EFWA 2018 Upcycling Challenge Interview with Carmel Ryan

Carmel - 2nd from left
Please share a bit about about the journey that led you to embrace fashion design as a career.

Seems crazy looking back to think I’ve been sewing for over 50 years! I was taught by both mother & grandmother, skilled tailors and seamstresses by trade. I started making my own clothes on a Singer treadle machine, which is still a prized possession, from the age of 8. I was soon dressmaking for friends & other’s as an income supplement in my later teens, so embracing fashion came natural and a way of life to me.

Living in remote Outback Australia in the 70’s, there was little outside influence of fashion, Monthly copies of Woman’s Weekly, Dolly magazine and Countdown on ABC TV were my fashion ‘bibles’ & inspiration. I recall the first pair of wide leg flairs and tie dyed singlet I made & wore to a casual day at high school, - I almost started a revolution! From that day on I knew the power of fashion and how it can define people. I always wanted to be a fashion designer and have my own collection, unfortunately there were no opportunities for formal study in Alice Springs at the time.

I know you trained at TAFE. Talk about the highs and lows of studying. What did you find easy? What was a challenge?

When living in Adelaide for a short period in my early 20’s, I enrolled in a Pattern Design & Construction course at TAFE.  At TAFE I took night school courses and only once a week over 2 years. The technical aspect was learnt with a lot of set homework and most of the sewing done in our own time. So this was a very long drawn out process. However it was integral part to where I am today, I can confidently pattern draft, design direct on a dummy and adapt any commercial pattern as a result of this only formal training.

Who you are as a designer? Aesthetic? Customer? Brand? Etc.? Do you offer a new line each season, create custom work or both?

As I’m someone who designs & creates for the sheer love of it, not as a profession, there is no pressure apart from the deadlines of being catwalk ready for actual fashion events. I don’t have to look ahead to next season, and can take on commissions & custom orders for clients when it suits me. Sewing for my grand daughter or taking on bridal embellishments for special friends is such a joy & honour. I get to play & use all types of repurposed fabrics & vintage finds because I can!

I am so thrilled to have you a part of the EFWA Upcycling Challenge by Marilyn R Wilson. Have you ever upcycled used garments before? If so, how?

Yes! I’m always upcycling! As my girls were growing up and involved in ballet and drama, I became the resident wardrobe mistress & costume maker for numerous stage productions. I learnt to hone my ‘frugal & recycling’ skills here due to limited budgets! 

I'm also passionate about Wearable Art, picking up many category awards in the Alice Springs Wearable Arts Awards. I’ve also had garments in shows in Darwin, Hobart & the Showcase at Wearable Art Mandurah in the past 3 years. All my work features all recycled, upcycled & repurposed materials... I never buy new !
As part of the Sustainable Couture team for 10 years we are really forging a name in recycled fashion. Friends are always offering their ‘throw-aways’ to us. We’ve kept a lot of clothing out of landfill, that I know!

What would you most like the international fashion audience to know about you as a designer and your brand?

I’m hoping the audience will see the connection I have for country and community. I feel so blessed to have been brought up and live in the Red Centre. I have a 40 acre rural property nestled along the Eastern McDonnell ranges. I’m continually inspired & nurtured by this special landscape.

I’ve chosen to use only white shirts in this challenge, echoing the look of the eucalyptus papuana, the milky white ghost gums ever present in my backyard. It will be a bridal gown - a symbol of love honour & protection. All shirts used have come with a story from each of their owners, from the town mayor, Council CEO, lawyers, surveyors, pastoralists, war veterans, grandfathers, fathers, uncles, brothers and sons.

What's next for you as a designer? What are your long term dreams?

I once owned a sewing shop in the mid 80’s selling fabric, dressmaking, doing alterations & workshops, so I feel like I have covered the business side of things. I guess I’ll continue on my present path of sewing for enjoyment, family & friends, entering the occasional award show, mentoring, and spreading the word about ‘slow fashion’ through the Sustainable Couture platform.
We are about to move to Darwin for a few years, so I hope to work on more collaborative garments with Aboriginal artists from the Top End. I’ve made gowns with the most gorgeous silk screened fabrics through a project with Injalak Arts - see #getiton2017 #getiton2018 on Instagram. Yes, I’d really like that ! 

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