Founder / A.BCH
Transformation, Talent, Transparency and Trust are the four T’s that seamlessly thread together this week’s #careerstory. But in all honestly, there aren’t enough exceptional words in the world to describe Courtney Holm, Founder of designer basics label A.BCH.
A.BCH is a brand that defines fashions new world order, and Courtney is at the helm of this revolution in Australia. Her mission? To offer full disclosure as to how each piece came to be, so you… the socially conscious customer, can have complete transparency on the entire production process. At A.BCH, Every thread, every fibre, every button is accounted for, and documented, because they have nothing to hide.
Courtney’s career orbit is a true evolution of form, born in sunny California, Courtney moved to Brisbane with her mum and sisters at the age ten. Like all teenagers Courtney was multi passionate with interests in singing, acting, drawing and design. She even studied ballet for two years! All of these passionate pursuits align when you meet Courtney, she is everything you would expect from a women changing the world.
This #careerstory will take you through Courtney’s time at multiple Universities, from living in Brisbane, Sydney and now Melbourne. From interning at fashion powerhouses like Romance Was Born, to launching her own label with the help of an RMIT business grant. There are so many more crucial twists to this story, and so many lessons to be learned, not to mention her incredible list of must have resources – you HAVE to read until the very end.
If this story doesn’t thrill you, or make you want to challenge life as you know it, then you are visiting the wrong website. For those of you that are fired up, please venture on.
Girls, please meet Courtney Holm…
Hi there Courtney, CONGRATULATIONS on your launch of A.BCH! Let’s take it back to the very beginning. Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
Oh hey there. I grew up in Monterey, a quiet and very pretty coastal town in California. I moved to Brisbane when I was 10 years old with my mum and 3 younger sisters after my parents split up. We went from having this very sheltered kind of life where we were home schooled and lived in a big house to something very different. We left suddenly, without saying goodbye to anyone. I remember when we first moved to Australia, squeezing into my Auntie’s house for the first year- she already had 3 kids so there were 10 of us in total. We had to fend for ourselves a lot. In saying that, my mum tried to give us the best of everything, even though it was really hard. I think I get my strength from her, and looking back at where each of my sisters and I have ended up, her entrepreneurial spirit seems to have rubbed off on all of us.
What a start to your #careerstory. Moving across the globe, wow. Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to Kelvin Grove State College. I specifically chose that school in order to increase my chances of getting into the Queensland Dance School of Excellence, which I did in my final two years of high school. I was very passionate about dance, however I had so many other passions as well- singing, acting, drawing, design. Doing two years of straight ballet made me realise my heart wasn’t ready to give it all up for a dancing career. It was an incredible experience though, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about doing the program.
Following your heart is such an important lesson, but it does take guts. Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
It was more like a process of me realising that I couldn’t commit myself to one thing at that time. It wasn’t until I finished school, did university and worked full time that I came to the realisation that I wanted to study fashion design. It was all part of the journey for me. Some people KNOW what they want to be when they “grow up” and do that one thing forever. My experience was more fluid than that. I would try something, do some travel, try something else. I liked to sample things before committing properly. One day I realised I wanted to be a fashion designer and that I wanted to use it to change the world for the better. So, I applied for fashion school and never looked back.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
Not in high school! The dancing was very much “full-time” for us. We danced 8am-1pm every morning, and did school from 2pm-5pm. We then danced after school and on weekends. I did do work experience as part of my university degree with Romance Was Born and later with Strates Carlucci. That was a really good experience for me to see how small but successful fashion businesses worked behind the scenes.
Tell us about your time after high school? Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
Yes! Maybe a few too many actually… I started off going to the University of Queensland, where I did a year of journalism, however I took electives in creative writing and realised that was much more my style than journalism. I then switched to QUT where I did 6 months of creative writing only to realise that wasn’t quite the thing for me either. I eventually ended up at The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) where I did a BA in Fashion and Textile Design and graduated with First Class Honours. It was a fairly regimented degree, however I took further electives in textiles because I loved the ‘play’ aspect of those courses. The rest was solid pattern making, sewing, illustration and design.
