Fairbairn, fashion from the heart

Fairbairn Sydney

I recently flaneured in Paddington, an inner city suburb in eastern Sydney. Leisurely browsing the windows of the hip shops on William Street (which in a long-ago lifetime were quaint Victorian terrace homes), I entered a women’s fashion shop called Fairbairn, drawn in by its soothing vibe.
The décor is serene, I immediately felt at home. The cleanly-cut clothes had a timeless elegance, which I love.


41 William St, Paddington - Fairbairn website

I started to chat with a lady busily sewing at the counter. She apologised, explaining that she was working on a special order. It turned out that she was the shop owner, as well as the designer, and – as she simply put it – the “maker”.


Fairbairn Sydney, Ruth Fairbairn


Ruth Fairbairn was born in New Zealand. It is where her roots are and it exerts a strong influence on who she is and how she interprets design. She graduated from the Sydney’s University of Technology with a degree in fashion.

Ruth started selling clothes in street markets with her sister, a jewellery designer. It was a way to test her designs and to study client reactions to learn what worked and what didn’t. She insists that a designer should always conduct market research before launching a brand, a step that young designers often skip.

She told me that she is truly stimulated by nature. She’s inspired by art, particularly the works of painter Georgia O’Keefe. Ruth also finds inspiration in the arts and crafts movement. She describes herself as a “maker” and told me that her parents were also “makers” – specific to cloth – who were influential in her development as a designer.

Her brand reflects her philosophy with a clear relationship to the earth. Beyond mere function, her creations hold meaning. She says women who are drawn to her designs tend to be “from the earth”.

Her clothes are timeless. The cuts are impeccable and the fabrics are chosen with rare attention; linen from Belgium or Italy, beautiful cottons and silks from Japan.


Fairbairn Sydney


She prefers natural fibres and believes in comfort. Each piece oozes the love of the maker. Her on-off garments celebrate the beauty of handiwork. You can recognise a Fairbairn design by a signature stitch she uses – the running stitch or ticking.


Fairbairn Sydney


Ruth loves earthy colours. She also works with a lot of blues. She doesn’t really like pattern, although recently she’s been experimenting with some – what she describes as Liberty style, but not “corny”.


Fairbairn Sydney


Always curious, she is constantly researching. She keenly observes how women dress and her line evolves based on her constant discovery. For instance, she says the dresses she makes have a masculine touch “because women are now ‘workers””.


Fairbairn Sydney


Fairbairn is a destination shop. Her clients come from across Australia and further beyond. They are faithful. Ruth has a rare gift for customer service, taking time to look after each person individually. One client purchased a special jacket after seeing it on Ruth’s Instagram account. I observed how preoccupied Ruth became over fulfilling the order, expressing real concern that the fit and feel of the garment would please her habitué.


Fairbairn Sydney


Ruth has been in business for 16 years and hopes to be making clothes long after her hair turns grey. She makes clothes from the heart. Sewing is what she calls her “meditation”. That said, if people stop buying, she will just close the door and disappear without regrets.

If you love intelligent fashion with a backstory, and hand-finished garments made from natural fibres, next time you are in Sydney pay a visit to Fairbairn.

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