High Tea with Mrs Woo

High Tea with Mrs Woo has been a beloved fixture in the slow fashion space since 2004. The brainchild of three sisters – Rowena, Juliana and Angela Foong – the brand is a small-run clothing and accessories label made in-house in Newcastle, Australia. Angela draws upon her background in economics and commerce, whilst Rowena and Juliana contribute their diverse design skills to the team.

The Foong sisters relocated to Australia from Malaysia with their parents in 1988 and continue to be collaborators on both life and work. From their home country, they brought with them rich childhood memories of their grandparents’100-year-old goldsmith shop and the strong women – their grandmother, mother and aunts – that enveloped them. Through their brand, they explore the ability of clothing to tell stories and unfold personal memories such as theirs.

High Tea with Mrs Woo is committed to traditional tailoring methods and the sisters practice time-honoured techniques of dressmaking. They are dedicated to slow fashion values from small-scale production and sustainable practices, to using natural fibre fabrics for styles that are durable, wearable and long-lasting. Each of their garments is designed to be worn across seasons, rather than being attributed to a single time of year.

In 2004, the brand opened the doors to their flagship store in Cooks Hill, Newcastle. In this space, the sisters present their range of bold, considered clothing, and a small curation of jewellery, accessories and shoes. They also gather and cultivate high quality, small-run artisanal products like textiles and ceramics by Australian creatives.

Recently, the trio launched an effort to extend the life of each of their garments, The High Tea with Mrs Woo Lifecycle Marketplace Group, where members can sell, exchange and buy preloved items from the brand. Every deliberate decision the Foong sisters make celebrates sustainable practices and shows unwavering support for other small businesses. Their efforts, like their clothing, are thoughtful, well-made and something of an art form.

Please give us your elevator pitch:

My sisters and I run High Tea with Mrs Woo, which is a beloved Australian-made clothing label – 15 years and counting! – that’s known for using beautiful natural materials, making long-lasting designs with excellent workmanship, and producing original styles that make women feel good, comfortable and confident in themselves.

What problem is your business solving?

We are providing an alternative to fast fashion. We’re solving modern women’s clothing needs by good design, developing circular and lifecycle programs for clothing, community activations and philosophical skill-sharing.

Tell us three unique things about your business:

High Tea with Mrs Woo is an Australian-made, clothing design business run by three sisters since 2004. As a testament to our practice and commitment, we facilitate a LIFECYCLE Marketplace where you can buy and sell pre-loved Mrs Woo garments to extend the lifecycle of the clothing we produce – where each garment is passed on imbued with stories from the previous owner.

We also run a community initiative called Slow Wearing Well and have been creating events like LIVE Wardrobe Edit sessions with city councils, local manufacturing walking trails and philosophical mending workshops to engage in clothing ethics and inspire good consumption practices.

What can attendees expect to see from you at TCS?

You will meet all three of us! You can see and shop our clothing range and newly developed making and mending kits, and also share and talk design, processes and material matters. We will also present a Kintsugi for Clothing Circle which is a philosophical mending practice that we’ve developed.

Can you tell us a little about your background and where the inspiration came from for your business?

It all started accidentally back in 2001 when my sisters and I ran a second-hand clothing store whilst still studying at university. We thought it would be fun to play shop and not worry about getting a proper job at the time. We were upcycling pre-loved garments, sourcing vintage fabrics and using deadstock fabrics from job lots to make and sell alongside a wide range of second-hand clothes.

When we decided to take it a bit more seriously, we launched our womenswear label High Tea with Mrs Woo in 2004. We won the Mercedes Benz Start-Up Fashion Awards in 2005 which took us on a great fashion road trip for over a decade to international stores and runways, from Shanghai to Zurich. But we never strayed too far from home. We’re still based in Newcastle, still in the same retail store and manufacturing from our studio workshop 15-18 years on.

The name High Tea with Mrs Woo is born from our collective memory of growing up in Malaysia, where we have fond memories of having uniquely British-Asian ‘high tea’ with our mum and aunties on Sunday occasions. High Tea with Mrs Woo is the synergy and celebration of women and their ever-inspiring stories. Our practice is very much about our own learning and growing as women which is very much reflected in our work practices and the clothing we produce.

What hasn’t changed in all these years is that we are still maintaining small-scale and sustainable production in Australia, and continue to source high quality, ethically sourced, natural fibre fabrics. We are still inspired by great women around us, still focused on creating well-made, inventive and stylish designs, with quality and intention that goes into every garment to make women feel comfortable and confident in what they wear.

To find out more, please visit highteawithmrswoo.com.au

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