'Don't wait until you have 10 years experience': Meet fashion designer Lisa Swinbanks

‘Don’t wait until you have 10 years experience’: Meet fashion designer Lisa Swinbanks

lisa swinbanks
Lisa Swinbanks has always had a flair for fashion, however establishing her own label had seemed like a pipe dream.

After graduating from Fashion Design and Technology at Ultimo Tafe in Sydney in 2015, she began selling her designs at various markets across Sydney. She decided to put her mind to it and fast forward a few years, Swinbanks has built her own career as a fashion designer.

Swinbanks grew up in Tokyo and draws on her strong Japanese roots and English heritage when designing.

“My designs often incorporate frills, flared sleeves, and short hemlines, matched with some pastels and fruity colours, it can be categorised as a kawaii/cute styling,” Swinbanks told Women’s Agenda recently.

Swinbanks launched her most recent collection, Ethereal Resort 2020  with a fashion show at USFIN Atelier earlier this month. The show combined the two creative worlds of dance and fashion, using professional dancers as models for the collection.

Her advice to to others looking to step into the ultra competitive world of fashion? Start networking now and don’t stop.

Below, Swinbanks tells Women’s Agenda about the launch of her new collection and how she goes about balancing both the business and creative sides of her clothing label.

What originally pushed you to pursue a career in fashion design? Is fashion something you always wanted to do?

I always had an interest in fashion since I can remember. The first dream I had as a little girl was to become a manga/cartoon artist – the predominant reason being I enjoyed drawing the clothes onto my female heroin characters. At the back of my mind I always wanted to pursue fashion as I grew up watching my mother and grandmother sew up different outfits for me when I was very little. The magic of waking up to a new dress hanging on my bedroom door never left my mind.

I also had the fear of failing at one’s dreams and thought it would be a better, safer road to work in the corporate world. What helped me gain confidence to finally pursue fashion was when I started to wear my designs at my dormitory and my friends started to ask where I had gotten it from. This was back when I was at the University of Sydney studying Asian Studies. When I told them I had hand sewn the entire garment, all my friends came together to gift me a sewing machine for my 21st birthday. It was after that I decided to enrol into Fashion Design and Technology at Ultimo TAFE.

Can you tell us a little about your recent fashion show event for your new collection Ethereal Resort 2020 ?

I put on a fashion show at USFIN Atelier in St Peters early May to celebrate the launch of my Ethereal Resort 2020  collection as well as the re-launch of my online store.

I decided to go through iCrave Dance and Entertainment, an agency that hires out professional dancers, for my models as I had a vision to put on a show that involved dance as well as fashion. The reason I wanted to incorporate dance into the show was because dance is another passion of mine and I wanted to somehow combine those two worlds together, fashion and dance, to showcase my latest collection as well as to differentiate myself from others. Working together with the founder of iCrave Dance and Entertainment, Valeria Sizova, we choreographed a piece that encompassed the Ethereal mood, something delicate and flowy, which involved contemporary elements to a Billie Eilish song.

We started off the show with two dance numbers and the finale was the fashion show, which also involved the dancers/models free-styling a short dance routine in the middle of the runway. The result was a beautiful night filled with fashion, dance, and champagne!

What inspires your designs and design process? Do your Japanese roots play a role in inspiration?

My Japanese roots play a major role in my design process. My love for everything cute/kawaii comes through in each of my collections, though it is present in a more subtle form than what is typically understood as kawaii fashion in the western world. I take a lot of inspiration from Japanese anime/manga that involves a lot of cute outfits and hair styles- such as Sailor Moon, and Card Captor Sakura. Usually kawaii fashion is associated to the overtly frilly Hello Kitty fashion, however, kawaii simply means “cute” in Japanese and can be applied to anything girly or sweet. My designs often incorporate frills, flared sleeves, and short hemlines, matched with some pastels and fruity colours, it can be categorized as a kawaii/cute styling.

Swinbanks design

The other half of my inspiration comes from my British heritage on my father’s side. I grew up watching a lot of British period drama, going to theatres, reading Jane Austen and Emily Bronte. I am very much inspired by the British Monarchy as well as their history, especially the fashion from the Victorian era. Therefore, my designs can be broken down to sweet silhouettes inspired from my Tokyo upbringing, and a passion for beautiful lace that comes from my British heritage. I travel to both Tokyo and London every year for inspiration for my designs.

Swinbanks show

What are some of the initial challenges you faced/or are still facing in establishing your business?

…How do you work to overcome the challenges?

A challenge I faced when I first started the brand was that I had no business background when I began 3 years ago. I didn’t know how to create a website or how to market my brand. In terms of getting the structure of my business worked out, I’ve managed to overcome this through networking and meeting the right people. Networking has led me to meet two amazing mentors who give me on going advise on different aspects of the business from web design to connecting me to suppliers.

One challenge I still face is getting on top of the social media game and continuing to grow my audience, as well as developing engagement. Understanding social media is still a challenge for me and has been a learning process.

What does it take to balance the business side and creative aspects of having own label? How do you ensure you effectively manage both?

I have different roles all the time. Before releasing a new collection I focus on the design and creative aspects whilst after production I move onto the marketing and business side.

It is very exciting and it means I will be doing different tasks every day. However, at times it can get overwhelming in terms of how much needs to be done and I always make a list in my phone or notebook to make sure I remember what needs doing.

As I’ve mentioned, I do get ongoing advice and help from my mentors, which allow me to focus more on the creative side, which is what I enjoy the most.

What advice would you give to other emerging fashion designers?

I would say to those designers thinking of starting their own fashion business just start now, don’t wait until you have 10 years of experience, as the knowledge you lack can be filled by networking and meeting new people.

I find so many people are willing to help you if you keep telling everyone what you do, what you are looking for, like a broken record. People are usually interested in helping or listening to your dreams if you are excited and passionate about it.

Often times I will be talking about my business without the intention of trying to get help but you never know who is listening/who you are talking to – who knows it might be a buyer from David Jones!

I do find Australians are very willing to help you as they don’t seem to view helping a newcomer as a threat. People are very relaxed and easy going here! I think starting a new business in Australia was a great idea.

Where do you see yourself and our business in 5 years?

First, I would like to continue to expand my business in Sydney and open a flagship store in either the Northern Beaches or the Eastern Suburbs.

Second, I would like to expand my brand into Japan, my home country, and open a flag ship store in the lucrative Omotesando district in Tokyo.

I am also aiming to gain further success through my social media outlets and further my online business worldwide, whilst striving to be an ethical brand by continuing to manufacture garments locally in Australia.

Find Lisa Swinbanks Design on Instagram here.

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