Utopia Goods

Utopia Goods

If you’re an Australian born before 1980, you’ll know the name Bruce Slorach. His first two fashion labels, Abyss and Funk Essentials, were two of the first streetwear labels to launch in Australia.  Dubbed ‘art fashion’, his work was wrapped around the likes of Cindi Lauper and Kylie Minogue, and is now hung in the NGV and Powerhouse museum.  He mixed it with The Beastie Boys.  He invented the ‘man skirt’. After being approached by Dare Jennings, he worked as a creative designer at Mambo during its ascendancy, and then went on to start an interdisciplinary design studio outside of the fashion world.  

His partner, Sophie Tatlow, has been aptly described by the Australian Financial Review as a “dynamo.”  She has four University degrees under her belt and runs the wildly successful design and branding studio Deuce Design – a firm known for its ‘culturally significant’ projects for clients like the Sydney Theatre Company, the Powerhouse Museum, and the Premier’s department.  She’s also written a 100,000 word environmental crime novel to go with the other thousand feathers in her cap.

Bruce and Sophie are the definition of Australian creative, and they seem both an unlikely and completely obvious pair to have created Utopia Goods – a brand that could perhaps be described the same way.  Committed to transcending Australiana into the celestial, Utopia Goods celebrates Australian flora and fauna in rich, hand drawn, screen printed textiles.

Chanelling the notion of ‘decoration’ that made Bruce Slorach a household name in the 80’s, Utopia Goods is heavy on colour and pattern and about as anti-minimalist as you can get.  This season, for example, there are rock wallaby motifs based on old German etchings in deep indigos and blues, curvy purple and bright yellow mottlecah flowers, and Eucalypts blossoming in hot pinks and reds. (In Sophie’s words, “Life’s too short for grey.”)  They’re all screen printed by hand in India on a smooth, robust linen that took two years for the pair to perfect.

To rock the boat just a bit harder, Bruce and Sophie’s primary motif is something that, curiously, more than just a few Australians find difficult to bear.

“I’ve had discussions with people whereby they’ve proudly announced how much they ‘hate native plants,’” says Sophie.

She puts it down to a cultural anxiety linked with our colonial roots. 

“There is a long held cultural cringe in Australia, and with some people that mindset and identity is very hard to flip.” 

Utopia Goods is on a mission to turn that around by exploring the idea of transforming the cringe into a ‘binge’, trying to create classic prints that can be adopted by anyone from anywhere (in the manner of UK’s Liberty) and by using very specific messaging around their product. 

“We are very careful [in] the way we shoot and present our imagery and message,” says Sophie.  “Avoiding any form of ‘fashion’, satire, apologetic humor and ‘kitsch’ is key in making the fabrics and products desirable.”

The idea for Utopia Goods stemmed from Deuce Design, with Sophie and Bruce wanting to create a business that wasn’t built around billable hours, and whereby they had creative control.

But producing these pieces is no walk in the park.  To start, Bruce will draw the print (which can take up to ten weeks depending on the complexity and the number of colours used in the design), then cloth needs to be woven (which takes 12 weeks), printed (another 6-10 weeks) then made up (about another 3-4 weeks).  Oh, and shipped.

“If we’re talking from the first illustration to the landing of the product in the studio, it’s at least one year,” says Sophie. “It’s definitely not ‘fast fashion’ , we’re nurturing slow textiles and keepsakes.”

All of this hard work is now paying off, with the Utopia Goods team now five-strong and the market in the UK starting to seriously open up. 

Sophie cites customers’ ‘declarations of love and admiration for the textile prints’ as one of the biggest surprises since launching in 2012, with many people responding sentimentally to the flowers, animals and plants that they print. 

“As an island, our country has a truly unique offering of flora and fauna. I’d like to think that we’re getting more active in promoting and protecting our natural habitat.  Hopefully the textiles prints will go someway in reinforcing this attitude.”

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Check out the Utopia Goods range here.