Canberra-based label Zilpah tart has been around for a few years now, building a cult following for feminine designs adorned with trademark photographic prints. It would be easy for designer Yumi Morrissey to rest on her commercial success, however, with each new collection she continues to push the boundaries of her practice, experimenting with new fabrics and silhouettes.
We caught up with Yumi after the launch of her latest collection Shoreline which takes its inspiration from the South Coast of NSW.
Leiden: Your photographic prints have always been at the heart of your label. What first sparked the idea to use photographs in this way?
Yumi: The idea to create my own fabric prints was really driven by necessity. I’ve always loved bright, bold prints, but sourcing the fabrics I wanted to use from suppliers that I could reorder from proved impossible.
With the very first print I created, I wanted to represent a modern woman’s environment as the collection was inspired by modern women being warriors, and for me that environment is Canberra. I chose a very iconic Canberra image — Parliament House. When I took the photo, I had no idea how I was going to turn it into a fabric print, but many hours of playing in photoshop resulted in the Parliament Kaleidoscope print. The reaction to the print was fantastic and I knew from that point that I’d found a direction for Zilpah tart. Creating the fabric prints is part of the design process that I really enjoy. It’s possibly even my favourite part.
L: Take us through your design process. How does a new collection come to be?
Y: I usually start with a theme. This guides which photographs I’ll take and use for the prints and, in turn, the design that will feature in the collection. Usually I have to decide on the theme in advance so I know which photos I need to capture, especially if they depend on a season. Once I’ve created the prints I design, sketch and refine ideas, eventually narrowing ideas down to the designs I know I want to use for the final collection. I then transfer the drawings to the computer and place the actual print images onto the designs to see how the prints will ultimately look. This is important to ensure the scale of the prints works on the body. Some lines and shapes can, for example, be unflattering on the body.
Once designs are finalised, it’s time for pattern making, sample making, photo shoots and marketing.
L: Fit and flare dresses are your signature. Why do you think this has been such a successful cut?
Y: The fit and flare shape is a great shape for most women. The full skirt is flattering and feminine and it’s also versatile. Zilpah tart dresses can be worn to work with a blazer, on the weekend with sandals or to a wedding or party with heels and jewellery.
L: Over the last couple of collections you have been expanding your range of cuts and fabrics. How do you approach evolving the label?
Y: I listen to my customers — what they like and dislike, what’s most important to them and what they want. That is also why showing my collections at markets is so valuable. It’s great for talking to customers face-to-face and gathering feedback.
Although I will always keep the all-time favourites, like the T-shirt Dress and Cross Front Dress, I create something new for each collection to keep things interesting and fresh. It can, for example, be a different shape, different details or different fabric combinations.
L: Your prints have featured Canberra and now the South Coast, a second home for a lot of Canberrans. Why is it so important to you to have such a strong connection between your label and your hometown?
Y: My designs are an extension of me as a designer and it’s important for me to be able to tell that story through my prints. It provides a personal connection to the clothing that my customers understand as well. So, it’s not just that they have a personal connection to me as the designer and maker of the clothes they’re wearing, they also have a connection to their home and place.
L: How do you consider ethical and sustainable processes in your label?
Y: It’s important to create clothing that transcends trend-based fast fashion markets. A number of aspects aim to make Zilpah tart a more sustainable option.
- Good quality fabrics and construction. The dresses are durable and made to last. They won’t fall apart after one season, ready to be added to landfill. The designs are also not trend based and so can be worn season after season.
- Each dress is highly versatile. One dress can be styled and worn to numerous occasions, reducing the need for multiple outfits.
- Handmade by the designer in Canberra. All Zilpah tart products are made in my design studio, so ethical production is guaranteed.
- Personal connection to prints. My customers buy these dresses because they absolutely love them. They love the story told by the images on the dress and the connection to home. They therefore treasure and want to keep each piece. They don’t buy on impulse and discard at the end of the season.
L: How would you like to see Zilpah Tart continue to grow?
Y: My aim is to expand outside of Canberra and I’ve had some success already. I know stock in The Collective Store, Wynnum, Queensland, as well as in Design a Space, Manchester Lane, Melbourne. And I’m hoping to expand to Sydney in the near future.
I’m also working on releasing an activewear line, which I’m excited about.