Fashion is a funny thing. For all that it is an expression of ourselves, it is equally as soulless and impersonal. We are dictated to, told what to wear, how we should sculpt our image to suit fads or genres. We are the servants of fashion when, in reality, it should be a reflection of our ethos and creativity.
A little under five years ago, Sam and Zane Grier had an itching to head north. Their first child already taking tentative first steps and a second on the way, they agreed that a North Coast sea change was in order, following in the footsteps of Zane’s parents and his brother, Tristan.
“We travelled the world, following the snow for twelve years, before settling in New Zealand for three years,” says Driftlab‘s co-founder, Sam. “Zane was posted to New Zealand by Quiksilver, to run their retail division and open eight retail outlets, and our son, Ethan, was born over there as well. Things changed with Quiksilver so we decided to move up here. Tristan owns Harvest Restaurant, right next door to our Newrybar store, and Zane’s parents own a property in Knockrow. We weren’t sure what to do, looking at business back in Sydney and other places, but we just couldn’t leave Byron.”
Byron Bay’s unique lifestyle and mindset drew the couple in. A peaceful, colourful, natural region to raise children but also feeding their creative interests, Zane and Sam settled, establishing Driftlab in the heart of Byron just a few months later. Although there have been the usual tides of change and adaptations so intrinsic to retail, the concept was clear from the outset: to create a platform to support up and coming artists and designers.
Independent local and national fashion labels are juxtaposed with brands of more renown, jewellery and accessories from the region share shelf space with international designs and walls are adorned with a continually changing exhibition of work from Shire artists and photographers. From the first garment, Driftlab was about reflecting a lifestyle, rather than catering to the whims and winds of fashion.
“Zane studied photography and we’ve both always loved art,” says Sam, “but we’ve also always loved independent brands. There are so many designers out there coming out with amazing products and they find it so hard to crack into the big retailers. We were never interested in being one of those – we never wanted to be mainstream. We will always have a mix of mainstream labels as well as indie ones, because you have to, but we want to be able to provide a home for them to grow their brand and become successful.”
In shedding this subservience to convention, Driftlab has been able to develop its own persona; chic, high quality and couture, with a grounded, more rustic dimension, a little bit bohemian, a little bit street, all Byron. The very name Driftlab has sprung from exactly this mindset. Drift wood is happened upon, an environmental offering, worn smooth, clean and beautiful but pure and organic. The clinical precision of the laboratory reflects clean lines and quality, the reassurance that, for all its earthy simplicity it is every bit as well crafted and distinct.
Raen Optics, Vans and Converse footwear, Deus Ex Machina apparel and Brixton head gear share rail space with local labels Tallow, Goddess of Babylon and Afends, diverse when viewed independently but seamlessly interwoven in Driftlab’s impeccably crafted context. Perhaps a reflection of the creators’ personal tastes, with more than a dash of local creativity, but exemplary tastes they are that speak to a wider audience.
“This area does have it’s raw earthiness and artistic feel, but then it does mix in with the coolness and edginess of the city,” Sam explains. “that’s what we try to embody in our style.”
Retail in Byron Bay speaks for itself. Quiet times occur, but for the greater part, the thriving tourist town provides a steady stream of foot traffic right to the door. But in Newrybar, a casual, passing clientele is far less readily available. This is where the symbiosis with Harvest Restaurant pays off.
Sam and Zane have expanded their support of the region’s artisan community. In their position, it may well make good business sense to bring in local labels and develop direct relationships with designers and creators, but their creation has become far more bipartisan to include artists and photographers, as well as those creating retail items.
Driftlab, in both it’s venues, is a working gallery, an exhibition space. From the art on the walls to the clothing and accessories, everything embodies creativity. Personal passions instigated the interest in local art and developing character and atmosphere within their stores inspired them further. But Sam and Zane’s desire to support regional talent goes beyond the bounds of their business.
“We’ve got a whole wall in our Byron store that that we have dedicated to an artist’s space,” says Sam. “We’ve used it for a couple of our suppliers, Brixton and The Critical Slide Society, who have done installations. We love working with brands like that because they’ve got a vision like ours – they aren’t only about selling clothes, it’s about representing the lifestyle and the culture. “But our real vision was to use it for local artists. We’ve always had artists’ work on the walls and we rotate them every six weeks with openings and exhibition launches. We really want to develop that aspect of Driftlab further. But we also want to begin collecting together all the artists that contact us and launch a biannual event to exhibit and share all the wonderful artwork we have discovered.”
The future holds humble growth for Driftlab with a more developed online store, but Sam and Zane’s enthusiasm radiates most when this subject of exhibitions and artists is discussed. Creativity is the underlying passion that has influenced Driftlab but it has inspired so much more.
If you are an upcoming local artist, Driftlab wants you.
The Driftlab team is continually looking for new creations to exhibit, including artwork and photography, but also leather goods, shoes, hats, knitting or giftware such as candles, sculptures and pottery.