hunter's sara wurker on the strangeness of becoming cult label
While maintaining near total anonymity as a designer, Sara Wurker's label Hunter has become something of an obsession in the Antipodes. i-D meets Sara in her apartment-come-studio to trace her journey.
Sara at home, Photographed by Charlie White
Scrolling through fashion editorials shot in New York or London, you'll regularly spot Sara Wurker's clothes. The stylists reaching for her designs certainly know her label, Hunter, but likely have little idea of the woman behind it. The Canberra-based designer's success is proof that for everything said of fashion capitals, you really don't need to live in any of them to succeed.
Sara runs Hunter out of the neat flat she shares with her partner Tim in Australia's sleepy capital. There's no sign on the door: nothing hints this is the home of one of the country's most beloved young labels. Hunter has a website and an Instagram page — that's it. But the label's tidy rise to 'it' status suggests, maybe, that's all you need.
Hunter began offline when Sara moved back home to Canberra — she'd tried living in a bigger city, but it didn't work out. She set up shop in a warehouse slated for demolition: rent was cheap, and the imminent knock down made for an easy and fun project. She called the store Wildwood.
It went well. At galleries and shows Sara started seeing girls wearing clothes she'd made. Wildwood was the centre of it all: she'd design there, sew there and sell there. There was no e-commerce, just a cute Instagram account where she would post photos of whichever friends came by that day.
Sometimes Sara would mail things to friends in other cities, and occasionally people overseas would spot her Instagram and make orders through direct messages. But, by and large, it was small — something you had to unearth, and discover. And as with all good things, more and more people did.
Hunter benefits from having a rich and deeply constructed aesthetic world beyond the clothes. Sara's created a sort of mythic Hunter girl: a woman who likes Yves Klein and a Prairie School interior. Everything Sara shares online adds a little more to the story. The world she has imaged and built post-by-post is an inviting space to inhabit — key to the label's success.
After a year or so in Wildwood, Sara had amassed a relatively dedicated following, but her shop was about to be bulldozed. That was when things really took off. i-D meets her at home to reflect on the journey thus far.
After graduating you lived in Melbourne for a while. Let's talk about your move back to Canberra: it seems like everything started when you came home.
I was in a really dark place then, that's why I moved back. To be honest, I'd probably like Melbourne a lot more now. Maybe it was just the wrong time. Coming home ended up being a really nice change: sometimes you don't know how it happens, but everything works out in the end and you come out stronger. The way things have worked out for me, I'm just really happy I moved back — I feel like a different person.
How did Canberra make all the difference?
There are so many advantages. It's so supportive, and my family is here. I think the most important point is that in Canberra a few years ago, there was such a gap in the market. When Wildwood opened, people just really embraced it. It kinda gave me the confidence to persevere with the label. You know, maybe it would've been the same in a different city, like Melbourne, but a lot of people are doing things similar to what I do — everyone's spoiled for choice. Here, I'm kind of on my own, which makes it easier — even just mentally, it's nice to feel like you have your own space.
There's less of a sense of place today in fashion: you used to have Donna Karan being decidedly New York, and Margiela being very Paris. Young designers have that much less, if anything, it's the internet.
Yeah, it is isn't it. I don't make something that's just for one place. I live here, but the first sale I made online was to America — there are customers everywhere. It's all changing for designers like me, it's not so much about fashion week. Even seasons are becoming less relevant — I mean, you have to account for weather, but I don't traditionally work to season. I'm about to release my first seasonal collection, for spring/summer 17, but for so long I worked off my own calendar completely.
You're right, it's now much more feasible to operate outside of seasons — even for some of the major houses.
The way I usually work is so different to the traditional seasonal system: I go piece-by-piece. I'll design something, put it into production and then put it online for however long people seem to want it. Some of the stuff I'm selling now I designed over a year ago. It feels like I'll never stop making certain things, like the billow top, because people keep asking me for them. Plus, for people who might've just discovered the label yesterday, I think it's nice to give them the chance to get those pieces.
It's impressive to have that kind of traction, where you have these almost cult pieces, without having had e-commerce for very long.
Everything really is about timing. By having Wildwood, I'd had a while to see pretty directly what people liked and what didn't go so well. I have an idea of what people will go for. We went online in March last year, and that first day was crazy. It was a really fun energising time actually. In a sense, I feel like Hunter really just started last year.
In that period, did it feel overwhelming?
Of course, but I really think the more you put in the more you get out. Instagram is a really direct example of that — like the more you post the more sales you make and the more interest you get.
Let's talk more about Instagram, because it's essentially the only advertising you do.
It really is! I don't advertise or do anything. I've always thought, "if people like it, they'll see it." It's not really me to push anything onto someone. Instagram is so useful, I love it, but I also really hate it. Or I hate some corners of it. It's so funny — I don't know how I "officially" feel.
It's really like email now — completely essential to communicate with people.
People don't even email you anymore! They just DM you, even if you have your email in your bio. It's so central to everything. I can't imagine anyone not having that presence. Instagram is where you're visible now, because that's where people are always looking. I like that my Instagram presence is the label's, not mine personally. It's also just like, fun.
Because of the nature of things online, it is really nice that you can obscure yourself.
Totally! People don't alway know Hunter is just me. I get emails saying like, "I hope I'm contacting the right department." No one knows I'm in my house in this little room doing this!
As Hunter grows, do you find yourself wishing you had more of a team?
Sometimes, 'cause I can be so indecisive. I wish I had other people to bounce ideas off. It would also be nice to have someone else if only because I'm so bad at emails. I do have a few great people helping me out on a freelance basis, which has been totally invaluable in getting the spring/summer 17 collection ready! But generally, I like it being just me. I keep it small on purpose. My boyfriend Tim helped me with the website, but I do all the photos myself. Honestly, that's partially just because I'm on a tight budget. I definitely want to grow, but I'm taking my time. It's just really important that I can do this on my own terms. I always want to keep taking photos myself, just of my friends. I want it to be fun.