Two years ago, Sam’s supplier of organic cotton in India suffered through dreadful floods and wasn’t able to supply a thread. Sam, who’d already sold his range, was forced to cancel all orders. With his biz on the line, Sam walked down to his the Indian Home Diner in Glebe, pulled out his overseas calling […]
Two years ago, Sam’s supplier of organic cotton in India suffered through dreadful floods and wasn’t able to supply a thread. Sam, who’d already sold his range, was forced to cancel all orders. With his biz on the line, Sam walked down to his the Indian Home Diner in Glebe, pulled out his overseas calling card and a sheet of possible cotton growers, and asked the man behind the counter, Imran, to ring around to see if he could find someone who’d be able to supply the necessary cotton. That’s called a can-do attitude. Sam was photographed for Stab in his Redfern workshop by Steve Baccon.
A suntanned man with a full blond beard and cut-off jeans opens a heavy door to a dark workshop. Inside what used to be a city loft and just across the railway line from Little Eveleigh Street, where the Aboriginal plays a funky drug and crime beat, is a tailor’s grotto complete with racks of clothes, savage foot-long scissors, measuring tapes and old-school sewing machines.
This is where Noosa surfer Sam Elsom plies his trade as a tailor and designer. A Fender Strat leans against a wall plugged into a Fender Frontman 15-watt amp, proof of his second occupation as guitar slinger with upcoming band The Villainares.
A month previous, Sam was flown to Hawaii to fit Kelly Slater for a suit for the ASP banquet. Kelly didn’t show, but Sam has a notebook full of measurements and ideas for the monkey suits he’ll be designing and making for Dane Reynolds, Jeremy Flores and Julian Wilson. Quiksilver has employed Sam to produce a range of hand-tailored garments, including a suit that’ll take 10 c-notes to own, and their team will model the tuxes at the ASP ball. Dane’s suit is a doozy, reminiscent of a ‘70s Dean Martin with its satin stripe down the leg, a bow tie that balloons from the oesophagus and various other detail appropriate to his image as the innovator. Jeremy Flores will wear his initials embroidered on his lapels. Julian, meanwhile, brought the Italian miller of Sam’s organic cottons to a panicked fever due to the amount of wool needed to surround his powerful 51-inch chest. As comparison, mine comes in at 42-inches, and I got tits that’ll turn a nun angry with lust.
Anyway, Sam is success. And his road there is a neat lesson. He comes from the Queensland resort town of Noosa, popular with retirees and wealthy holidayers from Melbourne and Sydney. Up there, at least when Sam went to school, there was no thought given to the creative trades of designer, artist, musician or writer. Your choices were an apprenticeship or a degree in whatever caught your eye at uni. Sam worked hard, answered most of the questions in his HSC exams correctly, nailed it, and was set to become a doctor.
His parents, hippies, suggested that before he gave up six years for study, that he might like to take off and “sews his oats”. And he sure sewed them motherfuckers. When he wasn’t building scaffolding at 50 quid an hour (danger money, he once slid through planks on a high-rise job although he only plunged one floor) or sawing nightclubbing gals in half, he was studying fashion design at Central Saint Martins. He mowed through three, three-month units during his nine months in London.
He came home convinced he knew everything there was to know about fashion. Moved to Sydney. Continued his studies at FBI Fashion College in Glebe. He did a week’s work experience with label Bracewell where a piece he designed became one of the label’s best sellers. He stayed three-and-a-half years and eventually left to start a t-shirt label, Funkulo.
“It means, ‘Fuck you, arsehole’ in Italian,” says Sam, although it isn’t spelt correctly and, anyway, he stole the name off a peer at college who didn’t end up using it for anything.
What followed was a flirtation with draping and dresses for “the races” until the weirdness of making surf tees and dresses got too much and he dropped the tees, which he resurrected later.
In the meantime, he was getting into organic cottons, sourced in India, and sent to his mills in Italy. The result was an insanely thin, soft cotton that felt nothing like the rough weaves organics were infamous for.
This became his point of difference. And now, with the world hot for the death cult of climate change and everything with the word “organic” on the label, it’s working commercially. His latest ranges feature sequins from plastic bottles and soon, cloth made from, can you believe it, milk.
But it sure ain’t the saffron baggy pants and the draped, voluminous singlets of the New Ager. This is hip, urban, contemporary fashion.
“It’s for a different individual and a different environment (compared to New Ager garb),” says Sam. “It has a clean, Scandinavian feel.”
If you want to dive into one of Sam’s suits, you can either drop a gee or so for his ready-to-wear outfits or take a trip to his workshop to be fitted for a bespoke suit. It costs $1500 for a two-piece, 200 bucks more if you’re into the waistcoat look. Your suit will be made from the same fabric as those used by Hermes and Louis Vuitton and will hold your skin better than you could ever believe.
And, Sam’s advice to the urbane young man seeking sartorial guidance from one of the best in the game? “Following trends isn’t stylish. Personality mixed with confidence is.” – Derek Rielly.
Sam’s 5 tips for success
- Do What You Love: Could this be anymore obvious? Find out what you love to do and do it. Because you enjoy it, you won’t work a day in your life. You won’t open your eyes on a Monday morning, look at the alarm clock through unhappy slits, squint away an unhappy tear and with a heavy heart enter the world. Your life will be your business. It will excite you. It will satisfy you. And when times get a little tough, like now, you won’t be afraid to fight em head one.
- Perfect Your Game: Change, re-think, and reflect. Always look at improving yourself. Critique your work. Accept criticism. Don’t be defensive. Every day think, how can I be better? Always seek new influences.
- Be Unique: You need a point of difference. And this adds to your satisfaction. What you create is yours, and only yours. You’ll have your own style and if people copy you, so what? Take it as the highest compliment.
- Believe in Yourself and Never Give Up:Confidence, not hubris. If you’re working hard, if you’re putting your soul into your product, it will be good. It’s not about being bigheaded or arrogant – that’s when you start slipping into the dangerous world of hubris – it’s about belief. It’s not flogging a dead horse. If you love it, why would you stop?
- Find an inspirational quote: This is mine, from an ol self-help book by Eileen Caddy. “The secret to making something work in your life is first of all the deep desire to make it work. Then the faith’s belief it can work. Then to hold that clear definite vision in your consciousness and see it working out step by step with out one thought of doubt or disbelief.”
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