The Brand behind Summer’s Most Irresistible Prints

Written by: Amanda Chung


Published on: May 7, 2024


“When I was in my 20s, wide-eyed and wandering around in New York aimlessly, I went to the MoMA and saw a Cy Twombly painting that took my breath away,” says Lesleigh Jermanus, the refreshingly down-to-earth Sydney-based cofounder and creative director of ALÉMAIS. “I sat there dreaming about how I could pull that canvas off the wall and manipulate it into some kind of dramatic dress. Obviously, I didn’t think about it in great detail—but that feeling of connection with art and artists stuck with me.”

Jermanus, a fashion industry vet and former designer at Zimmermann, started ALÉMAIS in 2020 with her partner, Chris Buchanan, and the line of whimsically printed shirtdresses and matching sets quickly gained a devoted following both in Australia and beyond. In 2022, it won Australia’s National Designer Award, which is given to emerging designers; the following May, ALÉMAIS opened Australia Fashion Week. “Receiving that recognition from the industry was hugely affirming,” Jermanus says of winning the award. “It sort of gives you wings. We were giddy with excitement. It validated everything that we were doing, and it gave us the confidence to continue down that road.”

I got on the phone with Jermanus to talk about developing the brand’s visual identity, what it’s like to collaborate with outside artists, and what it means to be part of the change generation.


What sparked the idea for ALÉMAIS?

It was March 2020, and by that stage, I had enjoyed a really rewarding career. I had just started a new role and then COVID hit—I think I’d been in that role for about six, seven months when we were all made redundant. My ego took a bit of a hit. The industry felt like it went into total chaos in those early months of the pandemic. I had suppliers in India reach out in desperation saying, “Can you help us? We’ve got all these abandoned goods.” They were worried about how they were going to pay their bills. At that point, I wasn’t thinking about starting a brand when others were winding theirs down, but I wanted to try to help in some way.

Around the same time, I got a call from a friend of mine who was starting a wholesale agency in London. We had worked together previously, and I guess he had seen what I was able to develop in a short period of time. He said, “Why don’t you start your brand for all the right reasons? Do it because you still love it after all this time in the industry. Do it because you have the experience. Do it because you don’t have to check all these boxes.”

So my partner and I sat at the kitchen table in our very tiny apartment and ran the numbers to see what we could manage. We had no business plan. We didn’t have any goals. It was just about building something that felt meaningful to us. I worked with some of those suppliers to use their deadstock—there were all these denim jackets that we cut the sleeves off and turned into skirts, fabrications that I upcycled into new styles. And it began from there. It was very grassroots.


How long did it take you to develop a visual identity for the brand?

Because I had spent close to 20 years designing for so many different brands and so many different aesthetics, I felt that I had really trained my eye for this moment. Once I started sketching, I didn’t really take my pencil off the paper. It just kept pouring out of me. I kept developing the vision until it felt right, which probably took about a month.

You often collaborate with artists. What is that process like?

Sometimes it’s the artist who informs the tone of the collection. Sometimes we already have a mood that we share with the artist and then they go away and paint. It always takes on different forms.

Our very first artist was Emma Gale, a self-trained painter based in Byron Bay. Nicola, our textile artist, and I absolutely fell in love with her artwork, and we just thought, Let’s give it a go. And it was so incredibly successful. We still get people asking us about that collaboration, which is magic and a testament to the collaborative process. Emma was particular about the styles of clothing her art went on, so she hand-drew some shapes, and I loved them. They felt very true to the brand. I don’t have huge ego attached to things needing to be a particular way—I like to see different ideas because they can lead you down these wonderful, unexpected roads.


Sometimes the artist will be specific about how we put the artwork together. So what we’ll do is print our patterns to scale along with their artwork, and we assemble them as if they were a garment. Occasionally, they’re like, Oh no, this is not how I see the work. But it’s always nice to collaborate and talk through how we get to a resolution that feels right creatively for them and for the brand.

We work so hard on maintaining their artist integrity. And everyone has their own visual language, so when you see something, how you interpret it and how I interpret it are so different. But it has to feel good for the artist. I almost feel like the brand is secondary because we want to represent each artist’s work as best and as true as possible.


What does sustainability look like for your brand?

Look, it’s the whole reason I didn’t want to start the brand. I was like, The world doesn’t need another dress. We don’t need more things. But I eventually realized that because I’m so conscious about it, if I can do it better than the next brand who is not thinking about it at all, then it means that we deserve a place in the industry. We want to be part of that change generation.

Internally, what we talk about is impact. And we split that into people and planet. For us, working with artisans is such an important part of the business. I try to ensure that there is an artisan capsule in every single collection. And it might be very small, but it’s something that I want to continue to commit to. For me, it’s about creating sustainable incomes for artisans that live in marginalized communities. We want to be able to continue to give them work and also to share their creativity.

For the planet, we’ve planted over 330,000 trees as part of our reforestation project. But one of the biggest things for the planet within what we do is design for circularity. Being able to recycle garments in the future depends on what materials we choose today. So we prioritize regenerative, organic, and recycled fibers. Low-impact, too. We embrace innovative new-gen fibers such as biosynthetics. In one of our last collections, we used orange fiber. Something like 60 percent of the oranges in Sicily are discarded—ending up as food landfill. And they’ve been able to turn that into fiber, which is kind of insane.

I’m learning about the environment in ways that I would never have imagined. I went from drawing with a pencil and paper to learning about how much carbon that we’re producing. But you need to know these things. It’s important. It’s part of doing business. And we have customers that trust us and trust the brand. And we want them to feel like they trust us for the right reasons, that yes, they get to look good, but they get to feel good, too, because we’re trying to do the best we can for the planet.


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