Landing a job at Adelaide’s top fashion house, Australian Fashion Labels, is pretty much every homegrown designer’s dream. And that’s what local designer Abby Potter was lucky enough to score after graduating from TAFE SA’s Advanced Diploma of Applied Fashion Design and Technology in 2013. Recently though, she decided to take the plunge, go out on her own and launch her label, House of Campbell. We caught up with Abby to hear more of her journey and what it’s like to be a designer in Adelaide.
Have you always wanted to be a fashion designer?
With all my heart! I grew up with two very crafty and skilled grandmothers; one was already sewing me a whole wardrobe of new outfits before I could walk. By primary school, she started teaching me to sew, and on my twelfth birthday I got my very own sewing machine. It was my passion – and borderline obsession – before I even knew it was a job! And it’s one that’s only continued to grow as I’ve grown.
How long have you been a designer for?
I suppose I’ve always been one, in a way. When you’re sewing, you’re also designing. In high school, I often designed and sewed formal dresses for my friends. I would [also] design and sew my dance costumes. When I was sewing, I was always thinking about how I wanted an outfit to look and, more importantly, feel.
However, throughout my time in the industry, I have worked in several roles – [although] not strictly as a ‘designer’. Each role I’ve had has been a great opportunity to focus on garment construction, quality assurance and production processes. These are so important to any designer.
Can you tell me a bit about the role you had at Australian Fashion Labels?
I was extremely lucky enough to be offered a position as Garment Technician at Australian Fashion Labels straight out of TAFE. Awkward silence? It’s okay, not many people know what a garment technician’s role actually is! Essentially, the technicians work closely with the designers, in-house logistics teams and external manufacturers to make sure the designs meet the quality standards of the brand. If a designer draws the clothes, then the technician is one that makes sure you can actually wear it (you can thank me later!)
If you’re buying a gorgeous statement C/MEO COLLECTIVE culotte or a romantic lace date night dress from Keepsake, you want to make sure the design is a great fit and is made to last. That’s where your garment technicians come in. It’s a busy role that requires you to know your stuff about all things construction and fabric.
The best part is you get to work together with designers at the top of their game, alongside some fantastic industry professionals, to interpret their designs and create the best collection possible.
How has your studies at TAFE SA helped you to get to where you are now?
TAFE has played a huge role in my career to date. Fashion isn’t just about drawing designs; it’s a huge industry that is made up of many different roles. During my course I learned technical skills and knowledge in pattern making and construction, production, styling, marketing and so much more. It gave me an all-rounded education, which then gave me the flexibly to enter the industry through whichever avenue I wanted. To this day, I still use the basic skills I learned at TAFE in my own work. It was totally invaluable.
What was the most important thing you learnt at TAFE that has stuck with you?
Without a doubt, it’s persistence. Studying fashion includes a lot of hands-on learning, not just reciting words from textbooks. As a result, it can be incredibly frustrating when you are trying to use skills that are still new to you – no one is born knowing how to sew, or design, or create patterns.
More important than learning our Vogues from our Harper’s, our lecturers taught us when to take a break, go for a walk and come with a fresh perspective – clear your head and then keep trying; you will get it eventually. As a chronic perfectionist, it’s a really simple thing that has helped me deal with the challenges that I face all the time in this industry.
What made you want to get into lecturing in fashion at TAFE?
Honestly, some of my favourite memories are from my days spent studying at TAFE! The lecturers have amazing industry experience and were great mentors to myself and my classmates. So when the opportunity came up to lecture at TAFE, I was really excited to join the team and contribute to training those wanting to join the industry.
What have been your biggest highlights during your designing career?
That’s a tough question! There are three highlights that really stand out to me.
During my time on the C/meo Collective team, I got to see our designs on the runway at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia – that was a proud moment for our team! Also while working with Australian Fashion Labels I was given an incredible opportunity to relocate to their China office for six months. It was an amazing highlight in my career that taught me an extraordinary amount!
The last highlight is what most designers dream of: travelling to Paris! Wandering the streets and walking into the designer stores was a dream come true! The city took my breath away and was a major tick off the bucket list.
You’ve just launched your own label, congrats! What made you take the jump to create it?
Thank you! It is a big jump that I’m stoked to be taking! My label, House of Campbell, is something I’ve really always set out to do. I just made it my goal early on to learn the ropes of the industry, strengthen my technical skills and also take the time to experiment with different styles before taking the leap. I think it is so important to know your own style before jumping in. You need to know what you’re offering in the market and how you can set yourself apart from competing brands. This is something that Adelaide brands are doing so well at!
It has been inspiring to see diverse labels including Acler, Paolo Sebastian and Australian Fashion Labels emerge in Adelaide and take on the global platform. I am pretty excited to be joining the expanding fashion scene in Adelaide and to throw my own voice into the mix in 2019!
Photos by William Allen.