You know her as the insanely talented bombshell @effiekats on Instagram. A fashion designer with so much of her own flair she begets attention. With so many Australian celebrities flaunting her clothes (Dannii Minogue, DJ Havana Brown, Pip Edwards, Moana Hope, April Rose Pengilly, Brooke Boney, Lana Wilkinson), she’s everywhere at the moment.
It’s not easy to imagine then, this designer at her “rock bottom” as she describes it. When she lost her first label Zachary in a misaligned business partnership, Effie sunk into depression. Here’s how she pulled herself out of that hole and relaunched herself to the world.
“I had my old label Zachary for five years. I started it through my family business structure (her family has a men’s suiting company), and it grew beyond our capability in terms of production because the demand was so high. So against my dad’s better judgement, I took the business away from the family and learned the hard way that business partnerships don’t always work out.
I started Zachary because I realised there was nothing in the way of dress shopping between Kookai and Manning Cartell. There was a gap in the market and my dad agreed so we went for it.
I wanted the brand to be the Tom Ford for every girl, with that really sexy Tom Ford-for-Gucci aesthetic but at an affordable price. We did things like backless dresses and plunging dresses in affordable materials to make them accessible for every woman. There was a big demand for what we were making, but I was really young and naive, I was only 23 when I started.
I don’t think anyone was ready for what came next. It kind of exploded and I decided it would be better to get a business partner with a manufacturing background to grow the business. But we just didn’t gel - our creative visions were in different places and I was being told to design for what sells rather than what I wanted to do.
It was a really painful divorce. In Nov 2017 I ended up losing the brand and eventually Zachary ended up going into administration.
Throughout that process, I really lost myself. It was so hard. I took five months off and I grieved. Zachary was my baby. It was a big knock to my confidence and I was like, I can’t design anymore! I couldn’t even squeeze out one. I was so emotionally depleted. I think what I learnt through that process was that I didn’t trust my gut instinct and I wasn’t strong enough to say no, this isn’t right for me.
I was young and in a partnership with someone who was older with a lot more experience. I wasn’t equipped to deal with it. I’m not a very confrontational person and I found myself not saying the things I wanted to say because I didn’t want to rock the boat or have another argument. So I found myself retreating and the brand moved in a direction that I didn’t want it to. I wasn’t being true to myself creatively because so many aspects of my process were being changed.
I suppose it’s like being in the wrong relationship. In any aspect of your life the wrong relationship can almost break you and you hit this point, for me it was rock bottom. I had developed severe anxiety, I struggled with just basic social interactions. Even just leaving the house. I was embarrassed and humiliated. I was really ashamed of myself.
I’d lost all my savings, lost my company, lost my voice, lost everything and at the end of the day I didn’t sit and point the finger and say ‘well it was because of this person.’ I made those choices. I brought people into my business, I made those decisions, I’m the one that allowed myself to shrink.
My mind was the most scary place to be. I didn’t have any coping strategies, I couldn’t afford to do anything. I just sat in it.
It was actually my partner who pushed me to start again. I was just moping around the house.
I had only met him a few months prior but he was great. He would say, “People want what you have,” and he encouraged me to start taking outfit photos which helped build my Instagram. Then I designed a pair of pinstripe pants and he was like, “Just put them out there. Post them, see what happens.” I was terrified to take that leap because I knew that if nothing happened, I would be so shattered. I was so fragile at that point. But I sold 30 pairs in two weeks! I had 12,000 followers and I just kept putting things out. Effie Kats grew from there and now I have a few staff members and have launched two other businesses - Bayse Brand and Dead End Lovers.
People have this misconception that you need to be tough all the time, I had days where I would feel so weak and have no confidence in myself but it was my will to survive that really got me through. And now I know that you can have those days - and that’s okay, we’re all going to have those days - you just need to have the will to go on. That’s the key element.
The best thing that came out of it is that I did save myself and now I know I can get through the hard times and it will be okay. That is so liberating and makes me feel so empowered.”