#9: JILLIAN BOUSTRED
After studying and working in the fashion industry for several years, Sydney-based designer Jillian Boustred launched her own label, with an instantly recognisable aesthetic centred around bold shapes, statement prints and vibrant block colours.
We visited Jillian's studio in Chippendale for a chat about how she got started, why local production is important to her, and some of the issues facing small-scale, independent designers in Australia.
Annie: How did you get started, and how did you go about finding makers?
Jillian: I was really lucky because I'd been working at a fashion label that makes everything in Australia anyway, assisting the sampling team. A lot of the time I'd be driving around picking stuff up from makers, dropping stuff off, driving around their network. That's how I met all those people.
Annie: So you have different people for cutting, making, etcetera?
Jillian: Yeah, I've got patternmakers and pattern cutters. I don't know if the way I do it is economical, but every step is separate. The patternmakers will make stuff on card for me and then I'll take it to a different patternmaker who will digitise it. She'll then print off the digitised markers, I'll take them to the cutting house and they'll cut the fabric. Then I take the cut work with all the accessories to the maker and they make it. It's a lot of admin, but that's how I learnt to do it. I don't mind it; in some ways you have a bit more control. I check everything before I take it to the next step.
Jess: What did you study?
Jillian: A Bachelor of Design in Fashion and Textiles at UTS.
Annie: Did the course cover a lot of technical stuff, like sewing and patternmaking?
Jillian: Yep, it's a four year degree. We learnt pattern making, advanced pattern making, textile design, sewing, sewing techniques, hem finishes, zippers, pockets.
Annie: Were many students interested in the technical side, to be machinists?
Jillian: Most people wanted to be designers. Everyone went into it wanting to work in fashion, most people wanted to be within a label designing. A handful wanted to do pattern making, but I don't know anyone who came out of there wanting to be a machinist.
Annie: Did they teach you how to go about finding makers once you started a label?
Jillian: No. They didn't really equip you for production, it's quite a creative degree. Our subjects were creative thinking, textile techniques, couture, beading, things like that. The degree doesn't really prepare you for taking a garment and putting it into production, it's more an emphasis on creativity. We had a fashion show at the end of fourth year and you could use makers to make that collection, so you could sort of learn that process. But it's such a misleading process, because you just make one collection for a runway - six looks. Now I'm like, that's easy! Six looks? They don't have to function, they don't have to be turned into fifty garments, washed, sizing, fit. I think they're missing a subject in there that is fashion production.
They say, go overseas, look at the fashion industry in Paris. They don't pay much attention to Sydney or Australian fashion. They should be teaching us about the labels who have made it here. Bassike, Jac and Jac, even Bec and Bridge, they were UTS graduates and we didn't have a lecture from them. It was always about high fashion, what's happening in Milan and things like that.
Jess: When you said no one wanted to be a machinist, why do you think that is? Was it because there was a higher emphasis on creativity and running the process from the top?
Jillian: I think because sewing isn't very creative... At least with patternmaking you are creating the garment, all the pieces that come together. But sewing, you just get given the pieces cut out and sew them up.
Annie: What makes you want to produce locally rather than overseas?
Jillian: I'd say more control and lower minimums. I have a good relationship with my makers now and if I went offshore it would take a lot of work from them. It's interesting on that note, I do think the Australian industry is dying out. These makers I have are fifty or sixty-year-olds. I think it's interesting because in the next twenty years or so I don't know what the fashion industry will be like here.
Annie: It’s interesting. It’s a skill that takes so many years to perfect.
Jillian: My makers are so good. I have a lot of respect for them. I wouldn't be able to do nearly as good a job.
Annie: Do you find it hard to set pricing so that you can afford to run the business and pay yourself?
Jillian: Definitely. I don't pay myself really at this stage, I still live at home. It's so hard. You're competing with Zara, Topshop, H&M, all those sort of stores. Maybe people would be willing to pay more but I don't know, I'm generous with my pricing. I probably should charge more.
I think in some ways the best way to solve the problem would not be so much to push Australian-made, but better working conditions where they are made. Because the way things are going, Australian-made is going to be harder and harder to produce. The industry is just dying up for sure. I don't know if it's possible to revive that industry in Australia.
Annie: I don't think how it was in the 80s or 90’s can be revived, but I think there is a new wave of people who care.
Jillian: In some ways people might need to know how it will affect them. How the end result could actually affect how you live your life. Like polyester - 60% of the world's' clothing is made of it and it sets off little fibres that run into the atmosphere and people are breathing it in. As soon as you say, it will affect you, that will have an impact.
Annie: How long have you been doing the label?
Jilly: Two years in December.
Annie: Has it been getting easier?
Jilly: In some ways, harder in others. The more you want to develop your designs they get more complicated. Every fabric and style comes with its own problems, more pieces need lining. The more you do something and the more you want to push it - the harder it gets!