NAME: Aimee Kendall
COMPANY: Aimee-Cherie Intimates
TITLE(S): Founder / Creative Director
How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
Loyal, caring, sensitive, defensive, ambitious
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today?
I started sewing for the first time when I was 16, in home economics in high school. I had the most wonderful ‘fashion class’ teacher ever, Mrs Strack. She was so encouraging, had a wealth of sewing and technical knowledge, and was one of the first people to really push me to go for this dream if I wanted it. She helped me chose a course at TAFE in my hometown of Perth, which I accepted rather than another at university. It has always been important to me to understand how to pattern-make and grade and sew - everything else you can get an intuition for. I knew TAFE would be the best option to learn these technical skills, but I never expected to meet some of the life-changing friends I did.
My three years of studying an Advanced Diploma of Fashion and Textiles at Bentley TAFE, led me to a bunch of talented kids, but two in particular. We didn’t know it at the time, and had never planned it whilst we were there, but these two girls Rachel and Jameen, became my very first business partners!
My graduate collection was a bunch of evening gown-inspired looks with many sheer tops. My lecturer at the time said I couldn’t send the young models down the runway without bras on, and I’ve always detested nude coloured t-shirt bras. The next best solution - a lacey bralette.
When I graduated TAFE, I began working at a couture bridal store (still thinking I wanted to pursue a career in couture and bridal), and went on my first overseas adventure with my cousin to Europe. I came back an excited 21 year old, full of new experiences, and wanting to do something equally as exciting with the rest of my life.
My bralettes from my grad collection were floating around Facebook by this time, and friends and friends of friends were beginning to place orders. It was at this point, I decided I should jump on the bandwagon that was the new social media platform, Instagram. It was a twist of fate, because it was from that point that my new ‘brand’ Aimee-Cherie Intimates was starting to gain traction.
All at the same time, I had left my job at the bridal joint (that kind of pressure does not mix well with my high levels of anxiety!), and was starting to form a brand with Rach and Jam from TAFE - we’d called it 'Dyspnea' after a long night of sewing samples in a back room of Rach’s mums stationary warehouse.
The next year or two of my life was completely wrapped up in the two brands. On the one hand, AC Intimates was beginning to take off on Instagram, and I had gone from taking selfies of my lacey bralettes (that were going viral on Tumblr), to organizing my first campaign shoot with a fully fledged team (many of whom we still use to this day!). On the other hand, Dyspnea was just as busy! Our bursting onto the scene had been a lot easier than we were anticipating. But by no means did it make it easier for the three of us as we juggled part-time jobs, boyfriends, being in our early twenties and persuading our parents to keep transforming parts of their houses into our studio!
Some of those electricity bills were outrageous - with floodlights, sewing machines and heaters going all night long in the middle of winter. Work ethic and drive was something none of us lacked, whether it was for ACI or Dyspnea. We would literally work 7 days a week, for a solid year, and I don’t remember many days that we weren't together when not at our other jobs.
I was still the primary patternmaker, machinist, accountant, designer, marketing girl, and postman for ACI a year or two in. It was becoming increasingly hard to juggle both brands. I didn’t have another job but was working full time for both brands. I still don’t know how I’d managed to maintain that from such a young age (thanks Mum for putting a roof over my head, and dinner on the table).
In 2014 Dyspnea showed for the first time at MBFWA in the new gen category. It was the most incredible month. We rented an Airbnb in Chippendale and turned it into our studio. I think I slept about 4 hours a night for that month. When I wasn’t doing fittings or media for Dyspnea, I was back at the apartment sewing ACI orders and running back and forth from the post office. I had never worked so hard in my life, and it became immediately clear to me I wasn’t going to be able to carry on with both businesses.
A week after fashion week, despite our huge success, I made the decision to leave Dyspnea and focus solely on AC Intimates. It was difficult; I wouldn’t be 24/7 with my two best friends anymore or have two other people to be there for every moment, but it was important to me to go and do my own thing.
From then on AC Intimates was running out of my mum’s spare room and kitchen bench. I had two or so interns in weekly, (one of which still helps sew for us today) and another of which became our first part-time employee. Since running AC Intimates solely, it all feels like a bit of blur to look back on. Things have progressed naturally, and things have also been difficult. By the time the brand turned three, I had moved us into our very own commercial studio. It was such a turning point to me; what I was doing was real, I had to really buckle down, make sure I made ends meet for all these bills coming in. I also had the business’s first investment offer which, after months of negotiating, I ended up turning down. It’ll be a decision I’ll always wonder ‘what if’ about, but my gut still says ‘no, you’ve got this, you can do this on your own’.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is your elevator pitch on what you do?
