A LITTLE LOOK AT HOW I GOT HERE
BY SARAH HUMPHREY
To celebrate our one year birthday, I thought I’d tell you the Chasing Unicorns backstory and a bit of my life story in the process as this business is very personal and the two are all woven together. This business was launched out of pure passion and a lifelong clothes love (read: obsession). I don’t have a degree in fashion, marketing or textiles. I have a degree in human biology, a critical, scientific mind, a self-learned knowledge of production techniques, a very strong sense of personal style and a clearly defined ethos of considered consumption and longevity in my garments, from these tools, my brand has risen.
A bit about me, I’m from outside Boston, USA. My parents were old hippies. We had lots of land and lots of animals and we never owned a single tv or computer ( I got my first computer when I started university and was stupidly tech-illiterate). My parents collected old things: wooden molding planes, art, furniture... and we always going to flea markets and antique auctions. I fell in love with vintage clothes very early on in life, I was scouting ‘70s blouses, old Levi cords and 1930s ball gowns when I was in year 9!
I went to Brown University in the States and studied Human Biology and was intending to go to medical school but my 3rd year I studied abroad at UWA in Perth and that pretty much derailed me. I went back to America to finish my fourth and final year but that dose of Australia had been enough to alter my definition of happiness and “success” as well as clear the fog out of my eyes about the American medical profession. In America, so much emphasis is put on your career field and financial success. People will say “what do you do?” - meaning work- before they ask you anything else. Your job is your defining characteristic. What I saw in Australia was people just working enough to have the lifestyle they wanted and being totally happy, they didn’t need the career status. It was quite mind-blowing.
So I moved back to Australia, started working in restaurants 6 months a year and traveling the other 6 months. I did this 6-month work/ 6-month travel thing for 8 years. I would work like crazy, save like crazy and go on epic journeys. During the 6 month stints of travel, I’d do things like Drive around Australia in a ‘73VW van, drive from Los Angeles to El Salvador in another ‘76 VW and then back to Boston. From El Salvador to the tip of Patagonia and up to Buenos Aires, from London to Senegal and back in yet another old VW van. Mauritius, Reunion, Madagascar, South Africa and New Zealand. I explored all through Indonesia multiple times, camping for months straight on vacant land in Sumatra, collecting rainwater, sleeping in a tent and cooking on a little tin portable camp stove. On another whim I agreed to Sail other people’s yachts from Cannes to Vanuatu and back for them....... you get the idea, I was determined to traipse the world over.
I thought I would never have children, I wasn’t maternal in the least and figured that there were already too many people in our world and I would sit that one out. I was just so happy seeing new places, meeting new people, doing stints of teaching English as a second language and collecting vintage at every market I could find along my travels. I would jam my VW full of impractical vintage and send home what I couldn't carry. Over the years, the superficiality of the traveling lifestyle started to bother me. I was always skating across the surface of everywhere I went, a voyeuristic traveler enjoying the sights but not really becoming part of these amazing places because I could move on whenever I chose and most of the locals would never have the opportunity to be able to. Never integrating, just sliding past.
I yearned to have more meaning and purpose in my life. I was interested in international public health and intended to get my masters in that and try to actually make a difference in the world but as I was out of money and needed to regroup so I decided to move to Byron Bay. I’d been through Byron for a few months here and there and it was a place that always called to me.
Within 2 months of moving to Byron, I met my husband Timmy and we fell crazy in love. All plans to get my masters degree were shelved. After 6 months we moved to Indonesia. After another 6 months, we were pregnant with our very first baby Phoenix. We left Indo, came back to Byron, threw ourselves into jobs, organised our financials, bought a little townhouse in Byron, and had our baby. At this time I also had all my friends and family from all over the world send me the boxes of vintage clothes I had been storing with them for years and my husband, Timmy, didn’t know what had hit him, I had managed to turn our townhouse into a giant wardrobe!
I blundered into new motherhood, bonding with my little group of Byron mumma's and doing a little styling and random forays into fashion here and there. We ended up doing one last travel/work/ year of living abroad over in Kauai but then I fell pregnant with Skye and this solidified both the urge and need to lay down some roots.
Back to Byron, it was, where we bought a restaurant (Timmy is a chef). We worked like crazy in that, had Sky followed closely by a third boy Tala. I realised I was going to go completely insane raising with 3 crazy boys in a little town house, so we decided to buy 11 acres in the hills of Byron Bay's hinterland. There was no house on the land, just a cement floored, tin-walled, 6x6 metre shed that had no running water. We chose not to sell our townhouse so we couldn’t afford to build a house on the new property and decided instead to buy a ‘70s bus that we could all sleep in. We cooked in the shed, put in an outdoor shower and had a simple composting toilet. For the next 3 years we grew heaps of veggies, acquired heaps of animals and spent pretty much every minute of everyday outdoors. During this time we had Coda.
Over the years I kept collecting vintage and doing research on the techniques used in the different eras that I adored and making note of my favourite designers from these decades past. I would become obsessed with beautiful little design features (like the pintucks you see adorning the back of the neck on original 1930s dresses, the French knotting found on lots of 1920s pieces and Art Deco beading). A few times, I wanted to start a label but Timmy voiced major reservations due to the fashion world being such a wasteful and environmentally damaging industry, it just didn’t suit our life ethos. We were people that consciously live close to the land with minimal impact and lots of our life choices based on that promise. We only ever used reusable/ washable nappies for all our children, never bought cheap mass-produced products, don’t use chemicals in our home or on our farm, always shopped locally and raised the produce we consumed and served in our restaurant. I was having a hard time convincing him that a fashion label was morally acceptable for us. But it was such a major passion in my life I kept trying.
I finally won with the core philosophy of making pieces in extremely limited numbers, made ethically using home industry, quality fabrics that have longevity, and making the details special enough in hopes that people would perceive what I make as pieces to be kept. Thus promoting conscious consumption and providing years of wear.
He agreed and off I went. It was like opening a Pandora’s box, the ideas and dreams I want to bring to life are endless and I’ve never felt so excited or fulfilled by an occupation. I am filled with so much gratitude for the way you have all embraced and supported my vision!! We are a little brand and despite our incredible year, I will keep Chasing Unicorns little. I am refraining from doing any wholesale moving forwards despite numerous daily requests, mainly because I don’t want to make my clothes in volume, therefore straying from my ethical and moral direction. I like looking individual and I know that my customers do too. We don’t want to look like everyone else, hate ubiquitous fashion and at Chasing Unicorns we will always keep everything limited edition. I have also made the choice to never enter into mass production. To do volume, brands have to go to machine embroidery (as in embroidery done not by a person at a sewing machine but rather by a room full of computer run, embroidery machines), and digital printing and I would lose the direct contact I have with the individuals making my clothes and this isn't the route for me.
So I guess the point of this ramble is that if you have a burning passion, a driving force, a focused objective and a strong belief in something, don’t hold back. Success comes from authenticity, there are enough people in the world for you to be able to find the ones who think like you. Follow your dreams and don’t let practicality or fear hold you back.
All I want from this brand is to support my family’s simple life, provide enough work for the little group of mumma's working for me, the freedom to let my imagination run wild, for my dreams to manifest themselves in my garments, and to always create incredible pieces that make you feel unique, womanly and beautiful! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and belief in my brand.
Biggest love, Sarah