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These Australian fashion graduates were tipped as the emerging designers to watch, so where are they now?

IMAGES VIA MELBOURNE FASHION FESTIVAL
WORDS BY KATELIN RICE

“If you’re pursuing a creative career, follow your gut feeling.”

Earlier this month, the National Graduate Showcase (NGS) held during Melbourne Fashion Festival (MFF) celebrated the next generation of Australian fashion designers. Over the years, graduates have been handpicked from renowned design institutions across the country to showcase their collections in the NGS, one of the most exciting events on the Australian fashion calendar.

The designers aren’t necessarily focused on ready-to-wear, making each risky design seem more brilliant than the next. With the obvious talent each hand picked graduate possesses, it’s hard to imagine them not pursuing fashion long-term. Following this year’s showcase, I was left wondering: where are the graduates from past years?


Looking for more on the future of Australian fashion? Pop over to our Fashion section and browse to your heart’s content.


Fashion is one of the most competitive fields to cement a lasting career, with only those passionate enough to push past the industry’s many challenges succeeding (and even then, it takes a pinch of good luck). We often expect those who go to design school will take the path of design. But there are so many roles in the fashion industry, that while 85 per cent of fashion graduates will find work, most of them won’t work as designers.

So where do the best of the best end up? I spoke to six creatives who each featured in one of MFF’s National Graduate Showcases to find out. Behind each of their impressive industry titles lies countless sacrifices, a shit tonne of work and more perseverance than Forrest Gump. Here’s what they’ve learnt along the way.

Natalia Grzybowski, National Graduate Showcase 2012 

Are you a fan of Lee Mathews? Actually, stupid question. Of course you are, and you can thank Head of Design, Natalia Grzybowski for that. Personally, I’ve been eyeing off its Bloomsbury Lantern Shirtdress for some time now, and Natalia tells me she’s the brains behind it. Although her role dives heavily into the creative process, “I think people would be surprised by how technical and managerial the role is, on top of the creative,” she says.

Natalia has quite a stellar CV. Graduating from the University of Technology Sydney in 2011, she went on to cut her teeth at Lover, Josh Goot and Alice McCall, before landing in her current position. Her previous posts taught her about the importance of adaptability, and the balancing act between art and commerce that the industry demands. “It goes without being said that both the people that you work with, and the responsibilities you pick up in each role, are crucial in developing strong skills as a creative,” Natalia says.

Time management and juggling several roles at a time is a challenge working at a smaller label, but the skills you acquire will serve you well throughout your career . “You become a very well rounded, adaptable, experienced creative within a very short time frame – it’s fantastic,” she says. She admits being a designer IRL is quite different to when you’re studying. But if she could pass on any wisdom to those pining for a career in the industry, it would be to ask questions, be curious and challenge your own ideas. “Be open to evolving and stepping outside of your comfort zone – it can take you to fantastic places,” she says. And most importantly, follow your gut.

Lucy Dickinson, National Graduate Showcase 2018 

Ever dream of living in a small secluded studio, making art and having rent cheap enough you can sell one T-shirt a week via Instagram DM to pay for it? Well, designer Lucy Dickinson does. Branding her work with inspiration from DIY subculture and outsider fashion, Lucy is her own walking billboard. After graduating from RMIT at the end of 2017, her graduate collection went on to win the Australian Fashion Foundation Award and was presented at both the NGS and i-D Dunedin Emerging Designer Runways.

Currently working in New York City as an associate designer on the Juicy Couture team designing underwear, she also creates one-off made to order pieces under her own label @6ft.germ. A myriad of opportunities opened up for Lucy by moving overseas as she was able to work and have access to stylists and creatives she wouldn’t otherwise. Lucy admits her goals have changed since graduating, but when she thinks back to the NGS she would be happy with where she is now (albeit disappointed at the lack of fashion parties). On the cards next is a future move to London, completing her masters at  and creating a new collection about Juggalos and subway rats (I’m already obsessed).