I’m the director of an Australian intimates brand that aims to deliver delicates to young, ambitious and proud women. Our intimates carry a nonchalant vibe, are care-free to wear, and aren’t about saving for special occasions. We believe what you’re wearing underneath your fav tee and jeans should be just as important! Most of all though, we are here to help build the Australian manufacturing industry again, one baby step at a time, and I'm proud to say that we are working hard to ensure we stay Australian made.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) When I was 16, and thinking 10 years ahead, I think I just hoped to either have a super cool job that was different to everyone else, or to be starting a family like my parents were doing at this age. So I guess in one way that has come to fruition - my day job certainly isn’t the norm, not even to me!
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’?
I’m still not sure what success means to me. I want to say ‘as long as you are happy’, but it’s super cliché, and I also think it puts a lot of pressure on one’s self. We should be able to accept that sometimes things don’t go right and you can’t be in this constant haze of happiness. I think right now success to me means that you’re working hard on your path, with the resources you have, and ticking off some goals along the way.
What do you still want to achieve (personally and/or professionally)
My biggest dream is to own my own home. I could probably achieve it quicker if I had a more conventional career path but it’ll be all the more sweet when it happens. Professionally? I have a tendency to dream big, so I’m hanging out for the day I have a beautiful big white warehouse studio filled with aspiring young people working under the ACI brand.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in?
I did a three-year course at TAFE - an Advanced Diploma in Fashion Design and Textiles. It has been one of the most instrumental tools of my short career. Not only was our course very technically driven and hands on, but the industry-experienced lecturers gave me some invaluable training and lessons. So much of my small business is hands on, especially in terms of production (we still hand make every single item ourselves), and there’s no way I could be where I am today without that hands-on training. When we begin to hand over our production to a larger scale Australian manufacturer I feel calm in the sense that no one really knows the Aimee-Cherie Intimate product inside and out like I do.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date?
I felt really proud (and really scared) the day I signed the lease for our current studio. It was the first space I had to work from out of home, which was very important for my sanity and for my small staff. While I was petrified of making this commitment and adding yet another expense to my list, it was also such a gratifying moment. Knowing that within the space of 3 short years I’d somehow made it to a place all by myself, with nearly zero financial help along the way, and that I can call this studio my own. It wasn’t easy to get to that place, but it made moving day, with my best friends and mum helping me carry tables up the stairs and painting everything in sight white, one of the best feelings ever.
Tell us about your workspace (Office/café/couch/aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace?
The AC Intimates HQ is located in Subiaco in Perth, Western Australia. We managed to nab an office space that we converted along the main street, on the first floor with wonderful big windows. Having plenty of natural light is key, especially if you’re going to work long hours in that one space! Our office is nothing of the norm - it’s a massive open room with white brick walls. At the front of the room by the windows we set up a chilled area with vintage leather sofas and old floral arm chairs - it’s our space to unwind, or gather to pow wow problems. I’m really loving plants lately, so a new plant appears weekly around the room, and I have frames full of quotes or old school Vans posters around the place.
We tend to go overboard on polaroids at shoots too, so the length of one wall is just rows of those memories. The journey of how we got here is splattered all over the room in forms of old swing tags, campaign shots and the like, on pin boards. It’s important to me that we constantly feel motivated by our surroundings, that they’re comfortable but aesthetically pleasing to be in. I like to (try) keep the space as light and tidy as a production room-come-studio can be.
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey?
Straight up money. It sounds pretty sad to be so blunt about it but it’s a really harsh reality of what we do. Cash flow and keeping that balance is hard. I have a desire to build such an inspiring brand, and work with all these different amazing creatives, but in the same breath this is a business that demands certain other realities.
When was the last time you were overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work/workload?
I get overwhelmed quite easily and sometimes crying feels like it helps but then I am able to take a step back and think about the bigger picture whilst also trying to figure out a way to overcome the current issue without resorting to tears again.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself?
Absolutely! I think it’s the thing I thrive off! There’s certainly more pressure the older and bigger the brand gets. It’s almost like there’s this pace your brand needs to be keeping up with to stay relevant, and at the same time you’re constantly trying to grow, it can be a lot. Pressure is something I believe is good for people though, especially in their careers. It helps us grow and pushes us to do things we’re scared of. It's the place where the good stuff happens.
As a business owner, you can’t just check out/ have a week off when you are dealing with personal things, how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough?
My business is often my little safe space in a strange way. This is my place where I know absolutely every little corner of it, and that in itself can be very nurturing. It works as the best distraction of all time, often taking the number one spot in my life. For right now where I am in my life I think it works having my business as my go-to, but I know as my life progresses I’ll have to learn to separate my personal space from my business one- and not use one as a crutch for the other.
Has your career affected your personal life/relationships?
