This week we interview Gold Coaster, Casey Tanswell. The high fashion designer gives us the ins and outs of what it takes to make it in the fashion world.
What did you love about growing up on the Gold Coast?
I loved the safety and freedom of it. I’m originally from Sydney and when we moved here we were allowed to just run around and do what we wanted until dinnertime. It felt free and relaxed. Now that I work out of Sydney and the Gold Coast I love living here because it’s so relaxed. Sydney has such a great energy but it’s great to come back to the Gold Coast and recharge.
When did you first know you wanted to be a designer?
When I was growing up and studying there weren’t any design schools in QLD, so I never thought of it as a career. As I was approaching my 30’s and I thought I’m more scared to not try than I am to try and fail. So I thought you know what, lets just go for it!
What were you doing before designing?
I was doing event management, so it was a bit of a career change!
What were your first steps in becoming a designer?
I went back to study. I felt like I really wanted to know my craft. I learned how to sew and pattern make. I wanted to know every aspect of it. From there I worked in retail with Adrenaline Boutique and eventually they approached me to do a label for them. The line is called Length of Light. Once I knew I could do it for someone else, I thought why not give my own label a chance. I didn’t think about it too hard, I just took that massive leap of faith.
When did you start your label?
I started my label in 2012.
Where do you usually find your inspiration?
It can be from anywhere. A lot of the time its from artwork, mostly paintings or stories. I also get a lot of inspiration from books I’ve read or Mythological stories. It kind of just comes to you. It’s something that works its way out of your skin.
There are times when I’m draping on a mannequin and I keep coming back to the same thing. So I just go with it. Also, it’s mostly the women that I’m inspired by, women in paintings, women in stories, women in mythology.
What was your first break into the design world?
The retail store is how I broke into the design world. Creating Length of Light taught me about production. I also learned things like grading and tagging garments. What sells and what doesn’t sell. I had the benefit of seeing customers in the garments and hearingpeoples compliments as well as what people didn’t care for. I learned baptism by fire; it was pretty hands on.
What’s in the DNA of high fashion that makes it a sustainable industry?
I think that the difference with high fashion is that it’s selling a dream. In the design world we always say that fashion is armor. If you are going into an event and your nervous, you do think about what you are wearing and how you look. And I think that’s where fashion comes into it. It creates an image about yourself and who you are or who you want to be. You can tell a lot about a person by how they present themselves.
Street fashion is high fashion diluted and more affordable. Ultimately its selling that dream of who you can be, and making people feel better about themselves.
Who is your target market?
Women in their late 20’s to 50’s; women with a disposable income; career girls, girls who travel, girls going to events.
Custom bridal is of course girls getting married.
Are you designing for a Global Market or a Local Market?
Global Market, but Gold Coast girls are picking up on the styles.
People gloss over the Gold Coast, but people here are dying to showcase themselves.
Have there been things that have shaped or changed the way you design or market your clothes?
Getting to know women’s bodies more, as well as progressing from theatrical to wearable. I became more conscious about what parts of the body women are comfortable in highlighting and also about making pieces that you could throw on with other items in your wardrobe.
How many hats do you wear in your company? Are you strictly a designer? Do you sew? Do you run the business?
About a thousand, it’s a one-woman band! I outsource the sewing, but from pattern making to sewing, I do it all.
Someone once gave me some advice, if you’re not the best at it, hire someone who is. So where possible, I do outsource, but a lot of it I domyself.
How many pieces are in a collection?
For summer/ spring about 30 pieces and for autumn/ winter half that. The autumn winter market in Australia ismuch shorter. But moving forward, I’ll be moving away from those collections and focusing on custom bridal.
To be brutally honest, the stores; sometimes it’s hard getting paid. Another issue is that you have put out so much money in getting the collection ready, and then it’s hard to even get meetings with the stores. It’s a deep hole to dig your way out of!