Wow, what a pathway. Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for?
When I first started going to UTS, I was working full time for Starbucks Coffee as a store manager. Living in Sydney unsupported was tough! I ended up continuing my full time work throughout my entire degree, even though it took me an extra year to complete and everyone said it wasn’t possible to manage. I think doing that, while not ideal for everyone, made me manage my time to the minute and helped give me the the confidence to later start something on my own. I worked with Romance Was Born while I was in Sydney and then I moved to Melbourne after being offered a place in Small Business Management Course at RMIT where I went to get better at the business side of things. I also completed a Pilates instructor training course as I knew that I would need a flexible income stream if I was to transition to my own business eventually. I worked with Strateas Carlucci for about a year before starting two ventures, Article. by Courtney Holm- a sportsluxe menswear label and Menske- a collaborative event for showcasing Melbourne designers of men’s goods and fashion. After 2 years of running these businesses, while also working part time as a Pilates instructor, I started once again, feeling the calling to change the world through fashion. That’s when the idea for A.BCH was born. I had been reading more and more about the environmental and social issues in the industry and I knew I needed to do something radically different.
Enter A.BCH! It is an evolution of my menswear brand, Article, but features men’s and women’s designs that are more or less unisex. In no way is it hippy or eco-looking. It’s luxury casual-wear for the conscious shopper. I am now 100% focused on seeing this business succeed as we work to minimise the environmental impact that fast fashion has on the planet, and by bringing dignity to workers across the globe through living wages and fair working conditions.
How did you start A.BCH? Did you have any advice? What made you go out on your own?
I started it myself! With a helpful boost from the RMIT New Enterprise Incentive Fund, I was able to kickstart the label at the beginning of 2016. The research and development has taken nearly a year, however I am proud to say we are launching, officially, on the 9th Feb 2017 via our global site. You can visit it here!
Courtney, can we just stop here… You are amazing! So, what is the hardest part of your current job?
Dealing with an industry so set on their ways. I am always striving to do the right thing by digging up the supply chain in our raw materials, so to speak. However, it’s very hard when suppliers can’t understand why I might need to know the conditions of the workers from the spinning mills, or how they dispose of waste water. It’s a constant chasing of information, and even after much hard work, I often hit dead ends and have to start all over.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you at A.BCH? Tell us everything!
I will start my day in the office, answering emails, researching the latest fabric developments, and either meeting or skyping with prospective suppliers. I spend a lot of time in my shared studio in Brunswick too, sewing samples, and testing out fabrications and ideas. Some days I am on the road, other days I am glued to the computer or the sewing machine. As the founder of a startup, I am the designer, pattern maker, sample machinist, administrator, product developer, sales person, accountant and event manager. You have to wear all the hats to begin with, but I think this is the only way to really understand every aspect of the business intimately.
Ahhhh, we couldn’t agree more. Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
Ha. My mum is pretty great! She’s been an epic inspiration to me. I admire pretty much anyone who starts a business from scratch and works to build it into something great for the world, not just for themselves and their shareholders.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Study! Doing a fashion degree is not the be-all but it certainly teaches you a variety of base skills that you simply can’t learn elsewhere. Read books, not fashion magazines! There is so much to learn about the industry, technology and the psychology of fashion plus completely unrelated topics that could lead you to brand new sources of inspiration.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Blogs or Websites: Business of Fashion, Ethical Fashion Forum, Fashion Revolution, Fashion Positive: Cradle 2 Cradle, True Cost Blog
- Instagram Account or Snapchat that you can’t go a day without checking: @intentjournal
- Books: To Die For by Lucy Siegle, Wardrobe Crisis by Claire Press
- People: Sarah Wilson, Lucy Siegle, Livia Firth, Claire Press, Emma Watson
- Film: The True Cost by Andrew Morgan (must see!)