Creative Director & Founder / S/W/F
Desiree Deravi hasn’t looked back since founding her eponymous label at the age of 30. Having dressed the likes of style icons and influences alike, Desiree designs for strong women. Her collection reflects pieces that are effortless to wear, striking and dam right beautiful.
I am personally obsessed with S/W/F – venture onto the brand website and you will be transfixed by the colour palette and maybe like me, excited about fashion again (it all feels so blah at the moment. Enough with the linen everything already).
What sets this interview apart is Desiree’s genuine candidness. Opening up about her time at highschool, selecting Science degrees, becoming a Podiatrist and then the switch to fashion, Desiree takes us on her journey and gives us plenty of tips and behind the scenes anecdotes at the same time. It’ all the stuff you want to know and so much more.
Desiree, thank you so much for joining us here on The Cool Career. Can you start where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I was born in Melbourne and lived there until I was 10. At 10 my family decided to move to Laguna Beach in California for a few years. This was an enormous change for me and taught me so much about being able to adapt to new environments, something that has helped me throughout my life. This move also instilled a love of travel. When we moved back to Melbourne my love of travel remained and this is certainly an ongoing inspiration behind the aesthetic of S/W/F. The pieces are designed to be versatile and easy wearing whilst still being unique, bold in colour and print.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I attended two high schools during my schooling. I completed my final years at Presentation College in Windsor and have some wonderful memories of year 12. I am lucky enough to still be in touch with my school friends through social media, overall I had a positive experience.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
I believe all pivotal events in our life play a role in shaping our future, whether that be directly or indirectly. I didn’t follow a creative path in High School and chose maths and science subjects, in university I finished a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Podiatry. I didn’t focus on creative outlets at school however I did enjoy being creative in my free time. While my two degrees may not seem to relate to Fashion, I feel the skills sets learnt through tertiary education have been transferable to running a business.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
I finished High School in 1997 and I don’t feel internships were as accessible then. I participated in work placements which related to my Science degree and in my early 30’s I decided to delve into fashion. Once I decided to take the plunge I volunteered for as many fashion roles as possible. I have done everything from assisting in dressing at runway shows, assisting stylists and would collaborate with fellow creatives to produce work we could potentially have published in magazines. As I had no background in fashion, I did anything and everything I could to gain as much experience in the industry as possible.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I completed a Bachelor of Science at Monash University and a Bachelor of Podiatry at La Trobe University. I was always a “good” student but never outstanding at one particular thing. Once I finished school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I chose to complete a Science degree purely to buy me more time in deciding what my future would be. Once I had finished that I was still uncertain! I decided to try Podiatry and worked in the field for 7 years, until one day I realised I needed a change. Fashion just felt like the right choice.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
Once I chose to change my path, I decided to create a label that I believe is aspirational yet attainable. I was very naive when starting the business, and I knew absolutely nothing about making or producing clothes in a foreign country, let alone designing. I created S/W/F through asking questions, perseverance, and trial and error. Some of the most valuable lessons for me have been the most financially painful, as cash flow for a small business is an essential element.
Securing large accounts such Bloomindales, Nordstrom, Free People, Anthropology, Revolve and Urban Outfitters have all been highlights, however when women embrace and love my designs, that is truly the most heart-warming and rewarding part of the job, that is the biggest highlight for me.
How did you get into the job that you are in now?
I booked a trip to Bali (I had never been) and was immersed in the large and creative ex-pat community. Following this trip, my brand vision became clearer and the possibility of starting my own fashion line became a reality. I had no fashion experience, so every aspect of creating a range, sourcing fabrics, the technical terms (sewing terms, patterns, sizing etc), workers, shipping – I have basically taught myself. S/W/F has been a labour of love and sticking to my vision is what has brought me this far.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
Choosing to manufacture in Indonesia was, and has continued to be, a constant challenge. Not only is there a language barrier, but also varying cultural differences. I’ve had to adapt and become more flexible in my approach as well as learning to allow time for things to be completed on ‘Bali time’ and having key structures in place to control output. My business size is in the small/medium category, which is also tricky to deal with, being a self-funded business and trying to take it to the next level. I also personally find it difficult to wear so many different hats; accounts, manager, production manager, checking customer service, marketing, designer, and although I don’t perform all of those roles now, at one point I did, and I still like to be across everything.
What does typical business day look like for you?
Hectic! Our growth has been incredible in the last 5 months in both online and wholesale, and this has certainly created some growing pains. As a small business that is made to order, this influx has meant a typical business day has certainly gotten busier. Each day is different, depending on what time of year it is, and if we are in the middle of collection or not. However, there is always a lot of follow up with the different elements of production such as dye houses and fabric printers.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
It’s hard for me to say one person has inspired me as I am inspired by so many different people and places. Each S/W/F collection is based on different aspects of life that have captured or moved me and I hope to continue to discover facets of life I find exceptional for many years to come.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
You have as much chance as anyone else to be successful, so keep trying. Even when you may feel you have hit a wall, it’s never a roadblock, it’s a redirection. Do as much interning/volunteer work as you can and gain real life experience in your chosen industry. Ask questions, network, and find the area of the business you find the most interesting and focus on that. I believe it is essential to have the desire and the determination, along with the belief that you will succeed, in order to make it.
What is your biggest career f*ck up?
I have made too many mistakes to count. I have made bad business choices that have been detrimental not to mention costly to the business, but it’s all learning and development. I don’t think you can grow and become a better business person without those mistakes and without those hard learnings. But one email in particular I remember; I work with a company in Australia called Kitt Cartel and I once accidentally emailed Lady Kitty Spencer with a request rather than them. Safe to say she never replied.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Websites: I love books – two very helpful books if you know nothing about fashion and would like to explore creating your own label are: 1. The Fashion Business Manual: An Illustrated Guide to Building a Fashion Brand. 2. Fashionpedia – The Visual Dictionary Of Fashion Design.
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: I must be boring – I don’t have one. However, during NYFW and PFW etc it is a great tool to watch the shows live.
- Favourite Podcast: There are so many I love and I hope to start my own: 1. How I built this, 2. Second Life, 3. BOF, 4. Jay Shetty, 5. Oprah Super Soul Conversations, 6. Oprahs Master Class, 7. The Expanded, 8. The Gary Vee, 9. Offline, 10. Natalia Benson 11. Seize the yay and 12. glow journal, (shout out to Natalia, Sarah and Gemma).
- Favourite Netflix Series: I don’t have one but I did watch 1. The Assasination of Gianni Versace. 2. Brene Brown – The Call to Courage
- Favourite all time book/s: This is very difficult, probably… 1. The God of small things – Arundhati Roy. 2. Butterfly on a pin – Alannah Hill 3. I know why the caged bird sings – Maya Angelou.
- People: My family.