Never heard of Foley Street? You're not alone. This Darlinghurst gem is discreetly tucked away a mere stone's throw from bustling Oxford Street — and one that's well-worth seeking out. "The reaction we get from people when they discover the laneway is amazing," says ceramicist Naomi Taplin. She's one of four artisans that have retail residencies on the street, which is a veritable treasure trove of local, ethical and well-designed homewares, fashion and accessories.
So if you've yet to accidentally stumble into this hidden artisanal laneway while exclaiming, "wow this is so Melbourne" (as apparently everyone does), then we suggest you make an imminent plan to take a sharp turn off Crown Street and explore this small — but perfectly curated — design precinct. To prepare you for your visit, here are five things you should know.
Handmade boots on display at Bermuda Black.
Surely there's a German word to describe the feel-good vibes that spring from supporting local designers, whether their studio is a couple of suburbs away or, in the case of Foley Street's fashion and accessories label Bermuda Black, a few feet away. Yep, you can literally stand and watch as founder Marina Roorda patiently crafts a pair of shoes in the atelier section of the store. Aware of how lucky they are to have access to affordable spaces in the city, the small group of residents are making the most of their prime location, creating their own supportive community (for which Clara Ho of men's lifestyle store Fine Fellow was particularly grateful after a recent flood) that always has its doors open for new visitors, inspirations and collaborations. The team at Bermuda Black are planning to create a mini gallery within its space, inviting local painters, sculptors and photographers to exhibit their work, with the aim of encouraging a greater flow and exchange of creative ideas. You get the picture. Visiting Foley Street is a reminder of just how awesome it is to support local.
Marina Roorda at Bermuda Black.
The fun folk at Foley Street are all about drawing back the curtain and inviting you backstage. Once night falls, you can experience the spaces in a different way through pop-up events, like the new experimental dinner series at Studio Enti, which combines the brand's gorgeous porcelain ceramics with delicious food and live DJ sets. July's inaugural event, Korean Kitsch'n, featured Korean-inspired dishes showcasing seasonal Australian produce, K-pop tunes and bespoke ceramic tableware embracing the theme. Fine Fellow holds regular How It's Made events featuring some of the designers carried in the store, along with a bunch of other immersive events like workshops and wardrobe styling sessions. And if you're just as interested in the design process as you are in the finished product, check out Marina Roorda at work with the rest of the Bermuda Black team. "The production side of things is a little less glamorous than the design, but it's something that needs so much detail, focus and attention. When you see it, you get a much better appreciation of the finished product" promises the brand's Adrian Roorda.
Naomi Taplin at Studio Enti.
There's a unanimous commitment to ethical design among the laneway's creative crew. Each brand believes you can create something beautiful while working in a way that allows for a crystal clear conscience. Studio Enti's Naomi Taplin sticks to Australian porcelain and employs strict recycling processes. Bermuda Black follows the ethos "what we can't use, we give a new purpose", sourcing materials following environmental standards and donating scraps to the grateful students at the nearby National Art School. Bex Frost and Christian Olea at Spunky Bruiser thumb their noses at mass-production, fashioning garments exclusively from recycled and reclaimed materials. You can even bring in some old fabric or clothes to be incorporated into a new piece, like that old tapestry of your Nan's or that dress with the awesome pattern you accidentally shrank down to child-size (lesson: never launder after rosé).
Custom clothing at Spunky Bruiser.
At Foley Street, the retail experience is refreshingly human. Fine Fellow's Clara Ho works directly with the designers she stocks and knows most personally, seeking out makers who share her aesthetic sensibilities and sustainable philosophy. Spunky Bruiser's Bex and Christian blithely eschew conventional sizing, and instead, customise their clothing to honour your individual shape and personality. Plus, like we said, they love incorporating your sentimental mementoes into the design (i.e. Nan's tapestry). A large part of the laneway's charm comes down to the lack of barrier between customer and creator. How often do you get to meet the person who designed your shirt, crafted your dinnerware or spent a day making your shoes? "It's very intimate," says Naomi Taplin. "You get to meet the people who are making the products, so when you do purchase a piece you have the history, the story of the object."
Along with good design, every artisan in the laneway deliberately avoids trends and fads. Bermuda Black's fashion and accessories embrace a minimalist, timeless aesthetic (albeit with the occasional eccentric flourish or, as Adrian Roorda puts it, "an exclamation mark"). The elegance of Studio Enti's classic ceramics belies their dishwasher-proof hardiness, and the designs of Spunky Bruiser can easily be considered "eternally relevant". Clara Ho at Fine Fellow wants to educate people about "buying less, but buying better." It's pretty simple, isn't it? Buying a small number of well-made items that will stand the test of time rather than replacing things every season is the more sustainable choice — although we get that switching your boots from fast fashion to designer may feel extravagant at first. "It takes time. It takes maybe spending that first few hundred dollars on that really gorgeous investment piece to understand and be converted," says Ho. Whether you're treating yourself or buying a gift, Foley Street is the perfect opportunity to start re-thinking the way you shop.