Dom Bagnato: Passion, fashion and tradition
From humble beginnings in the family garage to building an heritage brand synonymous with elegance and style. Melbourne-based menswear designer Dom Bagnato shares his story of passion, inspiration and drive...
What role has your Italian heritage played in your journey to becoming a menswear designer?
It was a Southern Italian tradition that you sent your son to a "“maestro"(a teacher), to learn a trade. So at the tender age of 9 I was encouraged to get some experience and think about the type of career I might like to pursue. I tried being a barber, but that lasted only 2 weeks (and only then because my cousin was working there). It wasn't for me, so I went to my godfather's tailor shop and fell in love with everything -from the aroma of fabric and leather, to the skill of the tailors who painstakingly sewed every pattern piece by hand. My father and uncle dressed extremely well, wearing custom made suits even though they could not afford them. To this day my Italian heritage is part of my identity as a designer. It has always been my dream to give my customers an authentic, Italian-style experience.
What was it like for you, as an Italian-Australian starting a business 36 years ago?
I found it a great advantage. In the early days of Dom Bagnato, by sheer coincidence, the actual premises for my store happened to be owned by Italians. This was in the nineties. They understood how important a business like mine was. As far as our wholesale business is concerned, being Italian and presenting a menswear collection, in which we are selling Italian style, worked really well - it was something genuine.
Being in business for more than thirty years, you would have experienced many industry changes especially many brands come and go. What has been your experience of building a business over this period of time?
I've seen many changes over the years. A significant one was the opening of a casino in Melbourne which saw people spending money on gambling rather than on their clothing. Then came the massive shift toe-commerce, particularly during 2020. This shift has impacted retail spending habits as fewer customers come into physical stores. People are also time-poor so online shopping has grown. There is a much less structured approach to workwear because people aren't leaving their homes to go to an office nowadays with the pandemic. Moreover, with the limited number of events being held across Australia- the opportunities to experience the joy of dressing up has disappeared, at least for a period of time. It's tough to build a business and then to actually stay in business! What I find interesting is while it never gets easier, the joy and passion for your business is the secret to business longevity! When you own your own business - especially one you are extremely passionate about - you regard the opportunity as a privilege and this helps you overcome the hurdles that are inevitable when you've been in the industry as long as I have.
What has been your biggest challenge in sustaining the business so far, and what have been your biggest achievements to date?
The biggest challenge in sustaining our business so far has been financial constraints. Also, as any business owner would know, when you run your own show, there are always personal sacrifices one has to make. Definitely the loss of "“me" time. As for achievements, I still feel like I'm just a 16 year-old kid from Tatura (Goulburn Valley) who came to the big smoke in Melbourne. My dream was always to have my own brand, be the best menswear designer I could be, and to stay in business for a long period of time.
What's next for Dom Bagnato the man (and the brand)?
I want to celebrate my 40th Year as the best Australian menswear designer brand in 2024!