Desley Maidment and Brigitte MacGowan are a breath of fresh air. Since launching State of Escape less than two years ago, their beautiful, functional (and machine-washable!) carryalls have gained a reputation as the perfect everyday bag. Yet when we meet them at a beautiful art deco apartment in Kirribilli owned by Brigitte’s artist mum, they’re as charming, relaxed and easy-going as the Northern Beaches where they both live and work.
While sipping on tea and sifting through piles of neoprene, sailing rope and metal bits and bobs, the duo chatted about designing with intention, responding to setbacks, and taking time out to escape the daily grind.
How did you guys meet? Do you recall your first impressions of each other?
Brigitte: The first time we ever met was actually at a mother’s group. And I think we were so delirious - our babies were all of about six weeks old - so I don’t really remember!
Desley: We just got along. It was one of those things where you just meet somebody and you know that there’s a connection.
How did the brand come about?
Brigitte: We came across neoprene and thought that there must be another great use for this fabric. Traditionally, perforated neoprene was used for orthopedics - we tried to repurpose it into more of a fashion item.
Desley: It wasn’t just about creating a bag and hoping it would work. Every single component was specifically considered before it was, or wasn’t, added to the bag.
How long did it take to develop the final design?
Desley: We were at it for a good 12 months.
Did you test it yourselves?
Desley: Oh yeah, Brig took the first bag away with her on holidays to Palm Cove. She’d send me photos saying, “Looks great!”
Brigitte: But the rope was stuck on with glue! It would’ve fallen apart in about a minute.
Did you spend a bit of time at Bunnings?
Brigitte: Yes, and Whitworths [Sailboat Hardware]!
Desley: Brig is very good at thinking outside of the square and not just looking at the usual zips, buttons, snaps.
How important is it to you to be hands-on with your business?
Brigitte: We try to keep things as local as we can, and we like it that way because we deal with a really great group of people.
Desley: All of our bags are handmade because of the components, particularly the neoprene. Every pattern is hand cut. Doing that offshore is just not an option. Managing it locally, we have flexibility and we can turn things around really quickly.
The theme of this issue is The Perfectionists. What are your thoughts on perfectionism - is it attainable?
Desley: I think we are constantly trying to improve our product. And I think that’s part of keeping it local so we can maintain control of it. It’s fundamental to our business because the minute you lose that desire to achieve perfection is the day the love goes out of the product and the quality starts to diminish.
Brigitte: We inspect the bags very closely. We don’t just check every other bag - every single bag gets checked before it goes out because we don’t want anyone to get an inferior bag. We take it pretty seriously.
So you look after the quality control yourselves?
Brigitte: We are control freaks!
Is it time consuming?
But it must be worth it...
Desley: Exactly. We can catch a mistake very quickly and it won’t go anywhere. It stays with us and it gets fixed. It’s better if we manage it this way even if it’s a bit time consuming, as opposed to having a customer who’s unhappy. We’re trying to make sure that 99.9% of the time the bags are amazing.
If you didn’t love what you do, do you think your business would have progressed as far as it has?
Desley: It is a lot of hard work but we love all the different aspects. Brig is very creative and good at social media and PR, that’s where her strengths lie, and I do more of the back-end. That works really well for us because we complement each other.
Brigitte: Spreadsheets send me to sleep...
Desley: ...whereas I love them!
How do you cope when things don’t go to plan?
Brigitte: The hardest thing about being a perfectionist is that you take things very personally. I think that’s why we love it when we get that fabulous feedback but of course there are times when things aren’t great and you do take it to heart. The longer we’ve been in the business the more we’ve had to take the emotion out of it and say, let’s just resolve this problem and move forward.
What are your plans for the brand? Do you have a vision of where it’s going?
Brigitte: We have a couple of new styles that we’re working on. This past March, it was two years since we launched the brand. We’ve been chasing our tails nonstop since we started because we’ve grown so quickly, so I’m looking forward to being able to consolidate. And we’ll be moving into new premises - I can’t wait to set up a proper design studio.
Do you ever make time to have a break?
Brigitte: Yeah, we’re pretty good at that!
Desley: There was a period where we didn’t have much of a break and you just start to go a little bit insane. It’s really important for us that we are able to feel refreshed.
Brigitte: One of the reasons we set up the business in the first place was because we both wanted an excuse to travel. That was always the dream. Hence the name, State of Escape.
Finally, tell us your idea of a perfect day. Would you have a sleep in?
Brigitte & Desley [in unison]: No!
Desley: Mine would be really simple. Just fresh air, sunshine, some water and I’m happy. I just want to have no shoes and no make-up and just go to the beach with the kids and hang out in the backyard in the evening.
Brigitte: I’d definitely start by riding my horse, and then a big day out with the kids on our boat up the coast. There’s no phone reception so you go up there and no one can contact you and it’s brilliant! I call it a grown-up cubby house.
State Of Escape is available from our Sydney City, Melbourne QV and Chadstone Women's stores.