Australia What do Tony Abbott, kangaroos and James 'Mad Dog' Mattis all have in common?

02:22  11 august  2017
02:22  11 august  2017 Source:   MSN

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  What do Tony Abbott, kangaroos and James 'Mad Dog' Mattis all have in common? © ABC News/Nick Haggarty

A couple of weeks after he lost the prime ministership, Tony Abbott was enjoying a seaside lunch in Sydney when a burly bloke came bearing a gift.

Mark Wales handed Abbott a black leather jacket on behalf of their mutual friend, Liberal MP Andrew Hastie.

Wales designed the jacket and took the opportunity to deliver it in person while home from New York.

The jacket, the young entrepreneur explained, was made for a particular type of person.

Someone who had taken a few knocks, stood firmly by their values and who should not be taken lightly.

Wales thought Abbott was a good fit and the former PM loves the look.

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Like Abbott, Wales had suffered some significant setbacks.

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Before his career turned to clothing, Wales fought for his country as a member of the elite Special Air Services Regiment (SASR) in Afghanistan.

The experience took a big toll on his mental health, but fashion gave him a focus and a will.

He was always torn between his martial calling and the lure of the catwalk; a kid from the country who simply liked to look hip.

But his clothes were often covered in dust.

Wales grew up in the ancient, dry landscapes of Western Australia's Pilbara, playing war games in the red dirt with his siblings.

In high school, a friend showed him a photograph of black-clad British troops storming the Iranian Embassy in London to rescue western hostages.

"The second I saw it I thought, that's it, that's what I want to do," he recalled.

He was selected for the SASR in 2004.

During Wales's time in Afghanistan, special operations uniforms were modified. He admired the changes but kept his passion for fashion largely to himself.

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"They became more form-fitted and minimalist. It stopped things getting in the way," he said.

His idea to make jackets modelled on combat gear was born on the battlefield. But first he needed to make it home.

By the time he finished his tour, Wales had witnessed death and destruction.

However, the real damage was mental and no amount of designer clothing could fix it.

He pushed those feelings aside when he earned a place at a top business college in the United States. Wales's close mates were worried about him.

  What do Tony Abbott, kangaroos and James 'Mad Dog' Mattis all have in common? © ABC News/Nick Haggarty

One of them was Hastie, also an ex-SASR trooper.

"Mark's physicality was like a shield. He's this big, muscly dude who looks invincible. Nobody would have known he was struggling," Hastie said.

"He took risks going to the US."

But studying overseas helped Wales get into a routine.

He ate well, took up cross-fit and surfing, and he "retrained" his brain.

"All those things gradually laid a pretty good foundation for recovering," Wales said.

Soon he was ready to revisit his plan to mix war and fashion.

His high-end kangaroo-skin leather jackets are inspired by SASR uniforms, but there are other influences too.

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The design draws on a touch of Terminator and a bit of Jason Bourne.

He wanted the jackets to resonate with uniformed personnel, so he invited war veterans to model them.

He even extended the invitation to one of America's top brass, retired four-star general and current US Defence Secretary James "Mad Dog" Mattis.

Mattis is admired for his strategic intellect and enthusiasm for chatting to junior troops, often imparting blunt, bold advice.

Wales has always been a fan.

He credits Mattis with inspiring him to take the next step.

"He came out to a morning tea when I was at business college," Wales said.

"He told us the best thing we could do for the security of the country was to go out and start good businesses to make the economy stronger."

He wonders whether Mattis might one day don the jacket, with aviators, in a war zone.

Nowadays, Wales is a happier, healthier person but he reads the steady stream of stories about war veterans who are struggling and wonders whether they help or hinder recovery.

"The constant question a lot of us ask is where the issue lies," he said.

"Is it the fact people have mental illness coming back from war and the fact they're not properly reported, or is it the fact that if enough people tell you you're broken, you'll start to believe it?

"I think it's probably a combination of all those things."

It is why Wales wants to focus on the positives.

"There are all these things where they've taken a big leap."

His most recent leap was starring in the latest series of Channel 10's Survivor.

And yes, he managed to smuggle his leather jacket onto the island.

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