“The workwear landscape has shifted significantly over the last few years,” Dawson-Lee told Inside Retail. “Our customers wear Hard Yakka on and off the job site, [and] require tough, durable and comfortable clothes to wear in their active lifestyles that are also modern and fashionable.”
Operated by Wesfarmers’ Workwear Group, Hard Yakka began noticing more of its products being worn at festivals in recent years, and realised it needed to capture a new, younger market. The label first launched in the 1930s in Victoria and is synonymous with durability, quality and toughness. “Yakka” is the Aboriginal word for “work”.
Dawson-Lee said the business has dabbled with collaborations and partnerships in the past, but that working with Thrills is a major leap for the brand, as it “propels [Hard Yakka] into the fashion category in a significant way.”
“We saw an opportunity to breathe new life into the Hard Yakka brand to an entirely new generation of cult customers,” she said.
A reinterpretation of the past
At the same time, the team at Thrills had noticed an increase in workwear at vintage stores during a trip to Japan, and decided they wanted to tell the story of Australia’s workwear history. Thrills’ menswear designer Steve Fontes told Inside Retail that the business reached out to Hard Yakka, and felt an instant connection with the team there.
“We have a love of vintage [clothing], and we’ve noticed that all of us already own Hard Yakka clothing,” Fontes said. “We realised we wanted to do a reinterpretation of the past, and you can’t get more Australian than Hard Yakka.”
Not only is the new collection a mix of new styles, it’s also made of sustainably-focused materials, such as organic cotton, which gives back in more ways than one, said Fontes.
“It’s grown without the use of toxic fertilisers, captures carbon, and conserves biodiversity. The purpose behind the collection is far greater than the pieces; it’s about taking accountability and doing our part.”
Dawson-Lee added that sustainability is a core component of Hard Yakka’s DNA, and is backed by the business’ place within the Wesfarmers Group.
While Hard Yakka does operate its own direct-to-consumer offer online, it is primarily a wholesale brand. Thankfully, the business’ wholesalers have welcomed the collaboration with open arms.
“I got an email last week saying, ‘In my humble opinion, this is way cooler than anything I’ve seen [Hard Yakka] do before’,” said Dawson-Lee.
“It’s allowed us to put the brand forward to a new generation of customers. I think as the lines [between fashion and workwear] continue to blur outside of Covid, this is a really great opportunity.”
What’s old is new again
Beyond the 43 piece collection, Thrills and Hard Yakka also revamped the classic ‘Hard Yakka’ chant featured in ads of years past, commissioning Australian rock band Bad Dreems to create a modernised cover in their own style.
This new version of the business’ theme is featured in a TV advert for the range, which also reinterprets the business’ original ads by showcasing the ways the brand is being worn today – from biking or hiking outdoors, to pottery or tattooing indoors.
To Fontes, the leap from clothing to music is simple.
“Streetwear and workwear have been synonymous with each other since the ‘80s and ‘90s within music culture, especially in hip hop culture in the US,” Fontes said.
“The idea of telling the Australian version was simple since Thrills is rooted in music culture – and it was obvious to reinterpret the past through the original commercial song with a new version by the Bad Dreems.”
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