Queensland sisters Courtney and Taylor Harris are conquering the fashion world, one piece of jewellery at a time.
From Brisbane, to Bondi, London, LA and in between, two Queensland sisters are catching the eyes of international A-listers and the fashion forward with their sterling silver and gold-plated jewellery featuring dazzling, raw semi-precious stones sourced from around the globe.
Since launching Angle Diamond Dot in late 2011, Brisbane-born design duo Courtney and Taylor Harris have carved out a name for themselves in Australia, breaking into the fiercely competitive online market with their two collections, She Was an Outlier and Follow the Sun, which are now stocked in about 30 boutiques around the country.
Demand for their brightly coloured, bold, statement pieces has never been so strong, with a string of celebrities like US singer/songwriters Kelis and Lana Del Rey, UK performer Lily Allen, Aussie musician Gin Wigmore, Victoria’s Secret Angel and Aussie model Miranda Kerr and MTV presenter Izzy Lawrence chasing down their latest quirky chains and gems.
From their creative hub in Highgate Hill, south of Brisbane's CBD, the girls are busy sending out packages and filling online orders for customers from Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory to the corners of regional West Australia, South Australia and as far as California and Switzerland.
Courtney, 26, welcomes me with a bright, welcoming smile as she sits perched on an outdoor chair hugging her knees, looking fresh, in a colourful patchwork silk skirt and relaxed charcoal grey T-shirt.
Her blonde, wavy locks are swept off her face today, and she admits she’s jet-lagged and is busy answering emails and designing the new collection.
But she’s as bubbly as ever and excited to tell me about New York Fashion Week, and attending The Founders Forum 2013 in Los Angeles last month, hosted by entrepreneur and superstar musician Will.i.am, where she sat in on innovation and technology forums.
Determination, technology and innovation are not foreign to the Harris sisters, who have gained the majority of regular and one-off gift buyers through their online presence.
Using social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest to keep the buzz alive, they share pics from their travels, impress fashion bloggers, risk-takers and early adopters with their vibrant, delicate and sometimes loud pieces.
She Was an Outlier went off with a boom – its fine, fluoro bracelets and colourful floral headpieces reminiscent of Frida Kahlo – doubling the sales which the early collection attracted, a demand which the girls say is definitely linked to their almost cult-like online following.
"It’s our version of a fashion blog, showing our behind the scenes and our inspiration. Whenever we come across something that inspires us we post it," Courtney says.
The front door swings open and Taylor, 28, glides into the room with a sleek new hairdo, apologising for running 10 minutes behind schedule, slotting neatly into the conversation.
As the close-knit pair begin chatting they can’t help but finish one another’s sentences which sends them off into fits of laughter.
Just two years apart, the girls grew up in Brisbane, spending weekends and holidays at the family’s cattle station just outside Esk, which the girls tell me inspired the business name and much of the horsey-themed pieces like the Never Behoove ring and Footloose Horse Stirrup necklace, which recently caught the eye of Lana Del Rey.
"Angle, diamond and dot are all cattle symbols. They were our family’s cattle brand. We wanted a name that was close to the family and meant something to us. We wanted it to stand out from everything else out there," Courtney says.
"I saw there was a gap in the market for quality-crafted costume jewellery that lasted longer than two days: things that you can hand down to your children, with semi-precious stones, that are still affordable."
"They’re basically pieces of art. When you don’t want to buy a new outfit, these pieces make your outfit," Taylor says.
It might well be a big ask but these two headstrong creatives have pulled it off.
They’ve done it using Courtney’s background in fashion design and business marketing – she graduated from the Fashion Business Institute, Sydney, and spent three years working with Sydney-based fashion designer Camilla Franks at her Bondi boutique and experience dressing A-list celebs in London’s Notting Hill – combined with Taylor’s eight years of managing brands, as an advertising executive and account director in Brisbane and Sydney agencies.
It’s been 12 months since they launched the brand but not without a gruelling year of phone calls, emails and research and design during 2011 at Courtney’s end, before Taylor left her previous full-time work at a Sydney advertising agency to officially partner with Courtney.
"Courtney would sound-board ideas off me in the beginning. It’s about keeping a zillion balls in the air, not dissimilar to advertising. It was a lot of client facing and project management in my previous job. We bounce off each other quite well. You have to be honest and critical of your friend’s work. It’s about being objective and open-minded. It’s a super-competitive industry," Taylor says.
