Merchants of the Sun
More than just a Jewellery brand. Merchants of the Sun are climbing their way up the market and its clear to see why. Offering their customers something more than just any ordinary brand. I sat down with the founder of Merchants of the Sun, Matthew Banks to ask about why he started the brand and why he believes its become successful.
For those who haven't come across your brand yet, can you explain who merchants of the sun are?
To me, Merchants of the Sun is a celebration of all things adventure, culture, and art. We’re a jewellery label and a movement, in a way, and we create silver and gold accessories that transcend trends and break the mould of gendered fashion. I’d say we’re more than a brand, so I’m really proud of what we’ve created.
Where did the brand start? What was the inspiration?
I started Merchants from the Gold Coast in 2020, after years and years of thinking about it. I’d just lost my corporate job to the pandemic and decided to bet on myself and my creative side, which was the best decision I could’ve made at the time.
My inspiration mostly came from growing up in Indo and being surrounded by surf culture and the beach. Between Bali and the Gold Coast, I have a real thing for rustic-looking jewellery but couldn’t find anything that I actually loved and wanted to wear daily. I took matters into my own hands and Merchants was born.
Because of border closures and restrictions, I couldn’t go back to Indo but I knew I wanted my manufacturer Natry on board. I chose Bali as a production location because the talent and craftsmanship of the team is second to none. Having witnessed their craft from childhood to now, the skill of Indonesian artisans is exceptional and the culture prioritises the quality of silver and gold pieces unlike anything else I’ve seen. So, creating all Merchants pieces over there was never a question for me, and the country continues to be a great inspo source.
When it comes to designing new garments or collections where would you usually start?
When designing new pieces I always start with the form and shape in mind, often looking to the past for 'artefacts' and certain pieces/styles that have stayed timeless and relevant through generations. Sometimes these ideas and inspirations can stem from Greek statues or Egyptian jewellery, and other times it can stem from something as simple as a shell or a leaf.
In the interests of sustainability, I’m not looking to just sell products for the sake of it, so I keep each collection minimal and really think about whether a design is necessary before making it. This mindset keeps the design part of things more interesting too, as each piece is unique and a lot of time and energy has been put into making sure it’s the right fit for Merchants.
In saying that, it’s easy to spend time planning and planning and never releasing anything - perfectionism is a huge time suck for me and I’ve learnt to trust the process and trust myself a bit more. I’ve found that understanding my inspiration and then simply picking up a pen is the best starting point, the rest flows from there.
Where do you get your inspiration from when it comes to creating new designs?
Anywhere and everywhere! The world is my Pinterest board - I draw a lot of inspiration from architecture, nature, art, as well as from my current surroundings. I’m kind of subconsciously absorbing everything so that I might be able to translate it into a Merchants piece later. Often I find I am the most creative, and have the best flow when I am out of the office, travelling and experiencing different cultures.
Content is also one of my favourite parts of the gig. My background is in photography, graphic design and other creative endeavours, so the aesthetic of Merchants is inspiration of itself. Before we started, it took about six months to nail the visual style of the brand, and from there it’s evolved naturally but always remains a huge focus for me.
Your creative processes, do you find they change or remain the same when it comes to designing new collections?
I find my creative processes remain fairly steady with each collection, but I definitely see peaks and troughs in my creativity. Although, as my skill has progressed over the years I am finding it easier, and quicker to articulate my ideas to our Balinese artisans that we work with, often through sketches.
As any creative can appreciate, it’s hard to detail your creative process with any real precision. Sometimes things just come to you, but sometimes it takes sitting down and making a conscious effort to think about a task to get it done. Either way, practice really helps and the creative process comes more easily over time.
Do you look at the fashion trends or do you try to be ahead of the game?
I refuse to acknowledge trends when thinking about Merchants. Trends are hard because they obviously drive the fashion industry and fuel creation on an unbelievable scale, but they also teach us that we need more material goods than we actually do.
It’s not possible to ignore trends entirely, as we’re all human and we subconsciously take on our surroundings. There is room, however, to critically look at a design and question whether it has purpose beyond the immediate trend cycle. If the answer is no, it will be fast-tracked to landfill which we just can’t afford.
We’re ahead of the game in that we’re preoccupied with timelessness over trendiness - I see this as the bare minimum for the fashion industry, and this idea forms the basis of so much of what I do at Merchants.
You reference yourselves as a 'community' what's the reasoning behind this?
My background taught me that it’s not enough to just sell products, you need some greater purpose and value for your audience to clutch onto and run with. We’re pretty lucky in that social media facilitates a dialogue between brands and consumers, so we have all the ingredients to build a community that we can learn from and grow with.
I truly believe that fashion is evolving, which is an opportunity for us. We don’t want to be confined to rigid structures of luxury or gender or trend, and having a community that we can use as a sounding board and actually speak and listen to is integral to making the most of that opportunity.
It's clear to see the brand is sustainability conscious. Why is this important to the brand?
Growing up, I saw firsthand the impact of fast fashion and textile waste in Bali and naturally came to detest the idea. This insight means that I don’t see sustainability as a choice, and it’s definitely one of our main priorities.
It’d be remiss of us to say that we celebrate the outdoors and art and fashion and culture while also fuelling one of the most harmful and environmentally disruptive industries. From designing the product to the packaging and looking after my team, I’m always thinking about how to reduce our impact.
In doing so, we want to show other brands that it’s totally possible to create fashion without a heavy impact and without introducing materials that are already circulating. We can offset our carbon, use recycled materials, reduce our output, and educate our consumers at the same time - we don’t have to lean into the status quo.
Do you believe more consumers are shopping with sustainability in mind?
Consumers are absolutely shopping with sustainability in mind. We surveyed our audience earlier this year and found that there’s a huge push for ethical fashion, but there’s little certainty as to what that actually entails.
On that note, there’s no regulated definition of ‘sustainability’, so it’s easy for brands to slap “ethical collection” labels on products without doing anything to actually mitigate their impact. We want to set an example for the rest of the industry to follow, while also showing consumers that we don’t have to settle for less than ethical.
Sustainability is also a need, not just a want. It’s not a fun buzzword you can use to attract more customers - it’s a genuine movement and a non-negotiable for fashion. Even if they weren’t asking for it, we would be doing wrong by our consumers if we didn’t prioritise sustainability.
Is there anything you can tell us about any upcoming collections?
We’ve closed temporarily for July and August to really focus on the sustainability of the business, which is a huge step for us. We’re hoping to rewire our audience through this shutdown to start mindfully consuming, rather than expecting new products at the drop of a hat.
Without divulging too many deets, we have exciting community projects in the works, as well as collaborations with other creatives. I’m spending more time in Bali again, so you can expect more of a Merchants presence internationally.
Thank you for your time.
Cheers! Stoked to be here.
You can shop[ the full range available from Merchants Of The Sun over at merchantsofthesun.com.au