“Unlike traditional pattern making or flat weaving, my method uses the body like a loom.”

After the height of the DIY revival in the fashion industry, we have a new appreciation for the craftsmanship behind design. Techniques like appliqué stitching, crochet and embroidery enjoy a well-deserved moment in the sartorial sun. But once the JW Anderson cardigan the dust has settled, who’s next to influence the craft world?

“Honestly, I had no idea what this project was going to look like in early 2021,” says a Melbourne-based designer and recent fashion graduate, Lilli McKenzie. “Curiously, I didn’t know how to weave at that time. I took a summer intensive weaving course to catch up on college credits. Falling in love with the meticulous detail and careful nature of craftsmanship, Lilli took to using her body – and that of her roommate – as a sort of “loom”.

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Using recycled yarns in hues of soft lavender, fuchsia and bright lime green, Lilli’s handwoven designs – characterized by unconventional construction and form-fitting silhouettes – have caused a stir since the label’s debut at this year’s Melbourne Fashion Week. On the strength of her new success, Lilli unveils the sequel to her eponymous label.

Tell us about you. What is your background in fashion?

Hi, I’m Lily! I guess I would say I’m the designer and creative director of Lilli McKenzie. I’m currently based in Naarm/Melbourne, but I’m best known for living in my own world. I am a recent graduate of the Bachelor of Fashion Design (Honours) at RMIT. My current fashion design practice is the culmination of my last four years of study and a lifetime of worshiping ingenious and sustainable design.

Apart from my own brand, I also work for Pal, a streetwear brand not for professionals based here in Melbourne. In my role as designer for the Reborn rangeI have a lot of creative freedom to redesign and recycle HoMie’s damaged clothes or doll, donated by partner brands like Champion.

How did the label start? Tell us about the process and the challenges.

My practice has really been a continuation of my specialized project “Re-Weave”, which I started in 2021; it is therefore still in its infancy. My designs explore handloom as a sustainable fashion practice, with an emphasis on circular design. I chose to revolve my practice around weaving because there are a lot of people killing it in the knitting and crocheting game, but not a lot of love for weaving.

Weaving as a technique is considerably less understood than others, so I’m confident in saying that there aren’t many designers in Australia doing what I do. Unlike traditional pattern making or flat weaving, my method uses the body like a loom. Weaving is traditionally considered a two-dimensional technique, so my biggest challenge was to reinvent weaving in a three-dimensional form.

I first experimented a lot with weaving on the human body. I used my own arms and legs to make gloves and socks and made my roommate sit still for hours while I randomly wove yarn over her. It turned out to be very laborious for everyone involved. I now have a much simpler crafting system, where I can weave these skin-tight stretch garments directly onto the mannequin.

How would you describe Lilli McKenzie to someone who has never seen her before?

Colourful, comfortable, fun and entirely handwoven from recycled materials. Need I say more?

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

Honestly, I had no idea what this project was going to look like in early 2021. Oddly enough, I had no idea how to weave at that time. I took intensive weaving in the summer to catch up on college credits! One of the activities that caught my eye was this scavenging exercise where we were asked to weave a swatch using only random objects we found in our garden.

I love the idea of ​​being resourceful in fashion design, and that in theory you can transform any old object into something new through weaving. After many experiments with different recycled materials and methods, my creations now consist mainly of yarns from the wire ministry. The brand takes factory t-shirt scraps and turns them into yarn.

Another collaborator was the Precious plastics company in Melbourne, they helped create the custom carabiners made from recycled plastic. All the materials were actually from Victoria, including the rope which was just scraps and dead animals!

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

I am very proud to have been able to combine all the elements of fashion that are important to me as a designer: durability, comfort and style. I’m also proud of myself for learning to embrace my flaws.

When you weave for hours, it is very easy to lose track of a stitch. I often get super obsessive after realizing I made a mistake. The point is, what I’m trying to achieve here isn’t perfect, and the reality is that mistakes remind me that every piece is 100% made by me.

What did you wish you had known when you started?

Trust the process! There were many times where I felt like my project was going nowhere and I kind of lost a little bit of self-confidence. Spoiler: everything went well. I would also like not to be so hard on myself and not diminish the work I have done.

What about the Australian fashion industry that needs to change?

The sad reality is that it is very expensive to source materials and manufacture them in Australia. This means that some brands have to sacrifice their sustainability goals in order to keep their business affordable for their consumers.

I believe fashion production in Australia needs to be more accessible and affordable for manufacturers and consumers, so that we can continue to support our local economy without breaking the bank. I really don’t know how exactly this will turn out, but it’s great to see so many Australians becoming much more environmentally conscious and choosing to support local creatives.

Dream Australian collaborators?

I would love for Flex Mami to wear Lilli McKenzie pieces. Call me.

Who’s in your wardrobe right now?

I’m the queen of comfort, so my favorite summer pieces are from Suku and my favorite pants right now are the velor sweatpants from RampTrampTrampStamp.

How can we buy one of your parts?

I’m currently working on a few different collaborations with other creatives. My goal in the near future is to make my pieces available for purchase, I would love to like love to see my pieces hit the streets. I’m always open to discussing custom pieces and collaborations, just send me a message on instagram or send me an e-mail!

Anything else to add?

It’s an exciting time to be a fashion designer in Australia. I think a lot of designers get international recognition and big names are associated with their brands. Previously, there had been a huge push for promising young designers to travel to Europe or the US, so this growing number of local designers gives me great hope for my opportunities here in Melbourne.

Discover more of Lilli’s intricate design work here.