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Meet Emsah, the Australian label handpainting swimwear in the name of textile experimentation

PHOTOGRAPHY by Chris Bernabeo

Words by Fashion Journal

“Emsah emerged from a feeling rather than an aesthetic. The urge to touch something tactile and unusual; the feeling of something visceral against your skin.”

Known for its colourful, tie-dyed swimwear, garments and bags, Australian label Emsah has an emphasis on handmade production. Its designer and founder, Emily Martin, strongly values working with her hands and manipulating fabric to create with feeling rather than aesthetics in mind.

But getting her label off the ground wasn’t easy, and she faced a myriad of challenges during the launch of Emsah, not least of all a global pandemic hitting New York hard while she was living there.


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Undeterred, Emily tested and experimented with textiles in her studio and the product of these quiet months in lockdown was Emsah’s first capsule collection. Below, Emily details her creative process and how she grew her label and discovered herself in the process.

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

Ultimately, I think of myself as a maker. Since I can remember, I’ve always loved creating, experimenting and working with my hands. I still get a kick out of making objects for home or pieces for myself to wear. My journey in fashion started at the University of Technology, Sydney, where I studied fashion and textile design. At the same time, I worked for many different Australian labels to get my foot in the door of the industry. After graduating starry-eyed, I moved to New York to pursue the idea of gaining more design experience.

Over the following four years, I worked for some NY-based labels before eventually becoming a buyer for Opening Ceremony, which was unexpected but rewarding to be able to discover another side of the fashion world. I was lucky to work with so many talented young emerging brands in this role, which only made my long-time aspiration to launch my own project even stronger.

 

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

I grappled with the thought of launching a label for a long time. The moment arrived in New York when I quit my job, wanting to focus on developing my ideas full-time. Almost instantly, the city spiralled into lockdown as the world came to grips with a global pandemic. The energy and atmosphere I’d become familiar with quickly fell dormant. The first capsule collection evolved from the next few quiet months creating and experimenting in my studio with the materials that I had. As with most new projects, Emsah has come with a myriad of challenges.

My process has been very hand driven with a focus on textiles. The designs have emerged from tedious testing and experimenting. I found this to be an extremely rewarding way to develop ideas while tapping into a mode of self-expression. Being able to work this way has been a lot of fun and I want to continue creating one-off pieces. As the label grows, balancing hand-made production with time efficiency becomes more of a challenge. I currently work part-time, while making all pieces to order in my Melbourne studio.

 

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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?

Without any specific direction, Emsah emerged from a feeling rather than an aesthetic. The urge to touch something tactile and unusual; the feeling of something visceral against your skin. I would focus on making swatches, painting and manipulating fabric to create textures and shapes. This evolved into hand-painted swimwear, garments and bags.

My aim was to spark the beginning of an ongoing project that is not limited to creating clothing but rather focused on developing anything or textile technique that is inspiring to me at that time. I am currently working on new items that continue these ideas.

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

Emsah is a world of unexpected textures and colour combinations. It is crunchy and slippery and fragile and strong. It can change a mood or make a moment.

 

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Where did the name come from?

Emsah is a nickname my dad has called me my whole life.

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

To have finally started Emsah as a one-person show. It has been a real process of self-discovery and I am determined to continue creating and working through my process.

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

I’m generally excited by the community of young local creatives that are putting themselves out there right now. There is a huge demand for locally made fashion that has a unique point of view and a growing community of designers that are steering away from traditional fashion seasons to focus on really experimenting with the things they want to see.

 

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Dream Australian collaborators?

Right now I am very interested in glass blowing. I would love to collaborate with a local glassblowing artist to make accessories or items for Emsah.

How can we buy one of your pieces?

All pieces are currently made to order via my website. I also take custom orders via Instagram. [I’ve also previously had a] limited number of handpainted swimwear, scrunchies and bags made in an exclusive colour-way for Suku Home.

To see more from Emsah, head here.

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