As an 18-year-old, Courtney started making simple jewellery pieces like mixed metal necklaces with smaller gems and although it took some years before she really got serious about it, she always knew Taylor would get on board and back her up.
"We’ve really been able to balance out our different skills. It’s great to work with your sister and best friend. A lot of people get a shock when they find it’s just the two of us. I started making jewellery as a hobby. I wanted to get into the fashion industry and I worked with Camilla for a few years. She has been our biggest mentor. We learnt from the best. She took me under her wing and has since turned into a great friend. She doesn’t follow fashions but she designs things to suit every woman. She’s accomplished so much so soon," Courtney says.
"I started making necklaces with semi-precious stones from a local supplier in Sydney. A lot more people started commenting on what I was wearing. I moved over to London to open Camilla stores there with Camilla, but the economy was so bad everyone seemed to be closing their doors and we ended up pulling out. I had been dressing Lily Allen for her tour around Australia after meeting her in Sydney so I continued with that. We were styling A-list celebrities in Notting Hill, London. It showed me that the UK were just so keen for new Australian designs. They had never seen colour like that before in Camilla’s designs. They were fresh and left of field. There was a huge vibe about it and people wanted to wear it to all the parties and they still do."
Angle Diamond Dot is now stocked throughout the five Camilla stores around the country and the collections were featured on the runways last year in Camilla’s Gypset collection.
Dragging her supportive Brisbane-based mother, Sue Brown, on buying trips to India, China, Bali, New York and the UK in 2011, Courtney was adamant about finding only the best gems and most reliable manufacturers.
They spent days knocking back manufacturers and securing trustworthy business partners but with a little help from friends who agreed to stock the collections, and after getting the website up and running, they were soon turning over some Aussie dollars.
"Support from family and friends has been the biggest thing. Every small business needs help to start off. We looked at competition, other styles and at what was out there. I found that it’s not as easy as it looks. Manufacturing is very hands-on. It’s hard work. It’s not a glamorous life being in the fashion industry or flying around the world. You should see how sweaty and foul we get searching for stones," Courtney says.
"The majority come from Arizona for the turquoise, Brazil and India for some of the really great finds.
"We go and sort through each piece and stone to check the quality. We went door-knocking and tested them for a whole year.
"Mum has always been a big supporter. She worked in the industry as a model and fashion agent. She is always reminding us about persistence and believing in yourself."
The Angle Diamond Dot brand and individual nature of each piece appeals to an enormous audience, with a large number of their 2600 Instagram followers being women aged 40 and over, who aren’t afraid to take on the bold gems.
"It’s actually a really wide market of women who want the statement pieces and want the uniqueness," Taylor says.
"A lot of our Instagram followers are mums.
"They’re the ones who embrace the bigger pieces.
"Every piece has an individual meaning and a level of spiritual significance, says Courtney, who wears the Caravaca earrings, featuring gold-plated discs with a religious cross and agate shard.
"Agate is known as a protective stone. It attracts strength and is believed to ward off bad dreams. It also protects from stress and energy drains," Courtney says.
Taylor wears the Protect Bangle in gold, with Arizona turquoise, which is known as the "master healer and purification stone", good for inner calm and also a symbol of friendship. Both sisters wear the sterling silver Roman numeral silver stacker rings.
"What’s surprising me was the demand in regional centres. . . We’re sending to more overseas addresses than ever," Taylor says.
With the UK and US markets in their sights, the Angle Diamond Dot divas are putting all their energy into launching their third collection, Primal Awakening, based on tribal inspired pieces, which tell a story of "courage, pride and strength".
"We've been picked up by US buyers, a few boutiques want to stock us and a well-known agent has showed interest in representing us. The man behind The Row, the Olsen Twins’ fashion line, was very interested in Angle Diamond Dot. It's exciting and a bit overwhelming," Courtney says.
Nominated for the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards for a second year running, and working toward their debut at Premier, the leading trade event for boutique brands, at Sydney Fashion Week in April, the talented sisters are set to launch Primal Awakening with a bang.
"We want the Angle Diamond Dot woman to use our bold handcrafted pieces, and the qualities of the semi-precious gem stones as their own personal armour," Courtney says.
NEW CAIRNS.COM.AU COMMENT POLICY
We welcome your comments on this story. Comments are submitted for possible publication on the condition that they may be edited. Comments submitted without a full name and suburb/location will not be considered for publication. Please read our full comment policy and publication guidelines.