Jude Australia – a wholesome knitwear label – was born from a love of family heritage and a deep connection to local history. Helicopter pilot and founder, Ali Wood, aims to carry on a long family tradition of wool production and design, using the finest merino that Australia has to offer.

To be perfectly honest, the coolest thing about Ali is definitely that she’s a helicopter pilot. I mean, what the?! SO GOOD. After a flight over the Grand Canyon five years ago, I decided that I was most definitely, without a doubt, going to become a helicopter pilot. But then I did other stuff instead, like starting a blog (lol). Anyway, back to Ali Wood.

With a background in fashion PR and marketing, as well as six years of working for herself, Ali was well-positioned to start her own fashion label – a dream she’d had for a pretty long time. ‘I was always interested in fashion, which sounds a bit “bimbo”, but I was mainly inspired by all my family heritage and wanted to do something with wool.’ Once the seed was planted, Ali didn’t lose the vision, and as soon as she finished her helicopter license, Jude Australia came into being. ‘I finally pushed the GO button, and it evolved.’

Ali’s grandmother had her own knitwear label in the 80s, and her grandfather was a farmer, so she’s always been inspired by those quintessentially Australian landscapes like plants, animals and the bush, that evoke a sense of nostalgia. She has strong memories of running around as a kid wearing her grandmother’s woollen jumpers that she’d hand knitted with love. Jude Australia is a nod to those memories.

‘The concept is to bring wool back as a luxury fibre. Cashmere has that reputation, but wool doesn’t really in Australia. Which is such a shame, because we produce some of the best wool in the world here,’ says Ali. It was a culmination of her background, family history and passion that made her decide to start what she’d always been thinking about.

"My business is in the fashion realm but I don’t try to be something I’m not. It’s just genuine and true to me and I’ve followed my gut feeling and vision for what I want to do. I’m not trying to be trendy or like a competitor. Being genuine and individual is important as well."

Heavily pregnant when I met her for coffee, Ali (and her cool environmental scientist husband) have recently welcomed a gorgeous boy, Otis, into their family. He’s been road testing the Jude Australia baby blankets and I hear he’s a big fan already!

Where did the name Jude come from?   

It was dreamt up by me, as a pseudonym for my grandparents. Both figures were big inspirations and I wanted something that created a personality to reflect them; Jude seemed like an appropriate name.

Did you start it all on your own?

It’s still just me! But I’ve worked with some amazing people like illustrators, designers and website developers. It’s great to be in touch with different creative people and they’ve contributed a lot to different parts of the business.

by Amy Lovat

Where are the items made?

They’re all made in Melbourne, through a specialist knitwear manufacturer – he’s pretty much the only fashion-focused one in Australia. The wool industry is flailing, disappearing in Australia from a production point of view. There aren’t any mills here anymore. So the wool is made here, but it’s milled overseas. I have to ship it over. I buy Italian or Japan-milled stuff, but it’s all Australian wool and then manufactured in Melbourne.

"If you believe in your idea and you’re passionate about it, and you get to express your individuality through your idea, the world will be your oyster."

Did you design the clothes?

Yes. I didn’t want to try and reinvent the wheel. It’s just classic, comfortable and luxury. I don’t claim to be a skilled fashion designer! I just wanted to create products that are good quality, beautiful and comfortable. The product development was hard. My manufacturer is very patient with me [laughs]. He’s helpful and supportive, which has been great for guidance. And we’ve gotten to know each other, and what we both expect. We’ve got our rhythm now. It’s definitely been the most challenging part for me as it’s outside my comfort zone.

How do you manage all your time since you’re still doing freelance PR?

I don’t know! [laughs] Everything gets sent to me and I have a stock room in the house. I quality check everything before sending it out. That’s fine for the moment, because it’s just a small business and I’m not going to pretend it’s anything else. I want it to grow organically and make the mistakes I need to make now, on a small scale. It’s all about the product, not making millions. It’s definitely not about making millions! [laughs]

Do you dream of having a shop front?

It’s a lot of work… the jury’s still out. It would be beautiful to have a flagship store for the Jude brand. It’s important now to gain more stockists first. Wool is a tactile product so people need to be able to touch and feel and experience the difference in quality. We have some great stockists in Newcastle and more region ones, like Daylesford, and the international airport in the Australian concept stores.

Did they find you?

It was pot luck. They found me, I got a call on a Friday afternoon! It was amazing, a great opportunity and only six months in. I was very grateful.

Have you marketed Jude at all?

I have a plan and an understanding of what needs to be done, using my contacts and knowledge from my background, which has been handy. Getting in to magazines and newspapers and building the profile. That’s been strategized a bit. But people still stumble across the website quite frequently online, which is great. I also did a trade show earlier in the year, plus I do market days. It’s a nice family work day! It’s all changing, 9 to 5 hours aren’t a thing in so many industries. It’s great to know that you can work for yourself and it works and you’re not stuck in a little box and having face time with people.

You can create the lifestyle you want as well.

Exactly. Meetings are flexible, people are used to meeting in cafes now. And with social media and everything being alone, it’s easy to promotes yourself. Though I’m definitely not good at that! But there are tools out there now for people to make something of their own ideas.

Have you done any advertising?

With print advertising, you really have to invest, which is going to be expensive. Doing a one-off ad in print is a waste of money because a lot of the time people just skim over ads and don’t take it in, but once they see it three or four times they might take notice. With digital, you can be upfront and it’s cheaper with a quicker absorption rate. I’ll buy always buy magazines though, I love touching them!

Me too. Forever! What’s your advice for people starting out?

Nobody can do it except for you. Call on experts in their particular field that you know, get advice, and try to do as much research as you can before you start. There’s no time like the present. And there’s no perfect time for anything – buying a house, having children… everything’s a risk. But there’s that cliché saying “with great risk comes great rewards”.

Who’s the coolest person you know?

Can I say four? I always relate things back to my family. My grandfather would be number one. He embodied cool. He was a pilot, flew in the war, became a farmer, was drop-dead handsome like Clark Gable, and was the most beautiful, kind-hearted, creative and spirited man. My grandmother, as well. She’s cool because she’s just the most beautiful person ever. And my mum and dad. They’re pretty cool too. I’m proud to say that!