When fash­ion suc­cess is a shirt thing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

WHEN fash­ion de­signer and il­lus­tra­tor Lang Leav sold her first item of cloth­ing on eBay for three times the amount she ex­pected, she de­cided it was time to get se­ri­ous about her art.

‘‘ A lot of shirts were go­ing for $ 20 on eBay and I thought that’s an OK way to make some money,’’ she says. ‘‘ So I sewed one of my char­ac­ters onto a sin­glet and it went for about $ 60.’’

This small suc­cess prompted Leav to put to­gether a col­lec­tion of T- shirts and en­ter Qan­tas’ Spirit of Youth Awards six months later. Her sub­mis­sion won the 2005 fash­ion de­sign cat­e­gory.

‘‘ I thought the award was out of my league,’’ she re­calls. ‘‘ It was a re­ally, re­ally big shock to me when I won it. SOYA has opened up so many doors and so many new op­por­tu­ni­ties that would never have been there. It raised ev­ery­thing to a whole new level for me.’’

Since win­ning the award, Leav has launched her own fash­ion la­bel, Ak­ina, which is dis­trib­uted na­tion­ally through bou­tique cloth­ing and gift stores and sold in Ja­pan, and been awarded a $ 25,000 Churchill Fel­low­ship to study the Hara­juku sub cul­ture in Ja­pan.

Her work - a fu­sion be­tween art, fash­ion and sto­ry­telling that fea­tures images of a char­ac­ter she de­signed called Ak­ina - has an in­ter­na­tional on­line fan base, and she hopes to ex­pand into the Bri­tish and Amer­i­can mar­kets next year.

She cred­its her SOYA men­tor­ship with fash­ion de­signer Peter Mor­ris­sey for much of her re­cent suc­cess, and in par­tic­u­lar for win­ning the Churchill Fel­low­ship. ‘‘ Peter was in­stru­men­tal in push­ing that through for me,’’ she says. ‘‘ He wrote me a re­ally good ref­er­ence and coached me and we’ve just al­ways been in con­tact.’’

Mor­ris­sey helped Leav build con­tacts in the in­dus­try and re­solve ques­tions about the di­rec­tion of her busi­ness, such as ‘‘ where I wanted to head, what were good de­ci­sions to make, who my mar­ket was’’.

To meet de­mand for her work, the Syd­ney- based de­signer and il­lus­tra­tor em­ploys some­one part­time and she re­lies heav­ily on her fam­ily. Leav’s mother helps with the sew­ing, and her brother and sis­ter- in- law help with the busi­ness, in­clud­ing ac­count­ing and ad­min­is­tra­tion. ‘‘ I do a lot by hand, ev­ery­thing is made in small quan­ti­ties,’’ she says. ‘‘ I do the sew­ing and mum helps me. There’s a lot of work.

‘‘ I want to be an ac­tual brand rather than a high fash­ion la­bel. I want to go a lit­tle more com­mer­cial but at the same time still re­tain the niche as­pect of my work. I don’t want it to be very com­mer­cial but to be some­where in the mid­dle.’’

SOYA, she says, pre­sented an op­por­tu­nity to be grasped and ‘‘ milked’’. She adds: ‘‘ You have to take it in your own hands. It’s not the be all and end all. It’s the be­gin­ning It’s not just go­ing to come to you. You have to go out and get it.’’

Show­ing the way: Peter Mor­ris­sey and Lang Leav

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