In recent years when business got tough I certainly started comparing myself to my friends who had taken a much ‘safer’ route in life by going to university, getting really good, stable, respectable jobs. It was easy to start wishing I had done that, especially when I started to begin feeling left behind in a financial sense I guess. But I have to really remind myself that I’m still actually very happy doing what I do, and I will get there one day, and that it doesn’t have to be a race. Other than that feeling, I really don’t think my career has affected my relationships in a bad way (except poor mum whose house has been taken over by makeshift cutting tables and shelving for a few years). If anything, it has bought me closer to a lot of people, especially my younger brother. He’s an absolute gun at his job for the uber cool Nitrus Agency in Melbourne. We live on opposite sides of the country but he’s always the first person I call when I need advice, direction or want to share something exciting. At twenty-four his business instincts are insightful and I trust his taste. We really bond over ACI, and I think it’s something that being in a similar industry but doing different roles has been something we can share with each other and help grow.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How?Definitely. A lot of the time it has just been me working on ACI, long days at home by myself before I found a studio space late last year. While I love being by myself to do my own thing, it can be incredibly lonely when something amazing happens in your work day, but there is literally no one around to immediately celebrate with. The same goes for when things aren’t working out as I planned. The one thing I really crave for is to have more people around me in a work setting that I could relate to on a day to day basis, and share this all with. I’m truly blessed to have the best family in the world and very supportive friends though.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently?
No. There are things I look back at and think god that was a really dumb mistake, but this is where I’m at and I’m a strong believer in everything happens for a reason. Actually, there is one thing I would’ve done, and that is get my accountant on board earlier to tell me off for silly spending habits and setting a budget.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self?
Stop worrying about what the others think of you darling. Stop comparing your journey to others, you’re going to have highlight moments along the way as well, they’re coming. Stop spending so much money on things you really don’t need! Like those $500 Prada swirl sun glasses that kicked off the credit card debt.
Who are some women in business you admire?
I’ve long been a big fan girl of Kym Ellery. One of her very first shows in Perth was actually one of my first work experience gigs through TAFE. My job was to stand on the street outside the venue in the city to make sure guests could find the show alright. It’s funny because I still remember a lot of the people who attended that night and who I helped usher into the event, and many of them became people who would end up wanting to work with ACI years later.
Things like that taught me to treat EVERYONE with respect, because you really don’t know who is going to become who. That dresser at the show might be the next big design success, or that kid taping shoes back stage ends up being the hottest graphic designer everyone wants to work with years later. I rarely forget moments like that in life, especially people. Kym that night was one of the most graceful, inspiring women I had ever seen. I knew she grew up in a small country WA town like me, but here she was lining up top models in this excited but controlled manner, making sure everyone felt involved even though it was her big moment. That has always stuck with me. It’s incredible to see where her business is now.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with?
I love people that have an excellent work ethic, no matter what your job is. There is nothing more admirable to me than someone who respects their job and their commitment to it. Whether it's studying, working a part time job, volunteering, or a full-time role. I believe in luck, but I believe even more so in working hard for the things you want in life.
Work life balance; does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it?
Haha I don’t think so either! Moving our studio out of home certainly helped me gain some more work-life balance. Work is important to me, so if I feel like being here on a Saturday or late a few nights a week then I’m going to be. I know I’ll just feel worse if I’m sitting at home trying to ‘relax’.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers?
Just a few weeks ago was the first time since starting that I ever thought about giving up on ACI. It was the most gut retching feeling. We’d had a few bad weeks, and personally I’d let my head get to a bad place. But I’ve learnt over the years to use that fear to propel me forward. To use it as a tool to reassess the situation, find some areas that are suffering and fix/change them. ACI is like my baby, I can’t imagine letting myself ever truly giving up on it.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
That we sit around taking pretty pictures all day long of beautiful models, reading magazines and playing on our phones.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry?
Go and work for someone else, as many people as you can before you start your own venture. It’s the one thing I always said I’d do and I really didn’t. And it’s still one of the things I regret the most. Some really basic things about business, about manufacturing, sourcing, setting up a shoot, I’ve had to learn by trial and error. Some of those things have been really costly. I understand we all live and learn, but I always really wished I learnt a few of those lessons from others.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what?
I’d do it all again, exactly like this. There’s been some really stupid mistakes made but there isn’t anything I adore more than my work and ACI. This is the path it took to get here - it hasn’t been. and still isn’t easy but I’m not a fan of the straight road anyway.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be?
I am also a big believer in this quote as you can probably judge by my prior answers. I want my legacy to be of a brand that didn’t step on anyone to make our way to the top. As well as having a positive impact on the Australian manufacturing industry.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important?
There have been a lot of influential women in my life that have inspired me to work hard at what I want, and I think sometimes it’s important to listen to other people’s stories of how they got to where they are or are going. In a world where we are flooded with smoke and mirrors, it’s nice to hear that we’re all just really going through the same thing, and wherever you’re at in life is a perfectly fine place to be!
What are some of your favorite quotes?
‘If you’re afraid to dive then just dive afraid.’- Unknown
‘I wanted the whole world or nothing.’ – Charles Bukowski
‘I have work, then a dinner thing, and then I am busy trying to become who I am.’ –Hannah (Lena Dunham), because this one sentence sums up most 20-somethings perfectly.
What woman would you like to nominate to be featured for a profile on the SW Foundation, and why?
Pip Edwards! I want to know how she got where she is, she’s a superwoman!