INTERVIEW: ARTIST & DESIGNER JULIE WHITE
Julie White makes art fashion accessories celebrating the chic, elegant and abstract beauty of Australian flora and fauna.
Her hand-drawn prints are instantly recognisable, sitting somewhere on the visual spectrum between Marimekko and Ken Done, all executed by hand with a deep-rooted love and appreciation for Terra Australis.
As an independent designer, Julie is also hands-on with every aspect of her business. I was compelled to quiz Julie about her thoughts on creativity, process, practice and problem-solving, in the spirit of rounding out previous interviews with fellow Australiana-loving designers Libby Peacock and Rebecca Pierce.
I've been lucky enough to know Julie since we were in our early 20s, daring to dream the designer / artist dream. She is just as genuine, creative and passionate as her social media presence communicates. If Julie White were a biscuit, she would be an Iced Vovo: incredibly sweet, pastel pink, full of stomach-filling substance and nothing short of an Australian icon.
Read on to discover the ethos behind Julie's work, practical tips for anyone looking to express themselves via a design-based practice, her top tips on exploring the city of Adelaide and what we're calling the 'Makers Revolution'.
Julie, your work is a delicious prawn cocktail of Australian flora & fauna AND kitsch iconography. Why do you think you are attracted to remixing Australian symbols in your work?
Thank you! Well I guess I’m an 80’s kid who grew up during the optimistic 80’s & 90’s Australiana boom – so I have my own nostalgic reasons! But more than that, while the Australiana aesthetic established a style we recognise now which I love for nostalgic reasons, it really hasn’t changed much since 20-30 years ago. This is what also attracts me to Australiana style in my ongoing work as I’m really excited by the open potential that there’s still room to define what it is. I enjoy exploring this as a changing aesthetic, exploring it in my own way though art and fashion.
After peaking in the 1980s and dying a slow, painful death in the 90s, the Australiana aesthetic is once again resonating with contemporary audiences. Why do you think this is the case?
While nostalgia is something I love about the Australiana aesthetic we all know so well today (I can’t resist the work of Ken Done!) I think what’s new about it now is the proud feeling that you don’t have to look to overseas to define what’s cool, or the defining authority of fashion as it used to be (or any creative culture on that matter!).
Finally there’s this new appreciation for what’s in our own backyard. As contradictory as this sounds, it’s also thanks to the world wide web and social media. Maybe this is coming from my own personal experience – but 10 years ago I was studying fashion at TAFE. What was dominating as the height of fashion authority in people’s minds was happening overseas – creative research and a mark of a successful brand often started with looking at Paris and London fashion week, and couture and luxury wear was completely mystified as something that you’d aspire to somehow fit into your real life, whether or not it was actually realistic.
But you know what? While there’s still amazing and ongoing established labels happening overseas...it just doesn’t feel accessible, or even relevant to people's lives, to aspire to anymore -especially in Australia.
I love that the internet has helped shine a light on the alternative and what’s happening locally to consumers. As a designer who started selling products 10 years ago, I now don’t feel like I have to rely on traditional fashion platforms as much as I used to - nor do I feel the need to become a big luxury brand to find an audience who respects what I do and to define my own success.
Perhaps this is part of why we’re now experiencing this new wave of appreciation more ‘local’ designers. It's something you feel you can more relate to, be a part of, and belong to out of your own personal experience. In terms of the rest of the world though - the rest of the world may still see Australian fashion as the same aesthetic it was 20-30 years ago, but I now get the feeling it’s shifting away from being seen as just Rip Curl and summer dresses, too!
How would you describe the ‘vibe’ of your label?
It’s Art Fashion. It’s fun, colourful, and all about individual, personal style!
I strongly feel that a ‘makers revolution’ has happened across the past 5 years, with the popularity of artisan markets like Big Design Market and Finders Keepers exploding from year to year. These markets shine a spotlight on independent designers, providing them with both physical spaces and an audience to sell their work outside an online store. Why do you think this cultural shift has happened? Why has craftiness become next to godliness?
I feel very lucky that my label has picked up and gained amazing momentum in the last few years. I owe it a lot to social media and online, but I think there definitely is a ‘makers revolution’ happening.
The funny thing is though, I feel like I’ve been putting my work in physical shops and spaces since 2007 - but in 2017, there’s a real growth of access to the right platforms available to designers and makers, like markets and pop-ups.
I’m lucky I have an amazing handful of stockists (couldn’t do it without them!) but the experience of buying direct from a designer can make buying something you appreciate so much more interesting and valuable for the customer.
I love that I can not only connect directly with my audience though these physical spaces, but also deal directly with my lovely stockists, too! I think this makers revolution has also been booming simply because people just want something authentic - an alternative to the mass-produced!
Tell me about your varying passions and obsessions – art, music, design, anything and everything. What are you nuts about right now?
I like to break things up a bit and not always consume fashion for inspiration. It might be music, art, nature, food….. When I get a spare moment, lately, I’ve been making experimental drinks. The last one I made had Tasmanian pepperberry, peach schnapps and fresh strawberry. I’m also going though a weird nostalgic trip back into my ongoing love of Bjork: this week, particularly during her Sugarcubes punk phase.
Can you tell me about your artistic process from the start of a print or garment to its completion?
1) Mull over an idea or memory subconsciously for 1 week to several years.
2) Research and tease out the idea, drawing along the way
3) Drawing, lots of drawing to explore style and technique.
4) Is this going to work????
6) After building lots of components of drawings, scan into the computer.
7) Design brain takes over --- how does this look on a scarf? Shall I make this into socks? What else? Colour options? How does it look as a print story? Etc etc…. (this bit goes on a bit too)
8) Sampling, and testing, and eventually being digitally printed in small numbers that becomes part of my ongoing printed accessories range!
