How has the popular Australian label evolved? We take a look at State of Escape's brand story and the making of its iconic bags.
You’ve probably seen State of Escape’s distinctive tote bags casually flung over the shoulder of fashion-savvy friends – women on the move from a hot yoga class to their next business meeting. Intrinsic to the community that chooses State of Escape as its go-to bag is a shared desire to escape from the monotonous rhythm of daily life equipped with practical style.
Close friends Desley Maidment and Brigitte MacGowan, both from Sydney, co-founded the brand in 2013. It’s a pioneer of the handcrafted, Australian-made neoprene carryall. State of Escape’s classic design and top-notch quality quickly attracted a global following, thanks to the elevated aesthetic and beautiful functionality of its creations, changing the trajectory of Desley and Brigitte’s lives forever.
What does it take to build a successful business from an original idea? We talk to Desley about the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur as she shares with us invaluable insights and her takeaways from her move to Singapore a few years ago.
Hey Desley, it’s great to meet you. Can you talk us through the State of Escape story?
It really started with Brigitte’s discovery of our beautiful and unique neoprene fabrication, which we immediately knew was destined for great things. Brig and I met when we had both recently started our families. We lived in the same beachside suburb and had a lot in common – our daughters were friends, we shared a love of travel and passion for design and fashion. Brig is a graphic designer by trade and my background was in fashion recruitment. Discovering our neoprene was quite the lightbulb moment. State of Escape evolved from researching and working on our first design, the original Escape tote.
How did you define your roles within the company?
Within the first six months, we wrote a simple one-page document describing our roles within the business, how many hours we would commit and how much money we would put down. Brig is the creative one and I’m on the business side. However, we work very closely together and have a wonderful team in Australia – they happen to all be female. Brig and I did everything in the first two years. You name it, we did it. Picking, packing, couriering, standing in line at the post office, quality control… everything and anything.
When did you realise you had a winner with your bag design?
Having shared a few samples with friends, the feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive. Similarly, when Brig and I wore one of our bags in public, women were literally stopping us in the street to ask where we had purchased them. We also gifted an Escape tote to a photographer friend, a very creative woman in her own right. She happened to be photographing one of the founders of Australian label Bassike who saw the bag and said ‘Wow, that’s a different bag, I like the look of it. Get them to call me.’ Bassike was eager to stock our designs as quickly as possible, which forced us to quickly get out of the product development phase and start launching and producing.
How would you describe your brand vision?
Our products are the embodiment of escaping, whether that be on a daily basis, a weekend staycation or a yearly holiday. We all have that moment in the day when we need to get out of the house, to the shop, to a girlfriend’s house, or out to lunch. So we grab our bag holding everything we need – it looks great, matches our outfit… and we escape!
Tell us about the unique qualities of a State of Escape bag.
It’s truly a handcrafted bag. There are so many elements to our bags that are unique. They are hand-cut, patterned and created one by one. It’s a seriously old school production that creates a truly unique and beautiful bag, on the inside and the outside, which could not have been achieved if it were mass-produced in a factory. We’re proud to be Australian made and produced.
What do you love most about working in Singapore?
I’ve been based in Singapore for the last two years and I love being surrounded by so many incredible women from all over the world – not just the expat community but also understanding Singaporean women and their lives and loves. I always knew being based here would be a great place to build brand awareness because it’s such a great international hub. It’s energising, inspiring and the opportunities are truly global, because of the very international mindset. There’s creativity, there’s fashion, there’s this real appreciation for all of that.
Any exciting projects you’ve been working on?
Most recently we’ve been working on a special collaboration with One and Only Resorts Desaru, which is a brand new resort in Malaysia. It’s a fantastic partnership that we have with this group, one we’re very proud of because it touches on everything our brand believes in. We’ve designed a beautiful collection of bags based on Desaru’s colourways. It speaks to the stunning Malaysian landscape, the sand, jungle and the sea.
What are your thoughts on Singaporean style and the fashion scene here?
I see Singaporeans as having a very strong sense of style, one that takes them from a day at work to eating out at great restaurants and bars by night, and also travelling to other destinations. I think there’s a huge market in Singapore for specialty, multi-brand boutiques that aren’t just stocking resort wear. More contemporary fashion would do well in Singapore.
What do you hope to achieve next for State of Escape?
I’d love to secure a couple of key retail partners or maybe even look at a distributor for Southeast Asia, because our brand has seen massive e-commerce growth in Singapore and Hong Kong in the last three months.
Finally, share your best tips for finding success as a fashion entrepreneur.
Have a truly unique product and have a reason for entering the market. Ask yourself not just what, but why. Be committed to the long haul. If you’re entering the space to copycat, mass-produce and make a quick buck, maybe this isn’t for you because so many people crash and burn quickly. But sometimes you don’t want everyone telling you what you’ll be up against because if you knew, you’d never start.
There are so many things that contribute to it working well. There’s luck, there’s a great product, there’s a great business partner. I’m a big believer in having a business partner to share the experience and lean on because two heads are always better than one. You need a high level of passion to work within fashion; you’ve got to really love it. Lastly, my top tip would be to check your ego – leave it out!
Words by Rebecca Foreman
Rebecca is a relentless traveller and finds herself constantly bookmarking the next family adventure. She is also a passionate observer of individuals doing great things, like helping others, or themselves, or mastering the art of something beautiful. Whenever she’s standing still, you’ll find her taking photos of her kids or her dog, or binge-watching something dramatic.