In peoples everyday lives they may not have a need for a high price point item. With weddings they do. They want to spend the money on a signature piece.
Which designers are you most interested in? Are any of them local?
Unfortunately no. Most of the designers I’m interested in are European, some of them are dead and I like them because they are so brave. I always talk about Alexander McQueen because he was fearless. He faced a lot of criticism and rejection and he still stuck to his convictions. I also really admire Tom Ford and the way he understands women’s bodies. It’s the big guys we’ve all heard of, but they all seem to have a vision and no matter how hard, they don’t compromise.
In this day and age to not compromise is tough! It’s hard to have a pure vision and these big guys do it.
Where do you feel the most pressure or competition?
I put a lot of pressure on myself. I want to do better with each season. If I have a season that’s been well received, I put myself under so much pressure the next season.
How do you rise above it?
I block everything out. While I’m designing I don’t watch any fashion shows or read any fashion magazines. I block out completely and design from the heart. You can always go back and edit for trend. I always try to design for something I think is missing in the market.
What’s your favourite part of the design process from conception to completion?
Conception, when you are really excited about the idea and everything is flowing out of you.
Where do you see yourself and your line in 5 years?
I would love to really solidify my bridal wear and have more of my signature in the custom bridal. Also have more off the rack as well as custom bridal.
I’ll start with the local market and focus on local girls and hopefully soon be designing for a global market.
Do you only work on wedding gowns or do you also do bridesmaids dresses?
Brides, bridesmaids and event wear as well.
What is your ultimate career goal?
It’s been to survive the last few years, and now my heads finally broken the surface. The ultimate goal is to be a household name. I want to make my mark on the world. I want people to be able to see a garment of mine and say “that’s a Casey Tanswell” and I want them to feel beautiful and special in it.
What can we look forward to with your next line?
Smaller collections throughout the year.
Things will seem fresher. Fresh injections and more of a bridal focus, and perhaps experimenting more with textiles and fabrics.
What was the worst moment in your career?
There have been a few down points but one of the worst moments of my career was when I relied on a production company that was ultimately unreliable. I had an in store interview with a store that had been very supportive and they had an arranged the entire evening around the stock being in store, they even had a celebrity there to wear the garments and none of the stock arrived.
What have you learned from it?
I definitely learned to make sure the people you have around you are reliable and they respect your vision as well as have the same vision. And to stay on top of people. Sometimes it’s hard for women to be tough in business. It seems as though it’s trait that’s looked down upon in women if you are too tough, but to run a successful business you need to be tough and stay on top of people.
What was your proudest moment in your career?
My first fashion show in 2014. During the final walk I thought, whatever happens I know I gave it my best.
What do you find most rewarding about being a woman’s fashion designer?
When I see women in my garments. It gives me goose bumps every time.
Outside of fashion, what are your other interests?
Currently nothing. The line is my baby so I spend all of my time on it. I used to be into painting and would love to get into painting again. Also reading.
Do you have any advice for people just getting started chasing their dreams?
Have conviction in what you are doing. Don’t let people drag you down. Stick with your core conviction. Things will get hard, so love what you are doing and don’t get down on what you are doing. From a practical standpoint, get all your legal and financial stuff in order. Even if right now you think it’s a hobby, eventually that hobby will grow and you won’t have time to do that. So chat to a lawyer and an accountant.
Casey's Best of...
Favourite coffee spot
I don’t drink coffee, but my favourite tea spot is Daark Espresso in Chirn Park. They do the most amazing breakfast.
Favourite dinner restaurant
Mamasan in Broadbeach. They have a dish called pork bao. It’s mind-boggling
Favourite outdoorsy spot
There are so many! But I love Budds Beach. Its great for a picnic!
Favourite spot to shop
Actually I really love the new Pacific Fair it’s amazing. You can pig out and see a movie and there’s some great shopping. I’m all for it!
To check out more Casey Tanswell Designs, head to her website.
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By Marleigh Kelly