Interview with Hannah Liston, Fashion Designer, on breaking into the industry, misconceptions and advice for people starting out.
When someone posts multiple #ilovemyjob hashtags on their social posts over many years I’m compelled to get into a deeper discussion on how and why. Working in a job that you’re passionate about is a goal that lots of people have and its often more difficult to nail than we originally anticipate. It can take a whole career to find your groove, while for others, they are lucky enough to know themselves well enough early-on to at least start in the right direction. Hannah Liston was my best friend in high school – we were inseparable in 1995 and 1996 until a shift to a new school physically separated us (but not before an epic surprise farewell party, thank you Hannah!). Since then, I’ve found absolute joy in following Hannah’s success in the fashion industry and simply seeing her love for the work she does (especially when you can tell she’s bringing a level of depth and care to her industry, that she holds so dear).
Julie Anne: How did you originally get into fashion design (what were education/career and inspirational/passion steps on your path to your current role)
Hannah: I always knew I was a maker. My favourite weekend past time as a teenager and still now is to explore and rummage at all my favourite bric-a-brac haunts for hidden treasures. I began buying old clothes and furniture, mending them and giving them a new life. I love imagining what their story is and where they have been before. This hobby led me into Industrial design, with the thought process that I’d restore antiques and forgotten pieces of furniture, and let their story continue. I majored in furniture and industrial jewellery. Through my jewellery studies I became more and more fascinated with the emotional attachments we form with the adornments and clothing we choose to express ourselves with. I was drawn to create these pieces that people saw as an extension of themselves and and expression how they wanted the world to see them. Getting into the Australian Fashion Industry is tough, especially when you’re degree is furniture and especially when you want to work for the best of the best, to reach Australian consumers through product they will have an affinity with. I had to think outside the box.
I’d applied repeatedly at the leading Australian brand I’d set my heart on, but every graduate in the country wanted to get a foot in the door there. I had to stand out. I found out through my snooping powers that the Creative Director liked flowers, and knew she had a passion for leather. I painstakingly spent night after night hand cutting leather petals and weaving plaited leather stems. The leather bouquet was hand delivered to her desk wrapped in sheets of my resume & folio. I received an email that simply stated, ‘OK, come in for an interview.’ My foot was in the door and I’ve poured my blood sweat and tears into this industry since.
J: What’s the main misconception people have with what you do (if any?), or what do you get asked all the time about your role
H: That being a fashion designer is glamorous.
Yes we see the world, and yes we are exposed to beautiful fabrics and innovations as they happen -for that I’m truly grateful. But on the flip side I’ve seen workers with umbrellas gaffer taped to their backs to shield the product on the production lines (not themselves) from the snow coming through the broken factory windows. I’ve stared in the eyes of a Child working a 12hr factory day who considered herself the luckiest kid on earth. She was the smartest girl in her class so whilst her sisters were forced into child prostitution, she got shelter and 3 square meals a day. I left a job because of this because I was tormented – keeping my mouth closed kept her out of prostitution, but opening it said I was not ok with child labor. How do you make a decision for someone’s life like that? This side is definitely not glamour.
I’ve had moments where I’ve been in moral turmoil, and almost left fashion but at the end of the day I love creating and feel it’s my moral obligation to do what I can to put ethically sourced and stitched garments on peoples backs. It’s my responsibility, having seen what I have and knowing what I know to use organic yarns, Australian Cotton and eco-friendly materials in my ranges wherever possible. It’s my duty to educate my customer and make them think about the journey their garment has been on, and what impact it has on this earth.
Design must happen with a conscious, as should purchasing. There are some really impressive initiatives happening at the moment on Australian soil. Some great examples would be Yuki Threads who I’m a big fan of. Quality product, ethically sourced, ethically stitched and quality that will be on your back a long time before it becomes landfill.
J: Any advice for someone who wants to become a fashion designer or senior fashion designer?
H: Know what your beliefs are, be true to those and only work for brands who’s ideals align with yours. It’s a very competitive industry and it’s damn hard work but actualising your creative concepts, and seeing people express themselves in your product is incredibly rewarding.