Built to Shine
Nobody Does it Better
There’s a small, unassuming pocket nestled in Melbourne’s inner northern suburb of Thornbury where, behind a collection of silver roller doors, sit some of the city’s most successful creatives. Furniture gurus Tait and Mark Tuckey have chosen to set up workshops and distribution outlets here, as has the Melbourne designed and manufactured denim dynamo – Nobody Denim.
Nobody is owned by Melburnian brothers Nick and John Condilis and, you could say, if you weren’t afraid of a terrible pun and, luckily, I am not, that their passion for denim is well and truly in their genes. Their father, Jim, was renowned in the business for managing a denim laundry for former jeans client Dachet and it was here, in this steamy, loud and busy laundry, that the boys began to learn the trade. While studying for degrees in applied science (Nick) and engineering (John), the Condilis brothers would head down to the laundry in the evening where they would help Jim with the stonewashing and abrasion for a variety of clients.
In 1992, when Jim decided to open his own denim laundry in Fitzroy, it made perfect sense for his sons to follow him into the business. John gave up his engineering job, and both he and Nick joined their father to start working in what John calls “a mad scientist’s laboratory”. This analogy seems pretty apt, as Jim Condilis was known in the industry for being something of a denim scientist, creating his own wash recipes to get the stonewashing and abrasion just right for specific fabrics. “Dad had a real reputation,” says Nick. “He was known for being the best in the business because his wash recipes were different to all the others out there. From a denim perspective, the success of a garment is all in the wash. Every company has its own signature wash, and our father’s recipes, which we used in the laundry for clients like Levi’s and Lee, were known to be some of the best. We learned it all from him and have continued to tweak and evolve his recipes over the years.”
Throughout the early nineties, the laundry was hugely successful, producing 18,000 to 20,000 pieces a week for a client list that reads like a global who’s who of denim. By the end of the decade, however, things were looking a little different. The advent of free trade agreements meant the end of tariff protection and the Condilises noticed that an ever-increasing number of their clients were taking their business offshore, resulting in the brothers having to rethink the laundry.
With their years of experience and connections, it made perfect sense that they stay in the industry and, despite having no formal training, Nick decided to utilise what he calls his “keen eye for detail” and move into a design role. After all, they had learned what worked and what didn’t over the years, and so, with the help of a pattern cutter, Nobody (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the brand’s absence of a so-called star designer) was born.
Determined to continue producing garments of the utmost quality, John and Nick went straight to the top and looked to Japan for their fabric. Renowned for producing the best denim in the world, Japan fabric suppliers are the best for a reason and are very particular about who they do business with – as John found out. “About 12 years ago, I flew to Japan with our creative director to meet with Kaihara, a company that has set the benchmark when it comes to denim, and doesn’t let just anyone use its fabrics. We met with its managing director, Mr Kaihara, who is the third generation Kaihara,” he says.
“We went into a meeting room, which was surrounded with denim swatches, and sat and spoke with Mr Kaihara for about 10 minutes, telling him all about our experience and knowledge in the industry. In the middle of the conversation, he suddenly stood up, walked out of the room and came back with an armful of completely different fabric samples. In response to us demonstrating our knowledge and experience, we were suddenly privy to the newly developed swatches. It was the start of a wonderful relationship, which is still going strong today.”
These connections, mixed with years of experience and hard work, saw the business flourish until, like the rest of the world, Nobody Denim began to feel the squeeze of the global financial crisis, and the brothers made the decision to pull the whole business in-house. They then shifted the focus to getting the right people into the right jobs in order to push the business forward. “Best thing we ever did,” says Nick. “We got rid of external manufacturers, stripped everything back and gained full control of our business.”
With his engineering background, John took control of Nobody Denim’s manufacturing process, buying machinery from a subcontractor who had been ready to sell up. “I knew nothing at first,” he says. “I brought in consultants, and together we evolved the whole process until we were happy with the final product. Everyone thought I was crazy, and for those first three weeks we couldn’t get a garment out, but we knew that people loved the product and so we persevered. We now produce 800 pieces a day.”
Nobody Denim is unique in the way that its Thornbury headquarters is home to a business that is fully integrated, meaning that its design, manufacturing and distribution is all under the same Australian roof. “We’re the only denim business in Australia to work like this,” says Nick. “People, particularly the Millennials, appreciate a locally designed and made approach, as they are always on the lookout for businesses that provide a new way of doing things.”
Working alongside John and Nick is design director, Rebekah ‘Bek’ McQuoid. “Bek has the most phenomenal knowledge,” says Nick. “We first met her in the late 90s when she worked for Lee Jeans as a design assistant and would come to the laundry in Fitzroy. We met up with her again about five years ago and asked if she’d be interested in being brought on board.” McQuoid has now been with the company for three and a half years and has helped take the business into a world where, while the focus is still on denim, complementary pieces are slowly being incorporated into the quarterly collections.
“We’re really moving forward into a fashion-led space,” she says. “We already have a popular range of t-shirts, shirts, dresses and jackets, and recently we’ve started to work with different fabrics such as leather and knits.”
Where denim is concerned, McQuoid certainly knows what she’s talking about. She has a four-year stint in the US working with Gap under her belt, which was swiftly followed by eight years back in Australia working with New Look and overseeing its move into Asia. McQuoid works hands-on with her designers from concept to creation. “When we’re starting out with a collection we, of course, look to trends for our inspiration, but our final design is always led by the fabric,” she says. “Fabric is key for us and we are always considering how the jean will perform and fit. A good quality jean is a fashion staple and Nobody Denim’s signature is all in the fit and the wash. It’s what we do best. I’ve now lost count of the number of times – when they find out what I do – that people come up to me and say, ‘I didn’t realise just how a jean should fit and feel until I wore yours’. It’s what makes Nobody Denim so special.”
It’s not often that you find yourself face-to-face with a denim expert and so it seems a wasted opportunity to let McQuoid go without asking the age-old denim question: how often should you wash your jeans?
“It’s a good question and there are many answers to it,” McQuoid laughs. “If your denim is raw then try not to wash them for at least six months and if you feel that they’re getting a bit gross you can put them in the freezer to kill the germs then spray them with Febreze. If they aren’t raw, but you want to keep them super dark, try to not wash them too often and, when you do wash them, do it in cold water and inside out.”