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Melbourne designer Dominique Healy on what slow fashion means to her

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Stephanie Cammarano FOR DOMINIQUE HEALY

WORDS BY IZZY WIGHT

“I want my customers to feel a connection to the work that goes into every piece. I feel like when you understand that, you tend to care for and appreciate your garments so much more.”

Dominique Healy’s journey in fashion design started with fabric. After getting a full-time job at a Melbourne branch of The Fabric Store, her brightly-coloured collection of silks, linens and muslins began to grow. “I had to get a storage unit,” she confesses. “It was bad.”

Her textile reserve would remain untouched until 2017, when her eponymous label, Dominique Healy, made its debut. Weaving her array of vibrant deadstock fabrics into a series of trans-seasonal, simplistic-yet-dynamic designs, Dominique finally shared her closely-guarded sewing gift with the world.


For more fashion news, shoots, articles and features, head to our Fashion section. 


Five years on, she reflects on the beauty of deliberate, thoughtful progress. “I think moving and growing slowly kind of suits me,” she explains. “I’m in this for the long haul.”

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

 

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I’ve been making clothes since I was a kid – I was extremely lucky to have an aunty with a HUGE amount of patience who taught me to sew! I feel like I can’t remember ever not making clothes. I studied fashion when I left school and worked part-time at The Fabric Store, as well as doing a little sewing work part-time for a local label.

When I graduated, I ended up getting a full-time job at The Fabric Store. I floated between the retail and wholesale divisions of the company for about ten years across New Zealand and Melbourne which I LOVED. They were such an amazing company to work for and I learned so much about fabric over my time there.

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

 

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I always wanted to start a label, but I think I lacked the confidence for a long time… I ended up finally making the call to give it a go when my fabric ‘collecting’ was starting to get out of hand. I had to get a storage unit – it was bad (it’s still bad). I was selling to local labels for my job but I also just kept buying everything. Finally, I came to the realisation that I wanted to make the move from being the person selling the fabric to being the person buying the fabric.

I didn’t have any savings or anything to start the label, so it’s been a little bit of a slow process… which I’m not mad at. I think moving and growing slowly kind of suits me. I’m in this for the long haul. I worked full-time for a couple of years while testing things out through markets and small pop-ups with friends doing a similar thing. I ended up finally leaving my full-time job when two of my friends and I decided to finally take the leap and open our store, Before March in Northcote. We each worked on our own labels and shared the responsibility of the shop.

I feel like it can be quite difficult getting into the industry, so it was a great way for us to get into the market on our own terms. After a few years, I found that I began to struggle with juggling the store and label. I eventually left as an owner of the store, and now it’s run by one of my favourite humans Melissa. She still stocks [my label], which I’m super grateful for.

Something I found really challenging was production, particularly when you’re quite small or just starting out. I made everything by myself to start, which was great because my labour is obviously free. I just really struggled with being too small to outsource, while also being a little too busy to make it all myself.

I feel like I was treading water for quite some time and worked non-stop; I ended up quite burnt out. Although now that I’m saying this, it’s also what lead me in the direction of in-house production which is something I’m really passionate about. So maybe it was also kind of great.

What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has this evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now? 

 

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When I started the label, I mostly just wanted to make a living by creating clothing – I honestly hadn’t thought much beyond that. I still have that drive and I want my customers to feel a connection to the work that goes into every piece. I feel like when you understand that, you tend to care for and appreciate your garments so much more. Right now, it’s working out how to make clothing while having as little impact on the environment as possible. There are always ways to improve.

How would you describe Dominique Healy to someone who’s never seen it before? 

Big sleeves and a lot of oversized pieces with a focus on comfort and beautiful fabrics. I also love colour, so I often throw in bright colours or prints whenever I find something I love.

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

My team! I don’t operate in a normal way – in-house production is a bit of a tricky one to balance. We do carry some stock, but we also make a lot of our orders as they come through. Things are constantly changing on a daily basis. I feel like my team is just so great at rolling with it. They’re the best!

What do you wish you knew when you started?

 

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At the end of the day, I’ve learned so much from the begging of my label – but there are definitely a couple of key things I think would be great for someone else starting out. The most important one is a business plan! It sounds so boring, but wow. When I finally created one (three years in) I realised how important it is. I couldn’t recommend this more to someone starting out, it will save you so much time in the long run.

I also wish I knew a little more about marketing and how important it is. I got so caught up in the production side, just because that’s always been the area I’m most comfortable in. It’s okay not to be skilled in every area, but I think maybe investing in the areas you’re not great in is something you should prepare for.

Dream Australian collaborators? 

Nelson Made, a local Melbourne shoe brand – I’m completely obsessed with those shoes. Also, I really love the jewellery brand Vermeer, I feel like that would be an amazing collaboration.

Who is in your wardrobe right now? 

I like to keep things local as much as possible. I have a lot of Nelson Made shoes, they take up a large portion of my wardrobe. I also love local brands Sunshine Symbol, Lois Hazel, Arnsdorf and Sister Studios.

Standard Issue is great for merino basics, which I wear all the time through winter. I live in jeans and have a little collection of vintage Levis, but I’ve also started buying quite a few pairs from Nobody Denim. They’re super comfortable. I also just bought myself a bright pink bag by Deadly Ponies, which I’m a little obsessed with. I plan to make myself a matching dress soon.

How can we buy one of your pieces? 

 

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If you’re looking for local stores, Before March, Better with Friends and Think Alike have a selection of my range. You can also get everything online.

To view the Dominique Healy collection, head here.

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