Nobody Denim


John Condilis


John is the co-founder of Australian brand, Nobody Denim. Nobody is a proud vertically integrated business committed to supporting local industry and the future of Australian manufacturing. 


Walk us through Nobody’s inception and history; how has it navigated industry challenges over the years?

I got involved in fashion—notably denim—in the ‘80s. My dad was a service provider for a designer back then, and this connection allowed me to see—from the roots of manufacturing—how something evolves from design through to end product. Towards the late ‘80s, I started assisting my dad with a large fashion brand part-time between studying Engineering. It was during this time that I fell in love with denim.

My brother and I then started a laundry business in 1992 where I continued my love for product. It was a real buzz back then, when the link between design and end product to consumer was so tight. It wasn’t an ‘us and them’ dynamic—the CEOs and the designers were with us in the laundries.. There was engagement in the factories and face-to-face interaction, which allowed for knowledge sharing and transparency. It was energetic, with a hype of activity. And while it was still protected to a degree back then, you would visit a manufacturer and find people from various local brand competitors walking around overseeing their production. Transparency and connection to the making process was the norm, simply business as usual. This meant that, culturally, it was very different.

The reduction in tariffs in the mid ’90s was when things really started changing. Many of our major clients—the likes of Target and Just Jeans—started focusing on offshore manufacturing opportunities as a way of reducing costs. It was at this point we started realising we needed to look after ourselves. This is when we started playing with the idea of having our own brand. What do we know best? Denim.

The intention was to always make Nobody denim locally. As with other smaller fashion labels at the time, we saw a gap and a real opportunity to maximise on the resources made available when larger brands moved offshore. The equipment, the skilled workers, the facilities.. They were no longer all considering us too small. Factories now had to be filled and these factories had the expertise to help smaller garment businesses grow. And these brands had a different pricing model which didn’t put the same pressure on factories, so it became a beneficial arrangement for all.

That said, there was still this bitterness in our industry due to many manufacturers and laundries being burned by the big boys. There was no loyalty when these bigger brands went offshore – all of a sudden, within six months, they were gone. These facilities had invested so much to set themselves up and now many of them were empty. From our experience in the laundry, we knew many of the manufacturers and had built up a respect and credibility within the industry. This meant we were able to connect with those manufacturers which we felt had a similar attitude to ethics and responsible business.

Why is Nobody passionate about producing in Australia? What have been the opportunities and/or limitations of manufacturing onshore?

Between 2005 – 2008, I travelled to Turkey and China to explore whether we should continue here or consider going offshore. Going to both of those places, I realised that my knowledge and expertise was very well respected; I realised that if I decided to move our production offshore I would simply be taking this away from local industry. I couldn’t do it.

When I came home, I started working back with our local manufacturers to help them work smarter not harder. This is when I learned more about the principles of Lean Manufacturing: a method that focuses on eliminating waste from the production process. We went through our facilities and identified a lot of waste, and so started working on a program to improve our environment. We also focused on improving our culture as well as our social responsibility. This was a big challenge. I went around trying to educate these factories on the science of doing things better, but there was a lot of resistance. At that point in time, one of the manufacturers said they’d had enough and no longer wanted to operate, so I asked them whether they wanted to sell their equipment. I ended up taking on their employees too, of which there were around eight or ten. With the Lean process, I developed a small manufacturing plant behind the laundry and, put simply, everyone thought I was mad.

The purpose of Lean is to deliver one product to the customer when they need it; to not build up something that you don’t need, that will sit on the shelf or have a short lifecycle; to have flow of product through the factory that leads to cash flow. Ultimately, to minimise deadstock. Back then, the goal was to have a garment off the line every five to ten minutes. I didn’t get one off the line for the first three weeks…But I was persistent. I worked with each operator to help them understand how it worked; some walked out as they couldn’t comprehend what I wanted from them so I would have to replace them. Then eventually, we built up to finishing ten, thirty, fifty…hundreds of garments a day, and I could see the concept was working. There was no finished stock building up on the factory floor like you see with other factories. While we continued to grow rapidly, the Lean process made us more efficient.

I originally took Nobody in-house because I felt I wasn’t going to get the support I needed externally. I had to create my own culture and way of doing things. We as a brand have grown this ever since. The reason the brand is called Nobody is because there is not one person behind it. There is no face to the brand. Nobody is about collaboration and everyone’s input. Whether it’s the designers, the makers or the salespeople, everyone has contributed to the success of the brand.


Nobody Denim

“The reason the brand is called Nobody is because there is not one person behind it. There is no face to the brand. Nobody is about collaboration and everyone’s input.”

How does Nobody define the term ‘ethical fashion’?

