Karis Zanetta Cheng’s graduate collection celebrates the vibrancy of her cross-cultural identity




The art of straddling two worlds. 

The rich history of textile-based fashion designer Karis Zanetta Cheng’s childhood and the beauty of Asia-Pacific – she was born in New Zealand, has parents from Singapore and Malaysia and ancestors from China – runs through her Melbourne Fashion Festival National Graduate Showcase collection, Where Are You From?.

Packed with vibrant colours and unexpected textures, this collection is not about subtlety, and for good reason. Karis is particularly interested in the history, memories and emotion that can be embedded within certain fabrics and colours. Pulling inspiration from her heritage as a third culture kid, her work tells an intricate and vibrant narrative of her journey from East to West and back again. 

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I was lucky enough to grab a moment of Karis’ time to find out more about how she managed to pull off such an awe-inspiring collection while in the midst of a global pandemic and discuss how she was inspired by her past and present cultural experiences. 

Please introduce yourself to our readers. 

Hi, my name is Karis and my label is called Karis Zanetta. I’m an emerging textile-based fashion designer. I’m really interested in exploring the emotion, history and memories behind colours and materials and I recently finished my graduate collection at UTS called Where Are You From?.

When did you know you wanted to get into fashion design?

I guess when I was in school, I loved doing all sorts of creative things and I had a lot of different creative passions, like doing painting, drawing and I loved doing fashion illustrations. My mum sewed a lot of her own clothes too, so I would sit next to her and stitch little things on the sewing machine. As I went through high school and started thinking about the best way to channel my ideas, I found fashion was a really amazing creative outlet because there’s just so much variety within it. Fashion allows you to explore art and more detailed things, you can explore photography and video too, so there’s a lot of different mediums and formats to express that creativity, so that’s why I decided to go into fashion. 

Tell us about your collection.

My collection is called Where Are You From?. It’s ultimately inspired by my heritage. My family is Chinese but my parents were born in Singapore and Malaysia. Then I was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia. I wanted to explore this rich history by looking at the beauty of the Asia-Pacific and exploring all these different cultural influences that have affected my life aesthetically as well as those memories that are involved in my experiences of different places. So, this collection is really an exploration of nostalgia, my family history, lots of vintage references and lots of primary research. 

What did the personal primary research for this collection entail? 

I did a lot of research into family photos from my childhood as well as my parents’ childhoods growing up in the ’70s in Singapore and Malaysia, so I took a lot of colour references, as well as textures and patterns and kind of used that as inspiration to inform my prints and colour aesthetics, so it’s really rich and vibrant. I wanted to kind of capture the mood and atmosphere of the Asia-Pacific and its rich and deep colour with a lot of print and pattern. 

Tell us about the experience of putting together your graduate collection. 

The first half of the year was mainly at home and it was kind of nice doing things there because I was more confined with what I had access to. I guess that also inspired my ability to look through the family archives and all the photo albums. I remember, I pulled all of them out from the cupboard and spent ages just flipping through them all taking different inspiration. I guess it also just challenged me to use the materials I had on hand, everything I had gathered and accumulated over the years, weaving them together and doing a lot of patchworking with what I had existing at home. 

What part does sustainability play in your design practice?

I explored a lot of patchworking in my collection which I think is such a wonderful way to use up materials that you only have a little bit left of, or the remnants and off-cuts from different fabrics that you’ve used before. So, I created a lot of my own materials through patchwork, stitchwork and embroidery, trying to use it in a more fresh way via different colour schemes and keeping it very bold in colour and print, as well as mixing prints together. 

What’s next for you?

I am going to continue exploring my creative practice. I want to do more textiles. I love creating my own prints and exploring textiles so I’m really interested in expanding on that. I am also going to work on a collection for Fall/Winter ’21 so I want to keep going and create more. 

You can find Karis Zanetta Cheng at @kariszanetta or browse her collection online here.

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