Thembie Jila has built a steady following for her Thembekile label after graduating from the Whitehouse Institute of Design last year, creating intricate lace and embroidered gowns that are a step above your average red carpet frock. Deputy editor Lucy Ahern spoke to the vivacious designer about a love for Stella McCartney, chilling out in the Barossa, and the importance of using Australian resources.
TUS: What do you love most about designing?
Jila: I love how you can use clothing as a canvas to create something beautiful, interesting and fun. For the most part it keeps me very calm too. Seeing someone walking around in a piece I have designed is the most rewarding and humbling feeling. I always think ‘phew, they liked it’, and that gets me motivated and excited to create more.
How did you get started in fashion?
I started drawing when I was young and through high school, and played a fair amount of tennis at the same time. I asked my mum to help me make a tennis skirt one day after seeing a Stella McCartney tennis dress I could not afford, and slowly became more curious about design. After sketches and sketches, I applied for admission into Whitehouse Institute of Design and graduated three years later (last year).
Describe your personal style?
Classic, simple and refreshing. I love a bit of embroidery and vibrant white-based prints.
Op shop, high street or luxe labels?
High street and luxe.
Favourite place to shop in Adelaide?
The Birdcage Boutique and Zara.
Who is the designer you look up to most and why?
Stella McCartney. She has a remarkable aesthetic and I admire how she has branched into a different market with her Adidas by Stella McCartney Range. She has also managed to successfully implement her personal values into her business, in particular not using fur and leathers in an industry that’s heavily reliant on these resources.
What are your absolute wardrobe staples?
White v-neck tee, dark denim, a tailored blazer and a watch.
Worst fashion faux pas?
Socks and sandals plus cropped cargo pants.
Best way to relax?
I love the outdoors, whether it’s a day spent in the Barossa or at the beach. The best way to relax is to pair that with sunshine, good food and light music. A good book to read also works like a charm.
Favourite event on the AFF calendar?
The SA Designers Fashion Showcase is at the top of the list, followed by the Norwood Place Parades.
Where did your inspiration for this collection stem from?
A recent collection based on the metamorphosis of butterflies was the basis of this collection; in particular, the different forms, textures and details involved in this particular process. I have used a range of laces that have been deconstructed and recreated in the garments in a different order, and used a lot of hand-stitching techniques to complete the looks.
What are the greatest challenges facing the Australian fashion industry?
I think being six months behind the American/European fashion industry cycle is an inevitable challenge that the Australian industry faces, in terms of creativity. In some cases, this has been seen to hinder creativity within the fashion industry, with different styles seen on international runways recreated here in Australia six months later, to varying degrees.
It’s great to see designers such as Dion Lee, Zimmerman, Willow, Collette Dinnigan etc. who are presenting their collections on an international platform, setting trends and an example for designers to follow.
What will you do if you take out the Best Emerging Designer award?
Sit in the backyard and soak it in for a couple of days, before switching gears to work much harder and faster on the next collection. A little fabric shopping trip might be in order, but I think the most important thing will be to set measurable goals to accomplish by the time Adelaide Fashion Festival comes around next year. Taking out the award would be like taking 10 steps forward, so it would be great to keep the momentum going.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Living here in Adelaide, and working very closely with suppliers and manufacturers in Australia. I can see myself working on building the brand on both a national and international scope, whether its through e-commerce or distributors. I’m excited!
Published at The Urban Silhouette.