“If you were to have asked me a few years ago if I would be working with my family, the answer would have been ‘absolutely not’. But life works out in interesting ways,” says Bree Munro, Founder of BATU a brand new direct-to-consumer luxury footwear brand based out of Australia.
BATU, which means ‘stone’ in Bahasa Indonesian, was born out of a love for quality leather and built on the cornerstone that beautiful, well-made shoes are what make an outfit. While the brand has been quietly selling for a few months, BATU formally launches globally this week.
While this is Munro’s first foray into entrepreneurialism, she isn’t a newcomer to fashion. “I started off working in retail for a large chain store, and then managing a smaller boutique that sold fast-fashion clothing,” Munro tells me. “I was never comfortable with their production and manufacturing practices and wanted to start a brand that had a different approach to ethical fashion.”
BATU shoes are made in Indonesia, a country known for their craftsmanship and a place Munro got experience working in as a General Manager for a well-known Australian-based clothing label, Her Pony, that manufactured in the country. It was her boss at that company who heavily influenced how Munro has approached her own brand.
“Everything was handmade in small quantities and my boss had a passion for reworking one-off second-hand and vintage pieces,” shares Munro. “That’s where I learned how to navigate the challenges of working with small factories. It opened my eyes to the different manufacturing practices available. Most importantly, I learned that you don’t have to conform to pumping out new product and designs all the time to be successful.”
Early on, Munro self-financed what was originally just a side project as she moved between Indonesia and her hometown of Melbourne, Australia, where she worked remotely for a digital agency.
“I used my wages from that job to pay for the samples and first small order, a photoshoot, and everything else I did myself,” Munro tells me. As she sold out her first designs, Munro would subsequently order more leather and create a few new styles. “It soon became obvious that this needed to be a full-time venture. My dad recently came on as my partner and investor and after a soft launch based in Australia, we want to get the brand out there to the U.S. and the rest of the world.”
Munro incorporates beautiful textured leathers that she sources from Java into her designs. It was her unique aesthetic that immediately drew me to her brand. “Java is a well-established footwear and leather industry. Almost all of the leather artisans in Bali are Javanese, with their families having worked for generations in the industry. They are known for having the best quality leather in Indonesia,” says Munro.
When it comes to her creative process, sourcing the leather is where Munro starts. “It is one of my favorite things to do. As soon as I see a leather that I love, the ideas start flowing. I can envision exactly what I want to do with it—not just the shoes I want to make, but also the outfits they would be worn with and the whole look of the photoshoot. For me, it’s all about creating a story not just a pair of shoes. My aesthetic is constantly changing. But in general, the pieces are slightly quirky but also wearable. Wearability is so important to me (hello, block heels!),” explains Munro.
Munro doesn’t design or drop products seasonally—rather she makes limited runs. “I design when I feel like making something I want to wear and share with others. So we might introduce one or two new pieces at one time, or other times I will have a small collection that drops all at once,” she tells me.
One of the major tenets of the brand is transparency—especially across the supply chain. “I wasn’t aware until I started learning more prior to launching the business that some places harvest animals just to use their hides and then dispose of the rest. That seems like a horrible waste. So I researched the tanneries and distributors and only use ones whose hides are a by-product of the local meat industries,” states Munro.
Munro sources her hides from ethical sources. “We use as much of the hide as we can to reduce waste even though this results in some perceived ‘flaws’ or pattern placement differences. We work directly with our small factory where the artisans are all paid well above the minimum wage and receive holidays, sick leave, and breaks. And we utilize pre-orders and produce in low quantities to minimize unsold inventory,” she continues.
Another aspect to Munro that struck me when I spoke with her was her pragmatic approach to sustainability.
“I don’t like buzzwords and furthermore, I don’t think fashion can be sustainable. It’s one of the largest contributors to the negative impact of the environment,” she tells me. While she thinks both locally and globally, it isn’t what she wants to focus on. “Our mission is and always will be to make luxury high-fashion footwear accessible and affordable. I really believe that’s what sets us apart from other brands we see as competitors,” she tells me. “But because we sit on the lower price point of high-fashion footwear, it’s even more important that we continually look for new ways to reduce costs across our supply chain and throughout the business, while still offering the same value, quality, and customer experience we pride ourselves on.”
Another way Munro keeps her operations lean is that everything is done in-house.
“All of our designs, content creation, social media strategy, bookkeeping, operations, customer service, fulfillment, and marketing are done in-house by myself and our close-knit family team,” shares Munro. While Munro’s father, who was always her professional mentor invested into BATU early on, she tapped into her mother to help as well. When I ask her what it is like to work with her mother she tells me, “Growing up my mother would tell me what to do so I thought she might push some of her thoughts onto me. But in reality it has been the opposite and she has been amazing. She doesn’t step on my toes at all. In fact she has some great ideas. Yet, she is very respectful that this is my brand. It has really brought us closer together. I wouldn’t be able to do this without her.”
In the last few months Munro’s sister joined the team to head up operations. “My sister is my best friend,” Munro tells me. Her sister left her corporate business development position in media and invested some money into BATU. “Since she has come on in the last two months she has streamlined everything operationally. BATU hasn’t ever been more organized and I am thrilled she is on the team.”
“What started out as just me has turned into a family business,” continues Munro. “My dad’s a partner. My mom runs our office, customer service and shipping, and my sister is the yin to my yang; she is now in charge of operations and business development. She helps me get my big creative ideas and makes them work on a day-to-day basis. When you buy from us you really are buying from a small family-run business in every sense! And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”