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Fashion label finds pain-free business model

Brisbane fashion entrepreneur Amy Dallas has implemented an innovative business model in order to improve the lives of young people living with chronic pain – starting with her own.

In September last year, Dallas launched the fashion label Chronic Youth, with a focus on raising awareness for young people living with ‘invisible’ illnesses. Her t-shirts are printed with pill boxes, skulls, and huge pastel fonts with catchphrases like “Fuck The Pain Away”.

This all comes under her business slogan “Young People Deserve A Young Life”, and the effect of these youthful designs goes beyond the aesthetic.

For each t-shirt sold, Dallas donates one dollar to not-for-profit body Pain Australia, who advocate for the one in five Australians living with chronic pain. Dallas was herself diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disorder seven years ago and the pain nearly killed her fashion career.

“I went to Tafe to study fashion and I really struggled with the sewing,” Dallas says, recalling how the course required her to spend hours each day sitting, immobile, leaning over swatches and vision boards.

Sitting for long periods is difficult with her condition, and the effects began to show.

“By the afternoon I was very tense and sore and angry,” she says. “I’d be swearing a lot at whatever I was doing.”

The situation eventually reached breaking point one morning when, after pulling an all-nighter to finish an assignment, Dallas was in so much pain that she found herself lying on the Tafe’s floor and crying in front of her teacher and classmates.

Her condition drove her to search for an alternative entry into the world of fashion, one that would allow her to create clothing products without exacerbating her symptoms

“I started to think, why not do things simply?” Dallas says.

Amy Dallas has worked to combine her personal and professional goals with fashion startup Chronic Youth. Images courtesy of Amy Dallas.

Fashion entrepreneur and chronic pain advocate Amy Dallas has worked to combine her personal and professional goals with clothing line Chronic Youth. Images courtesy of Amy Dallas.

Now, Dallas has found a business model that works for her. She discovered East Brisbane manufacturer The tShirt Mill, where designers can create their own online stores using The tShirt Mill’s clothing products.

Dallas customised her website, picked out which of the available products she would be using, and uploaded her designs. Once a customer goes on the website and orders a product, The tShirt Mill creates the shirt and posts it to them.

There is no set-up cost for Dallas and no stock to hold, because the t-shirt is only created once a customer has ordered it.

“It is good for people who want to sell their own t-shirts and other things without having to go and buy a whole pile from China,” Dallas says. “There’s no up-front cost.”

Chronic Youth only has its online store, bypassing the need for physical vendors. This means Dallas can avoid the onerous legwork needed to find shops who will stock her brand.

Having a degenerative medical condition naturally makes it difficult to find accessible work, while also incurring extra healthcare costs. So the twenty-eight year old saves money by staying in her family home.

“I didn’t want to have to take out a loan,” Dallas laughs, admitting that the low startup cost was a major attraction of this business model. “That [would] just confirm that I’m going to be at home for a few more years.”

Another fashion label that avoided the costs of marketing and shopfront rental by staying online is Brisbane success story Black Milk Clothing. The multi-million dollar brand built itself an international following through word-of-mouth and dedicated online communities.

Necessity is the mother of invention (or so I read on Pinterest somewhere) and Dallas’s chronic pain has pushed her to find her own way of doing business. Entrepreneurship has allowed her to accommodate her pain condition in a way that a traditional nine-to-five job would not.

More than just a business venture, Chronic Youth is a means for her to do work she is passionate about while also contributing to pain awareness and research.

“I know a lot of people are sort of looking at me like ‘what are you doing with your life, you’re not living a normal life’ and I’m like, well, my body’s not normal,” Dallas says. “This is how it is.”

“[W]ith the creation of Chronic Youth I have found something that I enjoy working on everyday,” she says. “Spreading awareness of chronic pain through my t-shirt designs is what keeps me motivated to grow [and] improve the brand.”

Kaitlyn Plyley is a freelance writer, performer and broadcaster. She loves to talk about sustainability, intersectional feminism, and living with disability. She is the host of Just A Spoonful, the podcast that is young and fully sick.

About Kaitlyn Plyley