“Unlike traditional pattern making or flat weaving, my method uses the body as a loom to weave.”
After the fashion industry‘s DIY renaissance peaked, we have a renewed appreciation for the craft behind design. Techniques like appliqué stitching, crocheting and embroidery are enjoying a well-deserved moment in the fashion sun. But when the JW Anderson cardigan dust has settled, who will be next to influence the handmade world?
“I honestly had no idea what this project would look like in early 2021,” says Melbourne-based designer and recent fashion graduate Lilli McKenzie. “Funnily enough I didn’t know how to weave at that point. I took an intensive weaving course over the summer to catch up on college credits.” Lilli fell in love with the meticulous details and painstaking nature of the craft, and began using her body—and that of her roommate—as a kind of “loom for weaving.”
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Crafted from upcycled yarns in soft hues of lavender, fuchsia and bright lime green, Lilli’s handwoven designs, featuring unconventional constructions and fitted silhouettes, have been turning heads since the brand’s runway debut at this year’s Melbourne Fashion Week. In the glow of her newfound success, Lilli tells us what’s next for her eponymous label.
tell us about yourself What is your fashion background?
Hello, I’m Lili! I would say I’m the designer and creative director of Lilli McKenzie. I currently live in Naarm/Melbourne but am best known for living in my own world. I recently graduated from RMIT with a Bachelor of Fashion Design (Honours). My current fashion design practice is the culmination of the last four years of study and a lifelong admiration for imaginative and sustainable design.
Outside of my own brand, I also work for HoMie, a not-for-pro streetwear label based here in Melbourne. In my role as a designer for the Reborn range, I have a lot of creative freedom to redesign and upgrade damaged HoMie garments or headstocks that have been donated by partner brands like Champion.
How did the label come about? Talk to us about the process and the challenges.
My practice was really a follow-up to my honors project Re-Weave, which I started in 2021 – so it’s still in a very early stage. My designs explore hand weaving as a sustainable fashion practice with an emphasis on circular design. I have decided to revolve my practice around weaving because there are a lot of people who kill it in the knitting and crochet game but not much love for weaving.
Weaving as a technique is far less understood than others, so I’m confident to say there aren’t many designers in Australia who do what I do. Unlike traditional pattern making or flat weaving, my method uses the body as a loom on which to weave. Weaving is traditionally viewed as a two-dimensional technique, so my main challenge was to reinvent weaving in 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 got my roommate to stand still for hours while I randomly wove yarn onto her. This turned out to be very difficult for everyone involved. I now have a much simpler manufacturing system where I can weave these form fitting stretch garments directly onto the mannequin.
How would you describe Lilli McKenzie to someone who has never seen her before?
Colourful, comfy, fun and all handwoven from recycled materials. need i say more
What did you want to achieve with the project back then? How did that develop and what are you trying to communicate about the brand now?
I honestly had no idea what this project would look like in early 2021. Oddly enough, I didn’t know how to weave at that point. I did a web intensive this summer to catch up on college credits! One of the activities I was drawn to was this tidying exercise where we were asked to weave a pattern using just random items we found in our garden.
I love the idea of being imaginative in fashion design and that you can theoretically turn any old object into something new through weaving. After experimenting a lot with different recycled materials and methods, my designs now consist primarily of yarn sourced from the Ministry of Yarn. The brand takes factory T-shirt offcuts and turns them into yarn.
Another collaborator was Precious Plastics in Melbourne, which helped create the custom carabiners from recycled plastic. All materials were actually sourced from within Victoria including the rope which was all leftovers and dead stock!
What are you most proud of in your work for your label?
What I’m most proud of is that I was able to combine all the elements of fashion that are important to me as a designer: sustainability, comfort and flair. I’m also proud of myself for learning to accept my mistakes.
When you’re weaving for hours, it’s very easy to lose sight of a stitch. I often get super obsessed when I realize I’ve made a mistake. The fact is that what I’m trying to achieve here isn’t perfect, and the reality is that flaws are a reminder that every piece is 100 percent handmade by moi.
What do you wish you had known when you started?
Trust the process! There were many times when I felt like my project was going nowhere, and I kind of lost faith a bit. Spoilers: It all worked out. I also wish I wasn’t so hard on myself and belittle the work I’ve done.
What needs to change in the Australian fashion industry?
The unfortunate reality is that materials are very expensive to source and manufacture in Australia. This means some brands have to sacrifice their sustainability goals to keep their business affordable for their consumers.
I think fashion production in Australia needs to become more accessible and affordable for manufacturers and consumers so that we can continue to support our local economy without breaking the bank. I’m really not sure exactly how that’s going to happen, but it’s great to see so many Australians becoming more environmentally conscious and choosing to support local creatives.
Australian dream partners?
I would love to get Flex Mami to wear some Lilli McKenzie pieces. Call me.
Who’s in your closet right now?
I’m the queen of comfort so my favorite summer pieces are from Suku and my favorite pants right now are the RampTrampTrampStamp velvet joggers.
How can we buy one of your pieces?
I’m currently working on a few different collaborations with other creatives. My goal in the near future is to offer my pieces for sale, I would be very happy love to see my pieces hit the streets. I’m always open to discussing custom pieces and collaborations, just message me on Instagram or email me!
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 to associate with their brands. There used to be a big push for young and upcoming designers to travel to Europe or the United States, so this growing number of local designers makes me very hopeful about my opportunities here in Melbourne.
Discover more of Lilli’s intricate design work here.