I caught up with the talented Melbourne-based fashion designer Cathleen Jia over coffee a few weeks ago to discuss her journey with her label ‘Cathleen Jia‘. Aside from being talented, she is incredibly humble and sweet. Read on to find out more about Cathleen and what inspires her.
Tell me a little about yourself and your fashion background.
When I’m not working I enjoy having great coffees around Melbourne but lately I’ve been working seven days a week so life has been very very hard.
I’ve always wanted to do fashion but I didn’t get into fashion design straight away I started doing retail first because it’s such a competitive field and I wanted to just get a touch of fashion. Then I worked along a bridal industry while I was doing retail. After the business closed down, I got a job at Anna Campbell and she absolutely inspired me to do my own thing. Because I’m an odd shape, I wanted to design dresses I wanted to wear, I didn’t think about capital or anything.
Do you follow trends when you design your collections?
I don’t follow trends at all. Lately it’s been one of the hardest things because trying to get stockers and things like that has been hard because the Australian buyer market is very conservative, they don’t like to venture out there and experiment. They just want to buy what they know will work and sell. I get asked “why are you not doing pastels for spring?” but just because every other person does it, what am I offering that is different? And I’m not competing with all those people who want to mass-produce and sell them overseas at xx price; I like to take care of my garments, I make them myself. It’s all about timeless and classic garments.
So how and when did you start your label “Cathleen Jia”?
I started in September of last year. That’s when my business was registered and I had my first photoshoot in October. As to why I started, it was just time to do something for me.
Describe your label, your latest collection and your inspirations.
Cathleen Jia is all about classic, beautiful dresses with beautiful fabrics that drape on the body. Taking inspiration from your screen goddess from the 1940s-1950s, that era when everything was very elegant and ladylike. I want to celebrate the female body, not everyone is a size 6.
My latest collection, High Society, is inspired by the gorgeous Grace Kelly and the movie High Society. I don’t see this collection having a time frame on it.
I also design around fabrics and embellishments. I don’t draw things down, I’m constantly thinking about them in my head. I see an embellishment or piece of lace and create something and design around that feature.
How do you keep the balance between the creative and business aspects of running the label?
I’m a very business focused person to begin with. While having creativity, I don’t just make really beautiful dresses and let my imagination run wild and not think about who’s going to wear this and how it’s going to fit into the market. It is hard because most of the time you just want to put hundreds of meters in a skirt and make that work but then you’ll be charging a client like five thousand dollars for a cocktail dress! You have to set yourself boundaries.
And finally, what advice would you give to those seeking a career in clothing design or fashion in general?
I would tell them to be very thick-skinned, persistent and work hard. If you want to be in the fashion industry thinking it’s going to be glamorous and beautiful and you’re going to be the next John Galliano immediately, forget it. Don’t get into it thinking you’re going to be rich and the next big thing. It’s a very hard industry and not as glamorous as it seems. Be in it because you love it; don’t be in it for any other reason. At the end of the day I work seven days a week, if I didn’t love it I would’ve given up maybe five months ago.