I come from a time in the industry when looking after one another, as best as we could, was just business as usual. The term ‘ethical’ goes back to values, about being authentic and real. The term ‘transparency’ is about being honest. Keep in mind that ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’ are words that have only just come up in fashion over recent years. For Nobody, we have embedded the meanings of these words into our DNA.

“We believe in the longevity of our country as much as that of our collections, which is why our longstanding commitment to ethical manufacturing principles offers a unique vision of responsible design.” – Nobody has been accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia since 2010, why do you believe it’s important to work with this industry/union initiative?

Over the years, Nobody and Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) have become great partners in that we have both learned from each other. We have learned that collaboration is key; collaboration has helped us educate our industry so that they understand best practice. Without this understanding, the industry would not be able to grow or continue producing good product.

Workers’ voice key to raising industry standards and ECA represents those workers. We as an industry need to understand their challengesif they’re not allowed to voice their opinion or challenges, we won’t be able to identify solutions.

I think that good partnerships are formed through bad beginnings, and while there was unease in the early days, our relationship with ECA has evolved and it has ultimately added value to our business.

Tell us about your work with The Social Studio – why does the brand value supporting refugee and migrant communities?

We started working with people from The Social Studio (TSS) in 2010, as I wanted to build a multicultural community within Nobody. That way people could learn from each other’s cultures and skill sets, and I personally could learn how other people create and approach manufacturing. Over the years, I have helped coach and motivate those who came from TSS and many are still with Nobody today. One of them is our factory manager, and he now also trains people back at TSSthis is great as it means he’s passing the skills he’s learned at Nobody on to those at the studio.

How has Nobody addressed some of the environmental issues with denim production?

What’s come to the market on the laundering side is more efficient ways to deliver a product with less water. We’ve stopped using chemicals that affect the environment, only using neutral based chemicals or natural products. We’re fortunate in Melbourne in that it has a great treatment plant for effluent, as well as high compliance guidelines for businesses. We have to undergo sample tests each month and then a larger audit every six months. We are now focusing on cleaner energy – we have recently done a clean energy audit, looking at solar and renewable sources, and will be looking to implement some of these in the near future.

Nobody Denim

“The intention was to always make Nobody denim locally. As with other smaller fashion labels at the time, we saw a gap and a real opportunity to maximise on the resources made available when larger brands moved offshore. “

Do you see scope for fast fashion businesses to drive positive and genuine change in the garment industry without changing their core business model?

I’d like to see more focus and praise placed on the other players—the ones drives by values and emotion. The ones generating good triggers around community. This attention would lead to more support for these brands, and therefore less sales for the bigger guys. Instead of always fighting the big guys, let’s focus on lifting the other ones up. Communities care; younger people care and are becoming better educated. If society does not fit within their values, they will change society through social media and their big strong voices. When Nobody has done posts spotlighting our makers, the engagement has gone through the roof. This shows us people want to know who made their clothes and that we should continue down this path. As people promote and support brands that are transparent and have a good emotional trigger, this good work will naturally continue to grow. The more we support brands that deliver to a lifestyle and set of values, the more those brands are going to grow and the more other brands are going to find it harder in the market. We are seeing this happening already, as the focus on storytelling and transparency strengthens. Global awareness is the trend.

Looking to the future of the Australian garment industry, what excites and/or daunts you most?

Australia is a very big challenge; there is a huge challenge in the garment industry. We are losing many skills and unless something is done urgently, there will be no local manufacturing industry. There is an ageing population and children don’t want to take over their parents’ businesses. From my understanding, the Victorian Government has put in a procurement policy for defence gear being made in Australia. Businesses we know are looking for employees to make these uniforms, but they cannot find skilled workers.. My biggest challenge at the moment, which is very daunting, is finding local makers. We have more and more emerging designers who want to have their designs made here, but who will make them? When we look at fashion schools, where is the link from factory floor to the design room so students can understand the whole concept of construction and how everything works?

In an oversaturated market, how has Nobody built such a strong and loyal customer base?

Customers continue to invest in Nobody because they trust us, they know our quality and they understand that we seek to add value to customers’ lives. Unfortunately, product does fail at times due to human error, or raw materials error, or something going wrong during the process…But once the error is picked up, we offer customers a credit, or we replace the item, as we recognise that it’s our responsibility. Even if a year and a half has passed since the customer bought our product, and say the crutch falls apart, we’ll replace it. Repair and extending product lifecycle is part of our ethics. We recently hosted a mending workshop with model Rachel Rutt and it was one of the best things we’d ever done. It was intimate and it was about the person. It wasn’t about Nobody – it was about community and education. Rachel didn’t educate me on sewing, as I can ask my makers for this knowledge, but she educated me that customers care. Now I’m thinking, how do we expand on this community of those who care? We’d like to be involved in this conversation, in this community.


Photography Amelia Dowd
Production Sigrid McCarthy
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