Mary Lou Ryan of bassike on Designing and Producing Sustainable Clothing

This season, DA MAN Style heads south to meet one of Australia’s leading fashion brands: bassike. And who better to introduce us—and you—to bassike than Mary Lou Ryan, the brand’s co-founder and creative director for menswear.

This season, DAMAN Style heads south to meet one of Australia’s leading fashion brands: bassike. And who better to introduce us—and you—to bassike than Mary Lou Ryan, the brand’s co-founder and creative director for menswear. Despite the name, there is nothing ordinary or, well, basic, about bassike. Founded in 2006 by Deborah Sams and Mary Lou Ryan, bassike is now one of Australia’s foremost fashion brands with a formidable online presence (on top of an ever-expanding offline presence in and outside of Australia), a strong focus on sustainability and a solid reputation for organic materials. And, of course, a wide range of wardrobe essentials that work just as well as part of structured looks or casual getups.
For this issue of DAMAN Style, we sat down for a transcontinental chat with Mary Lou Ryan, bassike’s co-founder and creative director for menswear, to learn more about the brand’s origins, its design philosophy and its extensive approach towards sustainable fashion.

DA MAN: In a nutshell, how would you describe the brand DNA of bassike?

Mary Lou Ryan: Our philosophy has always been centered on high quality design, construction and a commitment to sustainable manufacturing. The DNA of bassike is built on clean, minimal lines, with signature design twists; which for menswear includes tailoring, lo slung styles, heritage fabrics, twisted seams and raw hems.

DA: Can you also share with us the story of how the brand started?
MLR: bassike launched in 2006 with an organic cotton jersey collection. We love the concept of jersey being paired with more tailored pieces, so from the very beginning we designed the brand to sit in high end boutiques alongside luxury brands. One of the most poignant decisions for us at the time was the use of organic cotton, which was uncommon in the contemporary designer space back then. Our organic cotton jersey that was developed exclusively by us for that very first collection is still part of our collections today—14 years on!

DA: What were some of the most important milestones in bassike’s journey so far?

MLR: Building a strong retail platform was key to our growth in the Australian market, this helped tell our story and gave bassike a holistic brand identity. It was also important for our customer to understand the design and quality of our product.

DA: Recently, bassike was recognized by Bergdorf Goodman and was included in the BG Radar platform. Can you tell us a bit more about the brand’s global reach?

MLR: Building the brand internationally is a big focus for us at the moment, we have been lucky enough to have developed a loyal local following and now see the U.S. as our next opportunity for growth, as the U.S. resonates with the laidback Australian lifestyle embodied by bassike—particularly on the West Coast where we have a flagship store in Venice, Los Angeles. We were thrilled to have been selected to take part in the BG Radar program earlier this year, having only just launched in Bergdorf Goodman for our Resort collection late last year. Working with strong wholesale partners internationally has been a great launch pad to a new market.

DA: Are there any marked differences between bassike customers in Australia and abroad? Are there any particular collections, lines or pieces that do better abroad than at home or vice versa?

MLR: As bassike was developed in Australia in 2006, our local customer has been on a journey with us for many years now and has developed their own style alongside bassike season after season. We have found that internationally, as people are still becoming familiar with the brand, they lean towards the original bassike signature looks such as jersey and lo slung denim, but are slowly gaining interest in our mainline “fashion” pieces as our presence builds.

DA: As more and more people come to know the brand, we were wondering: What was the most unique, intriguing or otherwise memorable feedback you’ve ever received about bassike?
MLR: Our customers are so loyal, and it’s always so heartening to hear the genuine love out there for the brand. Celebrating 10 years of the brand back in 2016 was a particularly memorable moment that brought together the bassike team, collaborators and friends of the brand, as well as being able to share the success with our customers.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that we follow trends. I am more influenced by street culture and the way people put individual pieces together”

DA: While bassike’s womenswear offerings are perhaps more widely known, the brand also has an extensive selection for men. How would you describe the idea of a “bassike man”?
MLR: The bassike man is interested in broader design and culture beyond fashion, he appreciates quality fit and fabrication and tends to be more understated in the way he dresses. He will often wear luxury brands back with bassike and buys his favorite bassike staples season after season.

