Reimagining fashion with Practice Studio founder Kat Walsh

Reimagining fashion with Practice Studio founder Kat Walsh

Founded by Kathryn Walsh in 2019, Meanjin/Brisbane-based Practice Studio is a combined workroom and retail space that aims to reconnect people with the value of thoughtfully-made fashion garments by demystifying the design process. Sharing insight on how clothes are made by having a functional work space for creating and mending, Practice Studio bridges the gap between consumers and the products they purchase, promoting mindfulness and an awareness of the craft involved. 

Practice Studio showcases the work of emerging local designers who produce seasonless collections, transcending the frenzied trend-driven state of the fast fashion industry. Practice Studio also offers repair and alteration services in-store for both new and well-loved clothing, which can be arranged through their online booking page.

We chatted with Kat to learn more about Practice Studio’s conception and evolution, her journey as a designer championing sustainability and the shifting landscape of fashion.

The Practice Studio retail spacePractice Studio’s retail space

Having a combined workroom retail space is such a transparent approach to fashion design and retail and has the power to remove the smoke and mirrors of a traditionally opaque industry. How did the idea for the business come about and how has it evolved? 

The concept of a combined workroom/retail space was actually something I started thinking about while I was still at uni. At QUT we had a core unit on fashion and sustainability which really quickly made me aware of the fast-paced, wasteful and globalised nature of the industry I was heading into. One of the overarching problems I saw guiding consumer attitudes towards clothing was a complete disconnection from the process of design and production. 

To me the idea of bringing customers back in direct contact with how things get made seemed like the most logical solution to addressing this issue. Suddenly clothes take on that human element again; the sheer brilliance of a good design becomes apparent and both the time and skill level required to produce a garment are laid out in front of you.

The Practice Studio workroom Practice Studio’s workroom

Practice Studio really embraces the contemporary seasonless, limited-run and made-to-order model of fashion. How do you think this approach influences us to be more mindful both as consumers and creators? 

This model makes sense for us as we’re exclusively stocking work by local and emerging designers, who are, in turn, working within their means to meet demand as their labels grow. For designers, starting small and wearing all the hats at once (patternmaker/accountant/ machinist/marketer) is a great way to learn just how many areas of your brand require a thoughtful approach. And for customers, again it’s that relationship with the faces behind the brands that make you aware of the true value of a garment. Being able to order something made specifically for you is another way of connecting with the design process and developing a meaningful relationship with what you own. Rather than feeling like you have a copy of a mass-produced product, you become instinctively aware of how much work has gone into making that item. The whole pace of fashion slows down to the point where a conceptually-rich design can be seen and appreciated as a work of art, and a customer can connect with the fact that they are directly contributing to the ongoing success of an individual designer/brand.

 Clo Love pictured wearing Meanjin based Katalyst labelClo Love pictured wearing Meanjin-based Katalyst label

Practice Studio has become such an influential force in the Meanjin fashion landscape over the past three years. The act of maintaining garments, through mending, repurposing and re-selling has become common, if not trendy. What does the future of Australian fashion look like to you? 

I absolutely love how mainstream the act of mending and shopping second-hand is becoming! It’s just exactly what we all need to be doing and I’m stoked to be able to help build momentum for it. At the studio the demand for alterations and repairs is consistently high, which is not something I expected when starting out. And with the growing success of bricks and mortar resale spaces like Swop and intuitive online platforms like Depop, I don’t see things slowing down. I think – particularly through social media – we’ve all become so much more educated about the impact we can have as consumers (and IMO that mindset shift is now here to stay). From reducing our individual environmental footprints, to demanding more from the brands we’re giving our dollars to, to making caring cool, we’re heading towards a slower and more sustainable system. That said, I do think there’s still a place for certain mass-produced items. But I foresee a more balanced distribution of approaches to production and consumption in the future, where those brands leading the market are also necessarily accountable, transparent and ethical.

Sewing in the Practice Studio workroomSewing in the Practice Studio workroom

Practice Studio has worked with so many talented up-and-coming local designers, and participated in local fashion events. How are fashion and community linked for you? 

Fashion and community are linked for me in the most enriching of ways. For me personally it has been the most joyful and unexpected side effect of starting a retail space (which was essentially more of a philosophical experiment to begin with). I love being that bridge between passionate people who either create, or love supporting, innovative design. There’s something way down deep that you share with someone else whose creative work you admire and at Practice I basically get to play Cupid, and watch people fall in love with each other via these intermediary objects. I think that being a designer myself helps me understand how much it means when someone gets and appreciates what you’re doing. A sense of community is also really important for designers who have an opportunity to connect with each other rather than feel like they’re working in isolation. It’s always fun to get together at events and check in with each other, and get feedback on whether you’re doing it ‘right’. On a local level everyone’s really breaking new ground so we’re learning as we go.

  Pieces by Meanjin based brand Bulley Bulley shot in the Practice Studio workroomPieces by Meanjin-based brand Bulley Bulley shot in the Practice Studio workroom

Throughout your journey so far, both as a designer and a small business owner, what are some of the positive changes that you have identified in the industry?

I think our level of interconnectedness online, for all its flaws, is also responsible for a huge amount of positive change within the industry. There’s so much two-way conversation happening now between brands and customers which is powerful when used effectively. Brands really have to be accountable to their customers and in return are rewarded with an unparalleled level of loyalty and insight that can help them refine their products, avoid waste and maximise the efficient use of resources.

A reworked upcycled design by Practice StudioA reworked up-cycled design by Practice Studio 

Kat, you have previously worked in costuming. How has that experience influenced your practice?  

Most of my experience in costume was as a maker, which is where I got my introduction to alterations. You’d work on garments with huge seam allowances and adjust them to fit different performers, or be handed suits that needed cuffs and shoulders moved. I learned from people with a keen eye for detail and feel quite lucky to have been trained under their watch. In opening up the studio, I was able to transfer some of those skills, and  adapt and problem solve for things I hadn’t seen before more easily.

Why have you chosen Meanjin/Brisbane as Practice Studio’s home? 

Beautiful Meanjin! Someone from New York once told me that Brisbane was where it was at for creatives in Australia, and at the time (I was planning to move to Melbourne) I kind of just looked at her blankly, a little stunned. But she went on to say that we’re still so young… Brisbane isn’t saturated or competitive in the way that other, more established, cities are and there’s room to actually explore a creative practice here. There’s less judgement from peers and more of an all-for-one, one-for-all attitude because we’re still building a scene. I think that’s so true and I’ve really fallen in love with this dorky, sweaty, Ibis-run town now. I couldn’t imagine starting anywhere else!

Designer Joash Teo (left) and sewest Thomas King (right) working in-store Designers Joash Teo (left) and Thomas King (right) working in-store

Practice Studio has recently opened up a secondary studio and gallery space, designed specifically to explore ideas surrounding clothing and the body in greater depth. They currently have an artist in residence investigating the significance of waste materials generated during the design process. Artist and shoemaker Joseph Botica will be presenting  their work What Remains on November 11 and all are welcome.

The Practice Studio gallery spacePractice Studio’s gallery space

Follow Practice Studio to stay updated on their upcoming projects and events. 

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