19 September 2016
Mieka Vigilante is a Director of Fashion for FASHFEST – what she calls, “the business of dreams”. FASHFEST, a Canberra-based fashion show now in its fourth year, aims to cultivate modern, emerging fashion, design and creative talent. FASHFEST has a focus on encouraging participation from young people, either as fashion students starting out, or as volunteers wanting to get a view of the industry.
As Director of Fashion, Mieka has some inspiring experiences and insights about getting involved.
How is FASHFEST different from other fashion shows?
“We have an incredibly diverse range of designers involved with FASHFEST – from exciting new designers, to independent and established retailers, to vintage stores and couturiers,” Mieka says.
“This year, we have a lot of designers working to promote ethical and sustainable production, and challenge consumers to consider the environmental and social impacts of their fashion choices.
“We have people working with recycled fabrications, sourcing ethical production by working with disadvantaged communities in Australia or overseas, using their labels to give back to the community through various mentor programs or social enterprises, or working with sustainably produced fabrics.”
What is a Director of Fashion?
Director of Fashion is a voluntary role for Mieka, who works with a team who come together with their passion for the industry.
Mieka’s role is to assist designers and ultimately find them audiences. “With such a varied range of designers at different stages in their own careers,” she says, “on any given day I’m answering questions from designers about production, how to contact buyers, model measurements, what social media platforms they should consider using, or their collection inspiration to help inform the rest of our creative team.”
How did she start out in the fashion industry?
“I was always inclined towards fashion as a creative outlet, and I was lucky to have alternative parents who took us to interesting places and supported our creativity (and a mother who taught me to sew in high school),” Mieka explains.
“I was wearing something I’d made into a store in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley when the shop owner asked where my skirt was from; when I told her I’d made it she ordered some right on the spot! That was my first consignment at 16 years old.”
From there, Mieka, who grew up in Queensland, studied a Fashion Design degree at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) under Suzi Vaughan (previously of Central Saint Martins London), including an exchange semester at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI).
“While in Amsterdam I interned at London Fashion Week under my then-favourite designer, cult indie menswear label Cassette Playa (who was dressing the likes of M.I.A at the time).
“After graduation, I was invited back to Cassette Playa as Studio and Production Manager, which was a huge eye-opener. This role really dropped me in the deep end of the international industry: suddenly I was liaising with international manufacturers, print studios, and PR offices and collaborators like Nike and Billionaire Boys Club, working late nights to produce collections for London, Milan & Paris Fashion Weeks, and personally sewing custom garments for celebrities like Kanye West and Chromeo.
“This is where I realised my aptitude for management, and passion for collaborating to produce someone else’s creative vision – something that is often overlooked in an industry where everyone wants to be the star designer.”
How would young designers get involved with FASHFEST?
“Intrinsic to FASHFEST’s values since the beginning is the support for fashion students just starting out in the industry”, Mieka says. “Our youngest designer, Charly Thorn, is only 17 and already has a thriving fashion business!”
“Many of our designers are newly launched, or even using FASHFEST as the platform to launch their brands this year.
“We also have a lot of young people volunteering in roles such as dressing backstage, working with our production team on front and back of house, and gaining valuable experience in the behind-the-scenes of staging a show of this scale.”
Tips for starting-out designers?
Mieka has lots of tips for people wanting to get involved with the industry. Number one: “Start making it!
“Find someone who can teach you to sew, or to design graphics to print, or whatever your outlet is. Look into courses at CIT or Megalo; or Handmade Canberra and talk to independent designers to find out how they started.
“Start wearing your garments out to social events; if it’s cost effective, consider taking spares along to things like music gigs to try to give to people in the public eye.
“Absolutely start developing a strategic media presence,” she advises. “If someone hears about you on the grapevine, the first place they’ll turn to find out more is the Internet, so make sure you have something for them to find. Facebook and Instagram are the most popular as visual platforms in fashion; you can develop a website once you start getting more established, and even set up a cheap webstore with platforms like Shopify.
“Consider that starting a fashion label isn’t the only way to access the fashion industry,” she says. “You might like to look into marketing, business management, print-making, pattern-making, graphic design or event management.
“Try to volunteer and intern in as many different places you can until you find something that really clicks with your interests.”
“You’re your own best publicity especially when you’re starting out,” she finishes.
If you’re interested in getting involved, Mieka encourages people to check out the FASHFEST website, and keep an eye out for open applications and volunteer positions towards the end of the year.