DA: Can you give us a brief intro to bassike’s spring/summer 2020 collection?
MLR: There is a focus on elevating bassike menswear in this collection, but it still delivers more tailored and detailed pieces alongside casual basics with our signature twist. For spring/summer 2020 we have taken the traditional concepts of bassike and elevated this through fabrication, design and tailoring. With our customer in mind, we have created clever pieces that can be worn from work to weekend.

DA: Are there any menswear pieces—from any season—that you would consider really iconic and representative of bassike as a whole?
MLR: We design building blocks for your wardrobe, with every collection designed to work back with the previous and the next. The most iconic bassike menswear pieces for me are our slouch jersey tees, lo slung drill pants and combat pants shape—which we continue to develop in a range of colors and fabrications for different tastes and occasions.

DA: When preparing a new collection, what is the process usually like at bassike?
MLR: Menswear has a relatively refined approach that always begins with fabric, color and silhouettes each season. We build out a complete range story from there being sure to offer a tight and consistent edit of key pieces every man needs for the season ahead.

DA: How do you approach global fashion trends? How much does popular trends and styles influence bassike’s designs?
MLR: We have always paved our own way. So, while there is certainly influence coming from a range of places, I wouldn’t necessarily say that we follow trends. I am more influenced by street culture and the way people put individual pieces together. My partner often inspires me, as he has such ease in how he puts things together and I think that simplicity is how guys prefer to dress.

DA: We’ve heard bassike’s locally-produced organic jersey often mentioned as one of the most popular aspects of the brand. Can you elaborate a bit on this subject? And what other kinds of sustainably sourced material are you using or looking into?
MLR: In the very beginning we were lucky to have the opportunity to develop our own organic cotton jersey for the brand, this exclusive fabrication that allowed easy wash and wear with a luxurious hand feel became key to our success early on. We have always supported local manufacturing and knit all of our jersey in Melbourne, Australia and make over 90 percent of our entire men’s and women’s collections here in Sydney.
Our brand and product mix has developed over time and we are always looking to source and work back with new mills that use ethical and sustainable methods. Overall, we always strive to use natural materials where we can, as we are inspired by the way they look, feel and perform. Current examples of sustainably-minded materials featured in our collections include our denim that is handmade the traditional way by third-generation Japanese denim makers, with natural dyes and processes that reduce waste and recycle water. We have also recently introduced a naturally sustainable linen, which requires no irrigation and is woven in a carbon neutral mill.

DA: Beyond material choices, what are some other ways that bassike approaches sustainability?
MLR: We are continually evaluating our approach to sustainability across the entire bassike business. We have key stakeholders across departments that meet monthly to discuss and implement change, as well as a dedicated sustainability and operations manager who oversees our production team end-to-end. As new opportunities arise, we continue to explore new practices to build a better future for our brand and our planet.
Some ways beyond material choices that we look to lessen our environmental footprint include the use of travelling garment bags to minimise the use of plastics in our business. These travel from makers to our distribution centre and between our stores to protect our garments. This year, we will be carbon offsetting all Australian e-commerce parcels and already work with a company, Greenfleet, to offset carbon emissions in other parts of our business.
I believe in echoing our philosophy of best practice across both the business and in my personal life. I just recently bought an electric car!

DA: bassike has a very strong online presence as well as brick-and-mortar stores and placement at various retailers. Moving forward, will Bassike concentrate on expanding its digital store or will there be a bigger push towards offline shopping?
MLR: We will continue grow both our bricks and mortar presence, as well as developing our digital channel. As consumers continue to turn their attention to the opportunities afforded by online retail, I feel having a physical presence continues to be important for us to tell our brand story. It is an added way to connect with the community surrounding our store locations and, most importantly, is where our customers can actually touch and feel the quality of our designs.

DA: And our last question: What’s next for Bassike? What is the next major milestone for the brand?
MLR: Growing our menswear business and the brand as a whole internationally.