occurring offshore in countries such as China and India. Bangladesh was also mentioned as a possibility, which is where the devastating 2013 Rana Plaza collapse had occurred, killing more than 1100 garment workers.
After I resigned from my design role, I started volunteering as a sewing teacher at a local organisation that supported asylum seeker and refugee women. During my time there, I had the opportunity to work with so many talented women; some beginners and some who brought sewing skills from their home country. They all loved their time in the sewing classes, as did I. There was a real sense of community, self-expression, and joy in each class. It was all the same things I loved about sewing too. Together we shared the same feeling of accomplishment when we finished each sewing project. For many of them, a career in sewing was a dream that would provide financial independence, a sense of belonging and contribution to their new home — or new home to be — Australia. It was here I met Sharifa, who later came to work with me at simétrie.
the reflection that led me to create simétrie
The women in those sewing classes reminded me how lucky I was to call Australia home and gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own family heritage. My grandparents came to Australia from Malta and Italy with not much money, looking for opportunity in Australia in the late 40s and 50s. My grandfathers had no trouble finding work as they were skilled tradesman. One of my grandmothers also worked at the Dunlop factory making shoes before she was married. Once married, my grandmothers didn’t work, neither did my mum, and instead raised their children and ran the household.
Once I, the the last child, moved out of the family home, mum’s sense of self was challenged. Her main role as a mum was no longer a full-time job, and she didn’t have a career to fill the void either. Her story shared similarities with Sharifa’s story, and I was inspired to create a platform for women like them to learn new creative skills, gain independence with paid work and gain a new sense of purpose. I also knew that the products we would create must use sustainable and natural materials.
the building blocks of simétrie
With all this inspiration and passion I created simétrie; the slow-fashion bag brand that makes us feel good without impacting our people or our planet. The main materials in our collections are vegetable tanned wild Australian kangaroo leather, as well as hemp and linen canvases. I chose kangaroo leather, as this is the least impactful material compared with cow leather and faux leather alternatives according to the Higg Material Sustainability Index — a global material scoring tool — and is a long lasting repairable material which would keep our products out of landfills. You can read more about this comparison here.
The bag workshops actually began a month before simétrie was a brand of ready-made leather goods. The first designs was our XS Crescent Moon Pouch and M Crescent Moon Bag, and were designed to be simple enough so a beginner could make them, yet complex enough that the maker would feel accomplished at the conclusion of a workshop.
As the brand grew, I brought on contractors to help make stock alongside me. Our workforce is made up of contracted leather-craftswomen. With no local training or apprenticeship options available in Australia, they are mostly trained overseas and operate as sole traders here in Melbourne. We are an all-female team, and I proudly use the term “crafts-woman-ship” to describe the nature of our work.
Whilst it is much easier to be transparent on who makes our bags, their pay and their working conditions, manufacturing in-house has its challenges. Amongst the challenge of finding skilled workers, we are also challenged with our machinery, as the best machinery also went offshore when the industry did in the 80s and 90s. The industry is unfortunately almost at extinction due to the offshore competition, making it extremely difficult to operate efficiently and grow our production capabilities.
Fast fashion has also skewed customer expectations when it comes to price, often making it difficult for potential buyers to justify paying a higher price for a locally made handbag when there are cheaper, offshore alternatives available. This is one of the reasons why I introduced our lifetime repair warranty. I want people to have the same confidence in my products as I do—they will last a lifetime.
where simétrie is now
We’re only two and a half years in the business, and I am super proud of the progress we’ve made so far. Our all-female team makes our all-natural collections either in-house or in nearby Ballarat. We’ve collaborated with SisterWorks to create the dreamy Sisterly collection and brought them on board to supply our dust bags, which supports members like Amira and Farah, with work and an income. We donated over $1000 to The Torch, with proceeds from our archive sale, which supported us and this incredible organisation through Melbourne’s lockdown. We experimented with toad leather to create our iconic Thick Crescent Moon in XL proportions and showcase another material that could help Australia’s ecosystem. We’ve used our platform to showcase and celebrate creative women. We proudly have a small but inspiring, creative and loyal following. We are super thankful of everyone who shops, follows and interacts with our brand. We honestly couldn’t make any of this impact without you.
where i hope simétrie to be in the future
Just like our brand ethos, we hope to expand our reach and positive impact slowly and sustainably. We will do this by investing in more advanced machinery and equipment, and close the skills gap through working with TAFES and universities and offering our own training programs too. Since the early part of last year, there has been a growing appetite for Australian made, so I am excited for the future growth in this area so that we can continue to support women and help women feel confident, purposeful and happy in our local communities, both with our skill sharing and through our sustainably handcrafted bags.