NIKKI PARKINSON talks to one half of the sass & bide team, Sarah-Jane Clarke, and discovers a new appreciation for rodents.
They are called Rats. Black Rats.
And they are currently one of the hottest fashion items around.
Yes, that’s right. Fashion items.
For you see, the rats I talk of are not those found in sewers, in scientific laboratories or, heaven forbid, in your roof.
No these very special rats are of the sass & bide variety.
They are in fact wet-look, shirred leggings that will set you back $170.
Very rock chic and ultra cool. And so covetable that the first drop in store and online sold in a flash and pre-orders are now being taken for the next drop.
“Actually the Black Rats are our new jeans,” says Sarah-Jane Clarke on a recent lightening trip to the Sunshine Coast.
Boldly, I ask if I can touch the ones she’s wearing today?
“Yes, they’re stretch and very comfortable,” Sarah-Jane says.
“Of course we still have our denim collection, which has lots of different styles in it this season. Plus we’re launching a new cargo pant.”
Today Sarah-Jane has teamed her Rats with a black tank and a voluminous, checkerboard, bubble skirt from sass & bide’s current Rainbows for Kate collection.
This collection was created in memory of a friend who lost her battle with cancer last year.
“It’s quite an emotional collection for us. Plus, because it was powered by that emotion we just felt very connected to the whole collection … and especially now that it’s just dropping in store and we’re actually starting to see it on people,” she says.
Despite suffering from a flu, the 33-year-old who is three and a half months pregnant with her third child, looks every bit the fashion star that the 200 women have paid $80 a ticket to see.
She’s the special guest at a lunch organised by her Buderim sister-in-law, Sarah Clarke (whose middle name is Jane), to raise money for the Rainbows for Kate Foundation and the Sunshine Coast Grammar school.
“It’s always great to be here. I can’t believe how warm it is. I can’t believe it’s winter. You mustn’t really have much of a market for heavy coats,” she tells me after the lunch at Mooloolaba’s Fish on Parkyn is over.
The sass & bide story is, of course, the stuff of fashion legend.
The former Brisbane girls, Sarah-Jane (the Sass) and Heidi Middlleton (the Bide), met in the early 1990s through their boyfriends of the time.
“We shared an unusual love affair for clothes and dressing up that made us feel so good,” says Sarah-Jane.
“Our personal style was uncannily alike but vastly different from our peers,” she says.
“In between our jobs we spent an unhealthy amount of time discussing fashion and it wasn’t just about the clothes, it was about the way we’d wear them, adjust them. It created a pattern for what was to become our professional career.”
In 1997 Sarah-Jane was an accountant and Heidi a graphic artist. They left Queensland for a taste of the world and landed in London where the underground fashion movement “ignited every bone in our bodies”.
“We found ourselves at the markets scanning for our next vintage ‘hit’. We’d often think about the pieces … who wore them, where did it hang, what was her name, who was her lover …?
“To us, this was what it was all about.”
The pair became restless with their day jobs and started looking for an outlet. “Between us we believed we had the ingredients required to make a successful fashion label.”
The pair started with a stall at the Portobello Road markets. It was long before the world had heard of Sienna Miller and boho but their decorated denim pieces sold like “mad”.
When their work visas finished, Sarah-Jane and Heidi returned to Australia – intent on establishing their fashion label from Sydney.
“Neither of us knew the first thing about running a fashion business and arrived not knowing a soul in the local fashion industry.
“But what we did arrive with was a strong conviction. We felt like we were getting carried along by some external force.”
The girls worked seven days a week for the first year, paying themselves a wage through the vintage clothes they sourced and sold through the local markets.
“We’d flip a coin to see who would go down to the local Woolies and flirt with the fruit and vege guy to get ourselves the next week’s worth of boxes to pack our next deliveries in.”
The first product launched on the Australian market was the East Village Hipster jean.
Demand soared and the success of that one design allowed them to explore other styles and grow the business at a rapid rate.
Part of that growth happened as a result of a chance meeting with Sarah Jessica Parker in New York.
Heidi was a fan of Sex and the City and saw that the show was filming nearby. Ever resourceful, she gave Sarah Jessica the denim jacket she was wearing and that landed them time with the star and a chance to show her their collection.
As a result Sarah Jessica’s cult fashion character, Carrie Bradshaw, wore a sass & bide outfit in the series. “In hindsight it was a big deal and it was a lot of fun meeting her, “says Sarah. “At the time we didn’t piece it all together … when you’re in something you’re just rolling with it,” she says.
“People often ask us the secret to our success. We don’t believe it’s one thing. We believe it’s the philosophy that guides us through life and that is not to consider failure as an option.
“Heidi and I are lucky enough to be living our dream and I encourage you all to do your dream with a passion and not be afraid of failure.
“Heidi and I have always put our friendship first and we will continue doing this. Heidi’s recent health scare (breast cancer) has only strengthened our relationship.”
Sarah-Jane’s personal success is not just with sass & bide. She’s the proud mum of toddler boys, Arky and Bo. With her third child on the way, family is as important as ever.
“Because I don’t get to spend a lot of time with my children during the week, I love having two full days to hang out with the boys.
“When it’s weekend I really try to concentrate on the boys and give them the time because I do a lot of events and dinners during the week.
“We (Heidi and I) now believe we have achieved the perfect balance between our work and family life. We want our children to believe that anything is possible and that they are capable of doing anything they want in life … it really depends on how much you want something.
“When a child is loved unconditionally and supported it gives them the confidence in life to pursue their dreams.
Sarah-Jane doesn’t know the sex of her next baby but she does know that there are a lot of fashion pieces in storage boxes that “I’m keeping perhaps for a daughter if I have one”.