When hands-on still matters

Many stores cater for androgynous-bodied 20-year-olds and don’t offer 55+ year-olds fashion that fits, suits our lifestyle, covers our lumps and bumps or lasts longer than two wears.

Fast fashion has done the fashion industry a disservice, especially those who remember what quality, make and fit was all about.

Local labels once offered a plethora of choices designed for local lifestyles, in sizes and proportions to fit local bodies and remained in our wardrobes for many years. (Many of us are now passing on special pieces to daughters and granddaughters.)

But don’t despair. We aren’t the only ones feeling the pain.

There’s a rise in consumers, young and old, who want a slower-paced and more local, community life.

There’s been a slow food movement, a slow travel movement, slow journalism and now slow fashion. Yes, slow fashion is fashionable and local designers are reaping some of the benefits.

An exponent of this movement is Paula Dunlop whose self-named jewellery label is slowly making a name for itself in the fashion and accessory industry. Her “designer-maker” title has put her at the centre of this trend in Queensland.

“What I’m interested in most is ‘process’, how we make things.” Paula says. “I studied art before I studied fashion and I think one unifying theme across my work in different creative practices has definitely been this idea of ‘slow making’ and the touch of the hand.”

She believes the love for her practice began in the family home.

“Both my mum and dad are good with ‘hands-on’ work.  Dad has always been a skilled carpenter and handyman, while Mum was a keen sewer, but is more a knitter and crocheter nowadays.  

“So I guess I grew up in a household where ‘do-it-yourself’ was the norm and kind of absorbed this way of being, where you took on projects and learned through doing.”

Her “doing” is creating beautiful pieces with synergies between art and jewellery.

While she has had exhibitions of her work, she’s keen to combine her love for fashion so that the work is wearable. Her bangles and earrings take anywhere from several hours up to three days for the lariat neckpieces.
Currently she is working with Japanese glass seed beads as she finds them beautiful to handle and “quite seductive”.

“It reminds me of the pearl-headed pins my mother used when sewing,” she said. “I used to sit under the sewing table and arrange and rearrange them into patterns.”

Paula’s pieces also require knitting with waxed cotton, weaving beads over that knitted cord and, for the lariats, weaving spiky beads into the woven base.

This is painstaking work and requires hours of concentration and focus while experimenting with new designs.
Her customers appreciate this process, happy in the knowledge they have one of only a few pieces hand-made with love by a designer close to home.

“I think my work appeals to people who appreciate thoughtful, handmade design,” Paula says.

And with her pieces available for sale in design-based retail shops, customers know their purchases are special.

If slow design is about quality over quantity, about better understanding the product and highlighting the need for consumers knowing how that product is made, jewellery designers like Paula Dunlop have a sparkling future.

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