Berlin residence helps Sydney eco-fabrics onto Euro catwalks


Berlin residence helps Sydney eco-fabrics onto Euro catwalks

For many entrepreneurs, going ‘local then global’ is no longer an option – they go global straight away.

Established in October 2016, Vivify is a Sydney-based sustainable fabrics company. According to founder Edwina Huang, the core concept is to fuse environmentalism with fashion.

‘My inspiration is to turn waste material into what people wear,’ she says. ‘Our range includes polyester and nylon textiles made from recycled plastic bottles and fish nets, organic cottons and silks, bamboo fabrics and other natural fabrics.’

The company was founded in Australia in 2016, and used Sydney’s startup ecosystem of web design, legal advice, photography and public relations to develop a distinctive global brand. Today, the company manufactures its textiles at multiple plants in China and Taiwan, then sells rolls of premium fabric to fashion houses – typically in Europe.

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To sell into fashion houses, however, Huang needs to collaborate with special project partners who can promote her speciality fabrics. This means building a physical presence in Europe, and knowing the key partners and investors in the niche but global world of sustainable clothing. 

No German; no problem

In July 2017, Huang heard about the Australian Landing Pads program. The objective of the program is to help Australian market-ready startups and scaleups expand in global innovation hubs.

Administered by Austrade, the program includes a three-month residency at co-working spaces at five global innovation hubs – Berlin, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore and Tel Aviv.

Austrade personnel use their in-country expertise to help Australian business connect to potential customers, partners, trade events and industry bodies.  

‘An Austrade manager introduced me to the Landing Pads program and he encouraged me to apply for a Berlin residency,’ says Huang. ‘Europe is the centre of sustainable fashion, and Berlin is the capital. I didn’t speak German, but I was assured that language was no barrier.’

Huang submitted an application in April 2017, was accepted in August, and left for Berlin in January 2018.

Street cred with global fashion houses

Huang was based at the Betahaus facility in Kreuzberg, Berlin, which caters specifically to entrepreneurs. Once there, she worked one-on-one with Betahaus representatives and Austrade Landing Pad Manager to make connections in the fashion industry.

‘Being part of the Landing Pads program gives you immediate credibility,’ says Huang. ‘This was vital for us, because in the textile trade, we need to make contacts with partners who can help market our fabrics to top fashion houses.’

‘The fact that Landing Pads is sponsored by the Australian Government made it easier for us to speak to big companies – including speciality partners and start-up financiers.’

Guidance for business setup in Germany

Huang says the Austrade Landing Pad manager made a huge, contribution to the success of her residency. This included helping her find ways to conduct business in Germany, so it could export seamlessly across the European Union. 

‘The Berlin Landing Pad Manager was a great, great manager,’ she says. ‘He made lots of introductions, including to trade bodies and trade event organisers.’

One introduction was to an official development agency, Germany Trade and Invest. This organisation helps startups to navigate some of the challenges of establishing a business in Germany, including various business registration process, and legal and tax advice.

The Austrade Landing Pad manager also introduced Huang to Berlin’s startup pitching scene.  

‘I gained an invitation to attend a pitching competition called TechCode, which targets businesses that want to trade with China,’ says Huang. ‘This was a great opportunity, and when we won the Berlin Championship, we received an expenses-paid pitching trip to China.’

The Brandenburg gateway to Europe

Huang says she found the Berlin Landing Pads experience to be commercially inspirational.

‘People don’t know how good it is to be in Germany and to do business in Germany,’ she says. ‘You don’t need a lot of German to survive and make progress because the city is very multicultural and welcoming to foreign entrepreneurs, especially Australian ones.

‘The experience really was mind-blowing. I had an incredibly hectic lifestyle and Berlin has a great ecosystem for startups.’

With much of her business now based in Germany, Edwina reckons Berlin is the ideal gateway to Europe. She continues to benefit from the Landing Pads program: with posts across Europe, the Austrade network provides an entrée to fashion industry contacts in multiple countries. 

‘Austrade’s Landing Pad in Berlin is the place to land in Europe because Germany is at the heart of Europe,’ she says. ‘If you have the right mindset and know what you want to achieve out of the program, Austrade will help you to open doors – not just in Berlin but right across Europe.’ 

For more information about Vivify Textiles, visit their website and Facebook account