Do you listen to any particular type of music or podcasts as you create? Which ones are you really feeling at the moment?
I listen to music all the time. The spectrum is broad depending on my mood. When I’m drawing, my favourites at the moment are Dorothy Ashby, The Cure, Bjork’s latest album Vulnicura and moog synthesiser records from the 70’s – I highly recommend an album called ‘Plantasia’
Let’s go way-back-when to your halcyon teen years. Why did you decide to become a designer? What did you study (or not study) to get yourself onto that path? Can you describe the challenges you’ve faced along the way - and how you overcame them?
Growing up as a teen, I thought I hated fashion. But what I realised later was that I just didn’t like looking like everybody else. I used to be a really shy person, so much that it crippled me socially at times. I knew I loved fashion and always knew I wanted my own label one day – but the hardest part was my own self-confidence catching up with my own creative ambition!
I’ve studied a lot: I have a fashion degree, I have a Masters degree in printed Textiles and worked in the industry for several years – however the best stuff I know now I feel has come from teaching myself, being naïve and just being persistent! I’ve eventually learnt how to overcome the shyness, but in a way it doesn’t go away - you just learn how to channel those weird feelings into something else positive, like excitement!
I believe there’s something very valuable that comes from diving into something head on when you’re so naïve knowing how hard it might actually be to achieve – whether it’s how much something costs or how long it may take. I often talk to people just starting out on their creative ambitions, telling me they worry about being seen as too nervous, shy or embarrassed by being naïve – but just the fact that they believe in something and can show their drive for it makes them a very memorable person!
It’s taken me a while to realise the value and rarity of having drive this drive belief in a difficult creative ambition. I have incredible respect for people who carry that spark!
Which hardcore practical skills do you think are necessary for anyone who is looking to start a career in fashion?
Some handy self learning recourses I’d recommend are :
- SOFTWARE : Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator (For general graphic generating / finalising print work etc – practice using with your own projects, and don’t underestimate the value of Youtube tutorials!)
- BOOK : ‘Digital Textile Design’ by Melanie Bowles (learning how to make repeat digital prints and overall a great tutorial book using Adobe suite!)
– BOOK : ‘Patternmaking for Fashion Design’ by Helen Joseph Armstrong (- For learning how to pattern make garments from scratch and understand garment construction)
- Try to sell your wares as soon as you can – whether its though Etsy, or a market, or talk to a shop owner. Be hungry for feedback and don’t be scared to make a start!
For those who are interested in starting a label, what advice do you have?
Practice honing your style and accept that all good things take time. Authenticity and persistence is your best attribute!
You are a proud Radelaidean (noun: person who lives in Adelaide, South Australia). What do you love about living, working and creating in the city of Adelaide?
My friends and family! But honestly, after living here for most of my life and seeing friends and creatives leave for bigger cities, I'm really glad to now see a shift in attitude towards this city and a new appreciation for what's here, or what it could become. Things have definitely been picking up quickly in the past 5 years! It's great to see people focus on what set's us apart from other cities - rather than what's missing, as if we should be something we're not. In a way, we're getting better at being ourselves but with a fresh new outlook and awareness of what makes us so uniquely different. Basically, there’s some really cool shit happening here and we're doing it in our own way - It's a really exciting time for Adelaide!
Do you think that Adelaide is a city that values artists?
Yes – absolutely. However, there still is a long way to go for more fashion labels setting up and establishing here. I’ve accepted that it’s never going to be the fashion capital, but I love that we offer something uniquely different. There’s excellent creative culture here and I like the
pace - there's space to think, and do. I’ve never really felt I’ve had to belong to the Fashion scene or the Arts scene - but I feel like I’ve found what I need here and can dance between the two!
For anyone visiting Adelaide, can you recommend your 5 must-do things to see, do and visit?
1) Eat all foods at The Central Markets.
2) Visit during ‘Mad March’ – The Fringe, Womad, The Adelaide Festival – the city is bursting at the seams with happenings (Note: Avoid the Clipsal Car Race)
3) Spend a day exploring the city’s delights – The Sturt Desert Peas growing in the Botanical Gardens, The latest exhibition and ongoing collection at The Art Gallery of SA, and visit the SA Museum.
4) Visit a local creative studio share space – like The Mill, Ensemble, or even my studio!
5) Drive just outside of Adelaide to the many camping options between The Fleuerio Peninsula and Flinders Ranges (Deep Creek is a good start, you’ll see plenty of kangaroos and yucca territory)
A few years ago, you took a sabbatical from the city of Churches to live in Glasgow, Scotland. How did this change of scenery influence your view of Australia? Did your time in Europe affect the creative direction of your work after returning to Oz?
Absolutely. I was really inspired by the scarf culture they have in the UK and Europe, and that’s where a lot of the ideas I still follow now with my business first started. I came back to Australia with suitcase full of fresh prints and launched my first scarf range in 2013. But the best part was coming back with a set of fresh eyes. I saw native Australian flora and fauna as exotic while I was away, and developed a new appreciation for it that I hadn’t yet ‘unveiled’ in myself…... The weird thing was I had to go overseas to know it was there and I’ve never looked back since.
Running any business is tiring, taxing, often soul-crushing in nature and has the potential to completely obliterate one’s free time. What keeps you motivated to keep creating during those moments of ‘I just really need to sit on my couch and not do anything productive right now’?
Sometimes you just don’t feel like you have a choice!
What projects are you working on at the moment?
A new collection I’ll be releasing around Spring! I’m currently in the early drawing stages – stay tuned!