Australian label TLC World on embracing imperfect garments




“We love it so much and for us, that’s even more exciting than finding something that’s pristine.”

Based in sunny Mullumbimby, TLC World is a collaborative platform from the creative minds of Thea Blocksidge and Marita Kaji-O’Grady. The pair have fused their love of hunting for sentimental period pieces with their backgrounds in fine arts and fashion to develop a label that is charmingly eclectic and resourceful in its production. 

From upcycled designs sourced from an abundance of discarded used materials to nostalgic books from the early 1900s, all of TLC World’s items are underscored by the principle that imperfections give its collection of objects and garments character.

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The duo indulged me in the behind-the-scenes of TLC World over the phone, chatting about everything from collaborating with others to give clothes a more circular life cycle, to agreeing that hand-me-downs are the most underrated gift ever (as Thea says, it’s like Christmas every time!)

While Thea and Marita are hoping to continue evolving their label into a more expansive collaborative platform in the future, their MO will always be breathing life into vintage pieces and mindfully hand-crafting clothing with tender loving care. 

How did you come up with the idea to resell vintage period pieces and what inspires your upcycled designs?

Marita: I think it’s sort of inherent in our own interests and what we would do day-to-day, as well as our own style.

Thea: Yeah and I guess, we don’t really shop necessarily for new brands and so it’s like as Marita said, inherent and innate. We really enjoy the process of collecting so that’s a part of the process of design and development of other designs as well.

M: We love that the pieces that we find guide our design process, we don’t really have a set idea in mind before its found. [It’s about] the colours of the things we find and how things pair together as well.

T: [The design] comes after the material sourcing. 


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What are you on the hunt for when material sourcing?

T: We collect things that we think are really special, whether that’s based on the materiality of the object that we’ve found or the information inside that book or something that’s quite a period piece. The period pieces that we seek to source are generally from the early 1900s – so that very handmade focus [like] linen, flax material, has little details like embroidered initials and red stitching. Those pieces we would actually leave as is because they are so valuable in themselves. 

We also source, not so much vintage, but things that have been worn. So for example, the garment Marita’s wearing right now is a jumper that is quite a modern style that’s made of things that we’ve found in abundance… and we bought them for the colour palette and paired them together. Then we made them in a somewhat similar style so that we can replicate that style multiple times but the material, the fabric and the colour will change depending on what we’ve found.

M: It comes down to when that piece we’ve found is from. Period pieces we would probably leave as is but the things that we’ve found that are newer, like the jumpers, I feel like maybe for us, they warrant more of a story being embedded into them. Whereas the older pieces already have that story.

T: We do work exclusively with found materials so it’s dependent on what we can find.

Why is it important to you both to create small collections?

M: I guess it is important to us in the sense that each piece is unique and that’s something that we really like about what we do. But it’s also about the pieces inspiring the designs, so it’s not really something we could make en masse as well. It is just the two of us as well… we do a lot of hand stitching and these things take time. That time and that touch we put into it is really important as well and that’s probably why there’s only one of each thing, too. 

What sort of impact would you like TLC World to have on the fashion space?

T: I think the overall goal is to create a brand and… a space to sort of shift [the fashion industry’s values], and the shift is already happening, we’re already witnessing it. I studied fashion. I finished in 2014 and in that time since then, the fashion industry has taken a huge shift. In that course, they had one subject on sustainability in fashion, but it was so broad.

It was great and very informative but in seeing how that’s already started to filter through the fashion industry and we’re having that conversation, my hope is for TLC to continue that conversation… thinking about innovative ways you can influence an industry that does have a great amount of waste… and how perhaps such creative thinkers can get together and think of other ways that aren’t necessarily the traditional methods of making and designing to influence a greater response form a global market. 

M: That’s kind of how we landed on the name TLC World. TLC has been around for seven years as a project that Thea has been working on. I came on board early last year and we were kind of talking about how we make this something that’s sort of changing and flexible that other people can come on board because it’s not just about us, there’s a big picture. 

So that’s how we landed on ‘world’  – we wanted to be open to collaborations with people changing so we, based on what we find and what’s sustainable, can make anything. Whether it be clothing, furniture or selling books or making art objects.

T: Or just having a space for people to come and share their interesting ideas and their artworks. Recently we just put on an event at a shop called Toko Toko and that was a curated selection of artists that we really admire the work of and it’s so nice to have a physical space, at this time especially, to invite people in and witness what we’re sharing. 


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Why do you think imperfect garments hold so much character?

M: It’s interesting… because I can be a bit of a perfectionist with my sewing. I’ve learned so much from Thea on embracing things that happen along the way because when we do find pieces that have like hand mending in them, that’s not always perfect. We love it so much and for us, that’s even more exciting than finding something that’s pristine. I think it’s been really special to have that shift in mentality, for me anyway. 

T: It is challenging at times, because I’m not a perfectionist in any respect but I’m also conditioned to believe that if something’s got a hole in it, get rid of it, or something has been moth-eaten you get rid of it, or if something has someone else’s initials – well, you can’t have that! But I’ve always had hand-me-downs. I’m the youngest of three so it’s like Christmas every day!

How would you describe TLC World in three words?

T: I guess ‘tender’ is a really appropriate one because we aim to approach a lot of things with a certain degree of tenderness… that’s in the materials that we source and the time and effort that takes, and the patience that takes and the dedication – it’s all quite tender. Also, the details that we put into the work and all the details we highlight in the work often can reflect maybe scars or wounds and emotional tenderness when they’re on the garment.

M: The next one is ‘lucky!’ I think that reflects our sense of play when it comes to this. And also just how lucky we feel to find what we do find also we feel [lucky] to be able to do this work. We always say to each other “We have the best job in the world!”

T: The third one is quite interesting. It’s ‘chameleon’. I think chameleon is a great word, Marita just pulled it off the top of her head yesterday and I had such a laugh – but it is true! We really want this project to be ever-evolving and adapting and not set in tone or categorised or I guess, put in a box. 

M: I think it’s just that [we are] ever-changing, ever-evolving but also adaptable and resourceful. 


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Where are your favourite places to find the materials that you upcycle?

T: I guess ideally we would be travelling a lot more. Both Marita and I have travelled a lot over the past few years. It’s a big part of both of our lives so ideally, perhaps Japan, the US or India but at this time, we are feeling really lucky as well that there are really amazing pieces still able to be sourced locally. A lot of that is from op shops and local markets and antique centres. I think we’d like to incorporate a little bit more online, overseas wholesale.

M: Things from friends and family as well, that’s been a shift maybe that we weren’t expecting because when we first started working together we were like “We’ll go on all of these trips overseas and find all of these amazing things” but what’s happened is that it’s become a lot closer to home. 

T: It’s even more sentimental.

Check out TLC World’s range on its Instagram.

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