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“SAFETY IS SXC” reads the bright yellow sign above Gemma Baxter’s head as we Zoom chat to discuss her brand, to Barwyn and Back. An architecture graduate turned fashion designer, Gemma has built her brand by finding the parallels between her passions: architecture, design, and cycling.
Aptly, she says, “to Barwyn and back is a reflection of me.” So true is this statement, that the name itself is a reflection of childhood vacations spent at her grandparents’ farmhouse, Barwyn. When she was a kid Gemma’s uncle built another house on the farm about 400 meters from Barwyn. This 400 meters of dirt road became the inspiration for the brand’s name as she and her cousins, on bikes, on foot, or by any means available would race to Barwyn and back.
During her time in University, Gemma had the opportunity to undertake an architecture internship in Shanghai. It is this period that she cites as a real catalyst for change in her life:
“Shanghai was one hundred percent the catalyst because it was the first time I'd picked up a bike since I was probably 14 or something. When I was there, I met a group of people through a friend I had studied with in Brisbane who were studying at various local universities. They were playing bike polo outside a stadium in Shanghai. And I was just like, ‘Oh, these people are amazing.’ And one of them was like, let's get you a bike and have a beer. I was very much riding everywhere from that day. And my eyes were opened, I learned Shanghai well because all of a sudden I had a bike instead of going underground to get on a train. I was just really moved by it all."
And it was funny because [biking] perfectly aligned with architecture. It makes you understand cities and spaces and streams of flow.”
This natural inclination for seeing how her passions overlapped has carried over into Gemma’s career as a fashion designer. “The skills that architecture taught me, which is very much combining technology and science and structure with theories and poetics and beauty and aesthetics to tussle [with ideas] and come to a resolution. And I think it's the same thing with fashion design,” Gemma says. With exceptionally complex and detailed garments, Gemma’s designs very much resemble blueprints. Hanging in her studio is each one of her many prototypes accompanied by a sheaf of transparent paper. While Gemma began by saying that architecture was, “just was a degree I did,” she did concede that her design process for fashion is nearly identical to the design process she implemented as an architect.
Building to Barwyn and back has not all been a bike ride in the park (no pun intended) for Gemma. While she fell in love with cycling in Shanghai, there was very little biking culture back home in Australia. A self-proclaimed problem solver, Gemma took it in stride. “I just kind of felt like a bit of a dork. I just didn't feel like there was a culture of [biking] and it was just really disappointing. So I guess that kind of made me want to [create a community around biking].” Additionally, the cost of making high performance, high visibility clothing as functional as the pieces produced by to Barwym and back is very high. In the three years from conceptualization to launch, Gemma grappled with how to be as ethical as possible and finally decided that, while sacrifices would need to be made, she was not willing to produce with companies that she could not go and see the facilities herself to ensure that both people and planet were being treated with the care and consideration they deserved.
When asked what her greatest point of pride in the brand was, she responded, “I think I'm most proud that I took something that's really uncool and was like, I'm just going to keep trying to push it. I'm gonna try and really fuck with the existing understanding of what high vis represents. And I definitely failed. But I think that I knew, ’this is gonna be a challenge.’ I was more excited by trying to take something and flip it on its head, then be like, ‘here’s fashion.’”
On the point of failure, we will have to agree to disagree with Gemma. We believe you, “SAFETY IS SXC” and we fully support the high vis revolution.