Lingerie Designer, Kelly Barrett on business, fashion and feminism
Aussie lingerie brand Silent Arrow is currently making waves, advocating for women not only with its designs, but also with its actions.
With a strong social and feminist agenda that champions diversity, freedom of expression and the strength of the female spirit, Silent Arrow is for the woman who is unafraid to be seen, a radical departure from an industry that has minimised women’s lingerie needs as being purely decorative for the male gaze.
Founded in 2016 by designer Kelly Barrett, an industry veteran who has a long and diverse career that includes working with Kylie Minogue on the Love Kylie lingerie range.
Kelly has a design aesthetic that is bold and edgy, merging the line of fashion and lingerie. She reins in the rebellious sprit of Silent Arrow with a balance of architectural lines, fine mesh ruffles and lace.
Since its inception, Silent Arrow has advocated for all women with its donation of a pair of cotton iconic undies to women’s shelters and charities with every single item sold.
Below we caught up with the Melbourne designer in the midst of the launch of Silent Arrow’s first active collection, Loyal, which sold out in just 24 hours!
What an amazing brand! How did you transition into the whole concept?
Thank you! Transition is the right word, I have changed a lot and so has the brand over the past 2 years.
I have had to learn to trust my voice and be willing to be ‘seen’, I am naturally a behind the scenes person so it is still a challenge to do video content etc.
I really wanted to do something creative and expressive with the ranges and I didn’t want to compromise my message. Having my own label allows me to do that.
I wouldn’t have started the brand without a social justice element, if I can use my skills to help another person then that is my responsibility, so the undies donation was born too.
What was your career like before Silent Arrow?
I worked in corporate for 8 years then started a private label business with my partner 10 years ago doing product for other brands. That has been really successful and I came to a place where I wanted do something that represented me and helped others.
What was it like working with Kyle Minogue on her lingerie brand?
The first time I met her was in Paris, my luggage was lost and I was wearing the most embarrassing long-haul outfit ever…I definitely didn’t look like I knew anything about fashion. At the time she was MASSIVE, she’d taken off in the States and was really big in the UK, but she was this sweet open person. I remember she poured my water for me and was really interested in what I had to say. This woman was a super-star, but was humble and kind, I was really blown away.
She’s opinionated and knows what she likes, but she is also really open to other creative ideas, I found her great to work with.
What is the driving motivation behind your passion for women's rights and freedom of expression?
I don’t understand a world where women are paid less for the same job, where we have to look a certain way to get heard, but then we aren’t heard anyway. Where men are valued more as they get older and women are valued less. Where having babies puts you at a disadvantage and creates poverty in retired women.
And being submissive and demure is they way we are supposed to act and if we are expressive we are blamed for sexual attacks on us.
I remember being so confused as a child and teenager, I didn’t understand the rules. If I swore I was put down, girls don’t swear…but boys did. I was into BMX riding as an adolescent and the same boys that always tried to speak to me and get my attention would not lend me an allen key because they didn’t want me on the track.
I’m a pretty straight forward person and I am myself, but I have still found it so hard, especially post babies to find my voice. I really want to encourage women to speak up and be themselves, to stop editing what they are saying and be fully themselves. I also want to encourage sexual expression for their own journey.
You work with some wonderful women's shelters, homeless women's organisations and Aboriginal women's health centres. Tell us about your experience at these places?
I am the lucky one that gets to visit, but it is my customers that are actually donating the undies. Sometimes I am packing up a parcel for interstate and not actually going and I feel sad when I do it. I know the next person who gets the underwear is in a really hard place, that’s why I included the print in the back ‘you are loved’, hoping that they read that and feel some connection to the gift. I have had some difficult times in my life where I wondered how I was going to get out of it and feeling really alone and I connect back to this space to relate to the women I meet.
The women in these shelters or homeless women are just like you and me, except something has happened that changed the course of their life. Usually domestic abuse.
Tell us about some of the unique highlights of the brand such as cuts, cups and sizing in place to make women feel and look more body-confident?
I am surprisingly practical when it comes to design, I work around the areas that I know women don’t like to emphasise and start from there. I am currently doing a sports bra that is very different than anything you have ever seen, but my starting point is the body and what I am trying to achieve for support.
The bras with underwires are quite wide set because I hate wires digging in. The cut outs in the range are planned around the flattering parts of the body, so whilst they look daring, they sit flat and the function is not compromised.
I do bras with and without foam lined cups, a lot of women only wear foam lined bras, including myself, foam gives a nice rounded shape that makes me feel more confident, especially in clothing.
I started the brand stupidly listening to advice to stop at size 14 as above 14 women won’t buy online and I have regretted it. It fundamentally goes against how I feel about inclusion and giving women options. It is hard with minimums being a small brand, but I have found a way to include more sizes and not pay double the price for manufacturing. I’m so happy to say we have all the ranges going to size 18, and trialling one to 20. I have a Busted range that goes to 16G .
What has been some of the feedback from women wearing your brand?
That is the best part of my job, the feedback I get is incredible. Women write in and tell me how powerful they feel and how they have never felt like this and it is the first time a bra has fitted them properly. I also get lots of messages about how happy they are to see women that look like them in advertising. That is another mission I am on, we need to see examples of ourselves to feel good, so I try and have as much diversity as possible to represent different women.
I got a message from a woman that saw our Facebook ad for my maternity bra, the photo is one of our customers and she is sitting on the bed and shows her post baby belly. She looks gorgeous, but different to what we see. The woman said she saw the photo and burst out crying, she said she had never seen someone that looks like her in beautiful lingerie. There is nothing better than reading a message like that, it is what keeps me going.
Do you plan to introduce any new colours?
YES! Very soon.
What do you think has been the key to your brands success?
I think women are sick of being sold either practical ugly underwear or fantasy lingerie that makes them feel like shit. Women want to express themselves and they need to feel supported doing it. We repost and support women however we can.
I also think we are always honest, we tell the truth when we stuff up and are just trying to do our best. We definitely are coming from a good place and energetically women pick up on that.
What are some business challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
Manufacturing minimums is really tough, there is a reason there are virtually no independent small lingerie brands around doing structured bras. My first factory would only make 8 sizes, we are now up to 19 sizes per style. The factory probably hates me! But I am determined to include more women.
What's been your career highlight?
Working with women on Silent Arrow has been so incredibly inspiring. I don’t manage the social media any more, but when I go on holidays I always read comments and messages because I miss the women, like I miss a friend. Knowing I can make a difference to a woman and how they view themselves is my career highlight.
What's your favourite inspirational quote?
I’m a greenie and want my business to reflect my values. I’ve worked really hard the past 2 years on recycled microfibre fabric and finally I can release my new ranges in recycled nylon! Yay. The next season will also use recycled elastic and then foam.
I don’t want to be on this treadmill of throwaway fashion, the new ranges are even higher quality because I want them to be worn to death. It costs more so my price points have gone up, but I’ve decided that ethically that sits better with me.