How a rogue tuk tuk launched a fashion brand

The Fable silk shirts by Sophie Doyle

Sophie Doyle, an ex-pat Kiwi currently residing in Sydney, visited an Indian yoga ashram and came back with a fashion label.

FQ finds out how a series of chance encounters in Northern India (including one with a tuk tuk driver), took Sophie on a journey that lead to her launching silk shirt brand, The Fable.

What were you doing before you launched The Fable?
Before starting The Fable I worked at L’Oreal Luxury in Melbourne for four years where I marketed Giorgio Armani and Yves Saint Laurent.

Did you have much experience in fashion design before launching your brand?
While the brands I marketed for are fashion brands, I worked on the beauty and fragrance side of them and have no formal training or set experience in fashion. While I certainly couldn’t have built The Fable without leveraging this foundation, there have been certain fashion specific tasks I’ve had to learn from the ground up, namely product development, pattern making and size grading. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of help from family and friends who knew more than me.

What inspired you to start The Fable?

After I left L’Oreal, I went and lived in an Indian yoga ashram in the Himalayas. From there, I went on to do some travel and visited Jaipur in the northern state of Rajasthan. A series of chance encounters lead me to a textile factory where I saw the production possibility of a product I have for a long time had an affinity with: The Silk Shirt. I had always loved them and worn them near daily, but never been able to find one which combined quality and affordability which could also be hand washed. With this in mind, I saw an opportunity to make it for myself.

What’s been the moment or the person that that had the biggest impact on you while on this journey?
While I was in Jaipur I discovered the textile markets. They are the most extraordinary place – a sea of beautiful fabrics and vibrant colours. I was in a market stall trying on a series of saris and kaftans one afternoon when I got thinking there must be a local industry behind their production as Jaipur is considered the home of Indian textiles. Curious to learn more, I got chatting to my tuk tuk driver who took me on a mission to visit some factories. I met with the owners and came to understand that their production capabilities extended far beyond saris and kaftans. It was here, under the most random and unusual of circumstances, that the idea for The Fable was born.

The Fable silk shirts by Sophie Doyle

Can you tell us a little about the process that goes into the making of your shirts?

It all begins with the fabric. The Fable silk is produced by weavers in Bangalore, the silk capital of India. This process, which will typically take several weeks, starts as the silk arrives in its raw form in plain white and is dyed in large barrels with natural vegetable dyes and hung out on wooden rungs to dry. During this time the thread and labels are sourced and the buttons are dyed to match the fabric – all coming from local markets in Jaipur. Once everything is gathered, the components are delivered to a small factory where a team of highly-skilled tailors produce the shirts according to The Fable designs. The whole process is rustic and the shirts are entirely handmade. While this means production takes longer, the final result is consistent quality and an overall bespoke flavour. This of course is the top line version…. The reality is that there are monsoons, many religious festivals and communication and cultural barriers which make the process difficult! The Indian way of doing business is very different to our own – something which has required adapting to with many firsthand learnings along the way.

How important is it for The Fable to understand every step of the supply chain?
Very important. While living in India I saw firsthand the difficult and often tragic lives people lead. In choosing to manufacture in this country, I felt it was crucial to make sure the people involved in production of the shirts are being looked after. In order to ensure this, the brand is involved in every step of production. I visit all the factories, meet the workers and validate the conditions myself. This approach also assists in quality control as I can see exactly what is happening at each stage and implement necessary changes if required.

You’re based in Australia but grew up in New Zealand. Tell us a little bit about what influences your NZ childhood has had on your career.

I come from Queenstown and have always loved an adventure so I’m sure inherently that somehow influenced my original decision to go and live India, without which The Fable would never have eventuated. I also come from a family who enjoy visiting less traveled places so there was support for the Indian experience rather than discouragement.

How do your collections work? 
At this stage, The Fable has one signature cut which is rolled out across a series of colours and prints. In spring, the brand will launch a sleeveless silk shirt. While I’m certainly open to exploring new designs and cuts, the focus on timelessness will remain and The Fable shirt will always be built to transcend seasons.

Where does your inspiration come from in terms of selecting fabrics, colours and patterns?
A lot of my inspiration comes from the customers themselves. In the lead up to production trips I will email everyone who has bought a shirt, ask for feedback and see if there are any particular colours and prints they would be interested in. I then take these learnings with me and apply them. The 2016 collection is very much representative of what The Fable customer wanted in their shirt.

What has been your career highlight or biggest win so far with The Fable?
The greatest highlight would stem back to the early days when the brand first went live. A few weeks after launch, when marketing started to kicked in, unknown customers began buying the shirts and I got emails from people saying how much they were enjoying them. From the point-of-view of making a product, this was as good as it gets!

What would be your dream for The Fable? 
Long term, I hope for The Fable to become a destination for timeless quality yet affordable staples. I’d love to encourage the concept of buying less but buying well and shopping in accordance with personal style not season. Equally, there are many more ways I hope the brand can help people in India. Earlier this year The Fable employed a local production manager in Jaipur. His salary will fund his children through university next year, something otherwise unobtainable for the family. I hope to employ more people like this and at some point, launch a charitable initiative to give families in need independence and the ability to build better lives for themselves.

Find out more at thefable.com.au