The other day, while mindlessly looking through stories on Instagram, a friend’s story caught my attention. Over the course of five or so posts, she broke down her obsession with a new pair of workwear style pants that she’d purchased from a small Melbourne label. She declared them the comfiest pants she’s ever worn and expressed her frustration at the way a lot of pants she’s owned in the past haven’t been functional or comfortable for the female figure.
This is something I, and many women I know, also find frustrating. We want to wear more masculine clothing, particularly workwear style pants like Dickies, but more often than not find that these styles just aren’t made with the female figure in mind. Pants that are designed specifically for women aren’t much better—in fact, a lot of the time they’re devoid of the relaxed fit and the functionality of mens’ pants. (When will fashion designers realise that women use pockets just as much as men?)
But these pants, according to my friend, were the perfect fusion of a workwear aesthetic and a super comfortable, flattering fit. The label behind these magic pants is Ess.Bee, a one-woman operation based in Melbourne, created by designer Stephanie Bourke back in 2017. Originally, Stephanie was making custom belts and tops for her friends, and when the demand increased, she decided it was time to make things a little more official. Since then, the Ess.Bee community has been growing steadily.
Ess.Bee’s collections straddle the increasingly blurred line between masculine and feminine clothing—think the aforementioned workwear style pants, polar fleece sweatshirts, slinky track pants, and ample use of pinstripe. The ethos is simple: it’s about feeling comfortable living as the person you want to be, and wearing clothing that helps you do that. I spoke to Stephanie about Ess.Bee’s new collection, the importance of sharing, and the reason she creates pants with women in mind.
Where did the name ESS.BEE come from and what’s the ethos behind your label?
The name is a play on my initials. My mum was the one who had the idea to stylise it that way for my brand and, well, she named me so I guess we can say it was all her idea. I try to keep my ethos really simple. You’re able to be your best self when you are comfortable and you look as good as you feel. I want my clothes to fit in with who you are so that when you wear them, you feel at home.
Your new collection is called ‘What’s Mine is Yours’. How has the act of sharing positively impacted your life?
Sharing is an unspoken way of showing someone you care. Lending a friend a jacket basically says you care about them and that you trust them to return it as well. So I guess I would say that sharing has brought me closer to my friends, and also forced me to make plans with them to get my shit back too. I also think it’s really sweet how your wardrobe inevitability merges with your significant other at some point, and that’s an idea I wanted to bring into this range—clothes that are made to be shared.
Do you have a favourite piece from this collection?
This is pretty hard to say because every piece means a lot to me after how long I spent choosing the right colours, the fits, and the materials. But if I was to go off the one I wear the absolute most, I’d have to say the mesh track pants. I’ve pretty much been living in them of late. They’re comfy enough to sleep in, but they are easy to dress up too so I may or may not have rolled out of bed in them to get my morning errands done.
Growing up, who did you look up to style-wise?
Growing up, my friends and I all just sort of bounced off each other and I honestly wish I could say we had a style icon to look up to because we really could have used some guidance back in the day. My fashion definitely took a turn for the better when I realised I could finesse my brother’s Ralph Lauren polos and Nike swoosh pants. Finding that menswear and looser silhouettes worked for me was a game changer, as was learning the power of colour blocking from my Nanna’s fire two-piece suit sets. And to this day, I still get ideas from my friends, but thankfully we are all much better dressed now than we were in the early 2000s.
I like that you’ve made workwear style pants with women in mind—functionality and comfort seem to be a focus for you. What led you down this path design wise?
Women’s pants to me have always been somewhat devoid of functionality. Pockets that hold nothing, unflattering fits, and it’s too often because men are designing them with one particular body shape in mind. Clothes are advertised for “highlighting” women’s curves, whereas I was determined to make clothes that actually work with these curves. I’m not interested in making clothes that make you look a certain way to fit into some mould of what a “woman” should look like.
I believe that style and comfort go hand in hand. If you go out in clothes that you’re comfortable and free to move in, you’re going to have a better night than you would if you feel restricted. I just always hated how guys get the best clothes, and I wanted to create some pants that are a part [of] the shift into women’s streetwear [clothing]. Clothes that are tailored for women but can also be worn by men as well. It shouldn’t be seen as revolutionary that women want to be just as comfortable in their pants as men, and still have that same relaxed vibe to what they’re wearing.
What would ESS.BEE be if it were: A scent? A film? A song?
Scent: Your favourite home cooked meal. Film: Kill Bill because well obviously Uma Thurman is iconic. Song: Shade by IAMDDB. That song is the energy I need in my life.