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A Q&A with Meg Smith, ‘Doer Of All The Things’ at megsmithmakes

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A Q&A with Meg Smith, 'Doer Of All The Things' at megsmithmakes

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Hi Meg! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hello! My name is Meg Smith, the Meg behind the clothing brand megsmithmakes.  

My childhood was the ‘burbs of Western Sydney – perpetual 40-degree summers that never stopped Mum from cooking a roast on Christmas Day. Saturday evenings spent driving to the river in a lime-green Datsun 120Y with too many friends and too few seats. For some reason, there was often a Coles mud cake involved. Once they were on special for $2 – a cause for celebration! These were simpler times. 

I lived in and around Sydney for the first 27 years of my life. I studied Forensic Science because I wanted to be Scully from the X-Files. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much demand for aspiring Scully’s in the late 90’s so instead I landed in clinical research – an excellent career that took me to Christchurch, New Zealand for 10 years.    

Life went along swimmingly until my long-term relationship ran its course and I ended up living with my parents in a small country town as a thirty-something single lady. It was very much like one of those sitcom storylines. I had no job, few possessions and no friends – so I joined the ukulele club, volunteered at the op shop, and scored a job as a local newspaper reporter and photographer. In between gadding about interviewing locals and snapping pictures, I decided to study to be a Librarian. The job took me from that little country town and up to the beautiful Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne, where I have lived for the past 10 years. 

Your business is currently launching – congratulations! What can you tell us about megsmithmakes?

I love nostalgia. I love old objects with lived history and memories. I love lush antique maximalism and 19th century aesthetic. Most of all, I love storytelling. I wanted to express these elements through my everyday wardrobe, but unless I was strolling about in a corset and bustle, it was rather difficult to pull off. 

In 2018, I found myself part of a professional Steampunk trio called The Brass Harpies. I had endless costume ideas but hadn’t sewn a stitch since Textiles and Design Studies in 1990. So, in 2019 I taught myself to sew and soon fell in love with the process of garment design and creation.

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I was sewing most of my costumes and even sold some of my steampunk creations for a while (though it was a rather niche demographic!). Still, I realised there was a gap in the market for beautiful, Victorian-inspired maximalist clothing. 

I came to the conclusion that if I was serious about megsmithmakes, I needed to earn a serious qualification. I quit my Librarian job and took myself off to Holmesglen Fashion School and studied a Certificate II in Applied Fashion Design and Technology in 2021. Since then, I have been quietly chipping away at megsmithmakes, teaching myself all aspects of starting and running a sustainable slow fashion label from scratch.  

Holmesglen instilled in me the critical importance of sustainability across all levels of supply and manufacture. I left with a determination to create an exceptionally thoughtful brand – one that considered my environmental and ethical impact from all angles. I decided early on that I would operate as a made-to-order slow fashion business, using minimal waste design. 

I do this by creating my pattern pieces and artworks digitally, which means I can squeeze something into every little gap in the fabric. The process is also why my garments are sold as sets. When you buy a megsmithmakes design, you buy everything that comes on the one 3m x 1.5m fabric length – the main garment and whatever fits around it, be it a belt, headband, or bag.

Made-upon-order also means that I don’t have fabric or stock lying around as the lovely team at Next State fulfils my orders as placed. Both processes make for a low-waste (and rather tidy) manufacturing process and means that I haven’t had to invest a huge amount of up-front time and capital into creating stock. 

It’s a marathon rather than a sprint, but my latest designs are finished, photographed, and on the website. I am finally good to go! 

What have some of the wins and challenges you’ve had in starting your business?

It’s a good thing that I enjoy the process of learning, because starting megsmithmakes has given me ample opportunity to do just that. I started with an idea and a budget of nothing and have pretty much done everything myself. I knew that if I wanted something done – I needed to learn how to do it. It certainly takes a lot of time and patience (sometimes in short supply) but it’s like that old proverb about giving a person a fish or teaching them how to fish! 

 I recently saw a comment on Instagram saying that a creative business is 20% creative, the rest is business admin with a large chunk of marketing. This is so, so true. You can make all the pretty things in the world, but if no-one sees them, you won’t sell a thing. I am learning that marketing is part art and part science – you need ideas, the ability to transform those ideas into content, and then the data to see whether your efforts are working. It is an area I find interesting but also very challenging and time-consuming. To anyone thinking about starting a brand – keep in mind that creating is a small part of the whole. 

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How did you find yourself in the textile, clothing, and fashion industry in the first place?

As a younger person I was fairly unmoved by fashion, so I am as surprised as anyone to be where I am today. It was through the creation of my costumes that I came to realise our bodies are a walking canvas, and every day we can tell stories through what we wear. Steampunk is an unusual form of cosplay in that your outfit isn’t based on someone else’s character – you are creating your own. You imagine their persona, their appearance, their outfit, even their name, and you bring them to life. 

This is why each of my designs starts with a story, an imagined vignette of something or someone that then inspires the garments. 

My first collection is called “The Antique Botanist” and is based on my daydreams of a resourceful and intelligent woman travelling the world and discovering beautiful new species of plants. Who wouldn’t want to be an Antique Botanist for a day? 

How did you hear about Ethical Clothing Australia and what made you decide to get accredited?

I made the decision early on to start attending industry events so I could learn from people with knowledge and experience. I signed up to every fashion industry newsletter I came across, and within the program for Melbourne Fashion Festival, I discovered Ethical Clothing Australia’s event “The Ethical Fashion Experience”. The event was advertised as a “behind the seams” tour of Melbourne’s Textile, Clothing & Footwear (TCF) industry.  

I knew that I wanted strong ethical and sustainability credentials for megsmithmakes and I was already using the Ethical Clothing Australia accredited textile printer Next State for my fabrics. I bought a ticket, ended up absolutely loving the tour and meeting so many wonderful people, and the rest is history!