Amanda Nichols, National Graduate Showcase 2019

For many, the NGS is the start of their fashion journey, but not for Amanda Nichols. Growing up, Amanda had a sewing machine glued to her hand from the get-go. She’s worked as a costume cutter and maker on feature films including Australia, The Great Gatsby and Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant. Amanda soon noticed collaborations between costume designers and fashion designers within the films she was working on. “I guess I loved the cross-pollinations of the two practices,” she says. Amanda went on to undertake the Masters of Fashion (Design) at RMIT, where in her final year she established Replica Project, her individual collection, which was introduced to the fashion community through the NGS.

After her NGS experience, she started researching Madeleine Vionnet and began the first part of a second project, and started teaching at RMIT within the school of Fashion and Textiles. Even this early on in her career, it isn’t short of highlights. She’s even created garments for Schiaparelli and Givenchy in a quaint couture atelier in Paris. “This is a really special process surrounded by some of the most skilled and talented people I have worked with,” she says. And curated by Vogue Australia, she also introduced Dame Anna Wintour to the work of a group of emerging Australian designers. But there are still highlights to come. Replica Project is set to present its first commercial offering as part of the Nextgen show at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week. As for her next stop? Some well-deserved down time at Jervis Bay.

Kate Sala, National Graduate Showcase 2011

Kate Sala symbolises the sheer breadth and depth of the fashion industry. Working at RMIT part-time as a lecturer and researcher in sustainable fashion education, she’s also co-founded a social enterprise called Echo Floria. Kate and her husband are building a farm in the Macedon Ranges where they will run workshops and events, exploring issues around food and fibre production and consumption. Participating in the NGS  gave her the confidence to pursue opportunities overseas, which has set her up on an important career trajectory. But her path has been far from linear.

“Something I didn’t know about the fashion industry before I started working in it was… how many roles and opportunities were available beyond the typical position of fashion designer or pattern maker,” she says. Kate started out working in Paris for Belgian designer Bruno Pieters in Antwerp, who launched Honest By, the world’s first 100 per cent transparent fashion company. It’s here she learnt what’s possible in the industry in terms of ethical business practices. Bringing her specific skill set back to Australia, where the market isn’t as heavily invested in sustainability, was a challenge. But Kate is determined to instigate change in the Australian fashion industry, and the completion of her PhD in March last year solidified this desire.

Nixi Killick, National Graduate Showcase 2013 

Lady Gaga, Sia, Kimbra, Hiatus Kaiyote, Ultra Angels and Brainfeeder: big names right? Designer Nixi Killick has dressed them all. As the designer behind  independent Melbourne-based label NXK, Nixi creates innovative and contemporary pieces that have featured in  fashion weeks in Berlin, trips to Italy to show with Njal and Seoul Fashion Week in Korea. Feeling like she’s been hurtling at warp speed since her formative years at RMIT, Nixi now feels like she’s reached a point in her career where she has a refined focus and sense of direction.

But it’s taken a lot of hard work and determination to build the brand from the ground up.“I’ve been belligerently optimistic and obsessively focused on future possibilities, often pushing myself into unfamiliar and daunting scenarios in the name of growth,” she tells me. Although Nixi’s designs are future-focused, she’s aware of how the past has shaped her as a designer. She believes that participating in the NGS gave her a sense of identity within the industry. “It allowed me the opportunity to launch towards subverting that identity to build a platform for my work. It was the beginning of an incredible whirlwind adventure,” Nixi says.

Victoria Bliss,  National Graduate Showcase 2017

Victoria Bliss founded her eponymous fashion label just four years after graduating from RMIT. Right from the start, her label has reflected her values, putting sustainability at the forefront of her designs. “When you work in an industry that has such a bad reputation you’ve got to be the change, start the conversation and educate your consumers on the value of sustainable, ethical fashion,” Victoria says.

She draws people in with her relaxed silhouettes and floral motifs, but there’s seemingly more responsibility as a business owner than designing the clothes. “There’s a lot of running around between sourcing materials, purchasing them, getting them to my makers, going to my pattern maker, etc – I feel like a yo-yo some days,” Victoria tells me. Founding a label can be a turbulent experience, but it’s enabled Victoria to live out her dream.

For more National Graduate Showcase action, check out this year’s finalists.
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