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Melbourne designer Chelsea Hickman’s debut collection is here, in all its upcycled hyper-pop glory

CREATIVE DIRECTOR – CHELSEA HICKMAN
PHOTOGRAPHER – SARAH LAY
HAIR AND MAKEUP – NISAL ATAPATTU
TALENT – DIJOK MAI AND POOKIE

WORDS BY IZZY WIGHT

“Repurposing textile waste, preventing usable fabrics from going to landfills and creating unique fashion are my ultimate goals.”

As one of the Naarm fashion industry’s sustainable design pioneers, Chelsea Hickman is a bit of a quiet achiever. A contemporary artist and designer hailing from Lutruwita (Tasmania), her work plays with the concepts of found objects, abject consumerism and upcycled waste. Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Chelsea at her Melbourne Fashion Festival live art show, No. 13.

I was a nervous, sweaty intern (it was summer, okay?) and Chelsea was one of my first-ever interviewees. I recognised her experimental design work from the liked photos on my Instagram feed, playful images comprised of garbage, colourful paint and reconstructed fabric scraps. The exhibition spoke to the excessive waste and consumerist mindset of the wider fashion industry, an eye-opening display of unconventional beauty.


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In 2020, she was the Open Category Winner of the Woods Street Youth Art Prize for her textile artwork, Danger Danger Danger Danger Danger. In 2021, she was the winner of the Creative Call Out for the Melbourne Fashion Festival. Now, five years after graduating from her Bachelor of Fashion Design at RMIT, she’s launched her highly-anticipated debut collection.

Tell us about you. What’s your fashion background?

 

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My interest in fashion started when I was very little, looking at photos of my Nan and her sisters in the ’60s. My great Auntie Claire made clothes for everyone in the family, including my mum’s wedding dress. To me, that seemed like the most admirable and creative skill someone could have. Sadly Auntie Claire passed away shortly after I was born, but my mum and my nan taught me about sewing using Auntie Claire’s vintage-style sewing patterns.

The other fashion inspiration I had growing up was fashion magazines. I’d spend my pocket money on them. They were pretty much the only access I had to fashion ideas (living in Hobart pre-social media) and I was fascinated by the weird and wonderful designs coming from Alexander McQueen and Romance was Born.

In 2013, I moved from Lutruwita (Tasmania) to Naarm (Melbourne) to study the Bachelor of Fashion Design at RMIT. Upcycling and sustainable fashion became my main area of interest when I was studying. Since then, I’ve been developing my textile art practice, as well as experimenting with vibrant, gender-bending methods of upcycling.

How did the label get started? Talk us through the process and the challenges.

I’ve been meaning to open my own store for years, but my ongoing struggles with mental health, period pain drama and random life conundrums just seemed to keep getting in the way. Plus, I feel like – up until now – I perhaps didn’t have the confidence to start something new by myself. In retrospect, that seems like a silly thought.

I wish I was brave enough to start something sooner, but the financial pressure of being a business owner freaked me out. I’ve been lucky enough to receive financial support from Darebin City Council and Moreland City Council, helping me establish a path toward financial sustainability in my practice. It’s also taken me a few years to develop clarity and an understanding of my priorities.

Repurposing textile waste, preventing usable fabrics from going to landfills and creating unique fashion are my ultimate goals. This clarity has come from lots of trial and error. Extensive experimentation with designs and different artforms has helped me fine-tune what’s important to me in my design process.

How would you describe Chelsea Hickman to someone who’s never seen it before?

I usually describe my designs as feral-art-fashion. I create things that are a bit weird and out of the ordinary. I don’t follow trends so much – I like to follow a concept and create something people perhaps haven’t seen before. My current collection, titled The Ultimate Collection is very hyper-pop, clowncore, punk-esque, queersies.

What are you most proud of in your work on your label?

 

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Honestly, I’m proud to finally have my own online store. I’ve spent years not feeling ‘ready’ or ‘good enough’ (imposter syndrome), so I’m proud to have my shit together enough to finally orchestrate this online store!

I’m also very proud to be able to say the fabric I use to create my pieces is either sourced or diverted from landfills. Reducing the amount of textile waste going into landfills forms a huge part of what inspires my work. It drives me to continue creating interesting ways we can utilise these materials as a sustainability consideration.

Who do you think is most exciting in Australian fashion right now?

I’m really excited by the ‘upcycled grunge’ style becoming more popular. It gives designers a good opportunity to use textile waste and not be so precious about fabric imperfections when producing garments. Brands like Stella Vendetta, Pure Obsession, Oneofone Archive, Moosedoll and Reborn by HoMie are doing some cool work in this space.

What about the Australian fashion industry needs to change?

I would love to see Australian fashion labels take on a more holistic approach to fashion sustainability. Post-consumer strategies from big brands could see upcycling becoming a more common occurrence in department stores. Taking responsibility for products once the consumer is finished with them is something I think should be a priority for Australian fashion. Reducing the amount of textile waste going to landfills is something that quite urgently needs to be addressed by both fashion brands and consumers.

Dream Australian collaborators?

 

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In the future, I’d really love to work with HoMie. I’m attempting to manifest that they’ll hit me up and ask me to design and produce garments for their offshoot brand Reborn by HoMie, which predominantly creates upcycled fashion. HoMie, if you’re reading this –s my line is open. PAM and Romance Was Born are also on my list of dream collaborators.

Go-to dinner party playlist?

Kira Puru’s ‘Homecoming Queen’ playlist on Spotify is a great dinner party playlist! Delicious vibes and all-Aus musicians!

Who is in your wardrobe right now?

Unsurprisingly, the majority of my wardrobe consists of second-hand items from Goodbyes, Salvos, Facebook Marketplace and Depop. Curating interesting looks is more important to me than purchasing from specific brands. I’m quite obsessed with blazers at the moment. Blazers, high-heels and deconstructed vibes – ‘girlboss from the Black Lagoon’ is my current style ambition.

How can we buy one of your pieces?

 

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My online store is now live at chelseahickman.com! I’m also selling pieces via my Instagram.

Anything else to add?

I’d love to use my brand as a platform to educate people about the fashion industry’s problem with waste. I love to write about fashion sustainability, talk about fashion sustainability and experiment with sustainable designs. Hopefully, I’ll inspire other people to consider how to create a circular fashion industry economy that considers its environmental impact.

See Chelsea’s debut collection in its entirety here.

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