How These Perth Designers Got Miley Cyrus, Dua Lipa & Paris Hilton To Wear Their Clothes

Taking your business to the next level can be challenging, and for women and marginalised people, the barriers to success can be even more significant. That’s why we’re here to help, with stories and tips from people who have built thriving businesses. Introducing Beyond Square One: a series created in partnership with Square to help inspire small and medium enterprises to excel.
If you follow any 'It' girls on Instagram or TikTok who love the maximalist aesthetic, it's highly likely you've borne witness to Dyspnea's ultra-feminine, party-girl garments.
The product of Perth-based founders Rachel Motteram and Jameen Zalfen's desire for personalised clubbing outfits in 2013, Dyspnea has since become a bonafide globally-loved powerhouse, worn by Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton and Dua Lipa.
The pair cut their design teeth working behind the scenes at established labels like Camilla and Marc for years before taking the plunge to go out and make their mark on the fashion world. While they did have experience (and passion) to boot up their sparkly sleeves, turning Dyspnea into a full-time gig took a massive leap of faith.
Making a name for themselves with pieces covered in sequins, fluffy pink pom-poms, and dreamy pastel hues, the brand's custom make-to-order service ensures everyone can get in on the fun or, according to Rachel, "feel like a fucking queen."
With over 250k Instagram followers and a growing list of celebrity admirers, keeping the Dyspnea machine running isn't an easy feat. Here's a deeper look into how Rachel and Jameen do it all.

Refinery29: What's Dyspnea's origin story?

Rachel & Jameen: We met in our last year of TAFE and quickly became inseparable. Naturally, there was partying and clubbing involved and of course, we needed cute ‘fits. We wanted pieces no one else had, so we thought, "why not make our own pieces?"
We loved unusual textiles and I think being based in Perth actually pushed our boundaries as we weren't spoilt with choice with production fabrics. We had to really go out and look for it or manipulate fabrics.
These little projects soon became noticed by friends and people in the industry. We both have very supportive families and through using (and destroying) their precious lounge room space we were able to make a collection for Perth Fashion Festival. We knew this was an opportunity to go hard or go home. So for the final look, we went to town and smashed a few mirrors and hot glue-gunned the pieces — everything snowballed from there.

How would you describe Dyspnea?

Dyspnea is your wardrobe BFF. She’s always ready to make you feel like a million bucks and has got the qualities everyone wants in a bestie; non-judgemental, super sassy, gases you up and always comes ready with wine. 
You both sparkle when you’re together and, ultimately, with (and in) your Dyspnea, you’re unstoppable.
Dyspnea is very era-fluid. We don’t have one particular muse or time that inspires us, instead, we draw inspiration from everyone and everything that has pushed boundaries, ranging from Paris Hilton-circa 2004 to Elton John.

You’re incredibly size-inclusive — how have you managed to achieve this?

We believe everyone has the right to feel like a fucking queen which means our brand is and should be accessible to all, no matter their body type. We believe that our job isn’t done if the best we do as a brand is to extend our size range and call it a day.
Instead, we know it’s imperative that we consider all body types, varied ratios and shapes; we know no two bodies are the same which is why we developed our make-to-order and customs process. Our custom make-to-order process gives everyone the opportunity to own their dream Dyspy piece — whether that's extending the hem, adding extra lining or even picking a different colour.

TikTok loves Dyspnea. When did you realise you'd popped off online?

When Tiktok started taking off as a visual platform we knew we had to get on board the fun train. All the credit goes to Carmen, our PR Fairy who ran with it. I remember we told Carmen just to do whatever she wanted, the next thing we knew she had uploaded a TikTok wearing Dyspnea in her iconic green-tiled bathroom and it went absolutely viral. The rest is history.
We started the brand on the cusp of Instagram and saw it as an opportunity to reach a wider audience (which we did and are still doing) and we like to look at each new platform like this.

Tell us about the 'pinch me' moments you've had over the last few years.

We were crossing the road at Bondi Junction years ago and I opened my phone and saw a photo of Miley Cyrus wearing Dyspnea on Jimmy Fallon. I squealed.
Once we were DMing the iconic Paris Hilton regarding a Dyspy loan (which of course, in itself was a bit of a pinch-me moment) and then she sent us a voice message. We basically fainted — we are small-town girls, so that stuff will get us every time.
All our runway shows are also 'pinch us' moments even though they happen in the blink of an eye.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the early years? What advice would you give someone looking to start a business based on those learnings?

Cash flow. Make sure you spend your money wisely and on things that will make you a return. When you first start your business, ask yourself questions like, “Can you create your own content?” Be sure to purchase stock and produce in smaller quantities to start and see what’s selling best (and then, from there, put more money behind it). Starting slow is a good piece of advice here. 
Jameen worked at Camilla and Marc for three years before quitting to work on Dyspnea, and learnt a lot from her position there. We believe we’re always learning, and we never reach a point where that stops. When it comes to business, we try to remove all ego and keep in mind that if someone can do the job better than us, we let them do it or have them teach us how. Being open to learning and constantly improving is something we value in our business. 
We have always said we couldn’t do this without the other. Having each other gets us through rough weeks, and experiencing the highs together makes celebrating all the more fun.
We’d encourage people to work together if there’s the option too. It always helps to have someone to support you and experience it all with you. 
For more stories on how small business owners have levelled up, head to our Square One section on site.

More from Fashion