Labour of Love
Aleta Bates is a warrior, a strong independent woman who has drawn on her personal experience to fuel her desire to create an empowering fashion label. And her bead-encrusted and embellished samurai-inspired garments have already been given a winning voice.
I open Aleta Bates’ journal from 2013, the corners of the pages soft from being read and re-read, sketches and emotional ramblings scrawled across every inch of the paper, and pages torn from a Nepalese hotel’s notepad and sporadically tucked in provide the extra space needed to contain all of her wildest dreams.
Aleta was backpacking in Asia for four months with her then five-year-old son Jackson when she became overcome with inspiration, spending hours transcribing the ideas from her head onto paper. “The experience awakened the innermost creative depths in me that I had been putting on hold while working in uncreative roles in business development and adult education and employment in Indigenous communities in Cape York,” she says.
Aleta was eight years old when she and her family moved from Maleny to Weipa, a small and remote mining town near the tip of Australia, “a very far cry from the highly ornate world I am inspired by”. Aleta went on to major in sculpture and life drawing at university in Toowoomba, before letting her creativity fly on an overseas sojourn. She then returned to Weipa and worked for the local TAFE, then went on to manage programs and teach art at an immigration detention centre, before she was poached back by the TAFE and became involved in adult education and employment, and later for other agencies writing programs for Indigenous communities. But she yearned for something more creatively fulfilling. “I have wanted to do fashion design since I was young, I would make my own skirts, I’ve still got my first skirt that I made when I was six, a little ra-ra skirt,” she says.
It’s creating this glamour and love. It’s fairytales for me.”
Even as a teenager, Aleta knew she was destined for more and was 15 when she decided to concentrate on couture. “It’s so ornate and there’s so much detail, and I love that it’s handmade and the amount of detail and work that goes into it,” she says, “it’s about the design process for me, it’s a labour of love. I’m not interested in fast fashion.”
Aleta’s idea for her Aleta Lucia label stemmed from a bad relationship in her early 20s and her success as a muay thai fighter 10 years ago, for which she held a Queensland title. “I always had this thing about protection,” she says. “I had an idea of myself being this strong independent woman, well travelled and I was very spiritually connected to muay thai as a sport, I trained every day. “Then I had this relationship that absolutely tore me to ashes. “So this collection started as an idea of modern armour – we dress up and in this day and age, it’s so much about our appearance and how we want to be perceived by the public.”
It’s about the design process for me, it’s a labour of love. I’m not interested in FAST FASHION.”
The collection is inspired by Japanese samurai armour, complete with embellished neck plates, and intricately beaded lap lap-style skirts. “I thought, how am I going to do this? I have no fashion design experience, no background in it, I’m a really impatient sewer and the complexity of it, I could never do it, I’d still be trying to make my first one,” she says.
After scouring the world for the perfect team, Aleta now works with a pattern maker in Hungary, and a production team in New Delhi, India – and can you believe she’s never met any of her makers, all communication has been done via email. “The world’s best beaders are in India because traditionally that’s their major handicraft,” she says. “That’s the part that really fascinates me, it’s so complex. It can never be fast fashion because some of these take from 13 hours to 53 hours just to hand bead and then they’re lined, it’s immaculate.”.
Within weeks of launching, Aleta secured Becker Minty in Sydney as her first stockist, which then lead to two incredible opportunities. “A stylist from The Voice Australia came into Becker Minty and fell in love with the pieces and they wanted to use it for the show and I got an email asking if I’d like to lend it to them. I nearly fell over,” she says. “That same week someone from Home Beautiful came in so there is a piece in the magazine as well.”
To watch her television debut, Aleta had to buy a television from Aldi at 5.30pm on a Sunday – just hours before the show aired.
And all the effort was worth it, there stood The Voice Australia winner Ellie Drennan, wearing Aleta’s neckplate and belting out Lorde’s tune Team, quite a fitting song choice on all accounts. “I’m trying to message, I’m crying, I’m trying to take photos, but I want to watch it so I can enjoy it,” she says. “I’ve watched it about 20 times since and I keep crying.”
But Aleta’s pipe dream is to have a couture house in Paris.“I would love my own studio and my own couturiers and my own pattern makers there because what I want to do is so much more elaborate than this,” she says. “I never sat down and said, I want to have a luxury label so I can make lots of money, for me I want to get what’s in my head out and I want to create this magic. “It’s creating this glamour and love. It’s fairytales for me.”
Hopefully she’ll live happily ever after.