“I don’t see the point of creating fashion that has an expiry date.” Adelaide designer Tiffany Stuckey says sustainable fashion means more than the manufacturing process. Every item created for her label Millicent Elizabeth is crafted for longevity and enduring style. “Sustainable fashion isn’t about pieces that you can wear once,” she says. “It’s about pieces you can interpret in different ways each season.”
Her focus is on creating clothes to flatter the wearer. She avoids prints and patterns, favouring timeless, neutral hues. “For me it’s about the cut of the garment – the lines, how it falls,” she says. "It’s not about the print or embellishment. It’s pared-down design.”
Stuckey’s work will be on show during the 2017 Adelaide Fashion Festival, as part of the Contemporary v Street South Australian Showcase. She was also recently awarded a CTF Curated mentorship by the Council of Textile and Fashion. The program offers business development workshops and a series of pop-up events for designers to showcase their work to the public.
“After you establish a label and get things moving, you do get to a point where you need assistance in getting to the next stage,” says Stuckey. “[The Curated Program] is really an opportunity for me to do that.
“It’s been tailored towards helping me develop the wholesale area of my business – which in today’s retail landscape is quite difficult.”
Since mid-2016, Stuckey has worked from a shared space, Studio 303, on Pulteney Street, a stone’s throw from her first solo workspace at The Mill. It’s a simple setup – a cutting table, sewing machine, space for hanging patterns and an antique writing desk – among supportive and fashion-focused company. Fellow clothing designers Mai Loui and Georgia Palmer (of GeorgiaGuy) are also based in the second-storey tenancy, as is make-up artist Amanda Nash, photographer Haley Renee and jewellery-maker Rebecca Minervini. Being surrounded by others who work in similar industries, but with different skill sets and vantage points, is a big part of 303's appeal. "There's great camaraderie between us," says Stuckey.
Every garment designed in her studio is handmade in South Australia. “Manufacturing in Australia [means] you can communicate effectively,” she says. Outsourcing overseas might be cheaper, but it’s often problematic with language barriers, time zones and transport delays all playing a part. “For my way of thinking, you’re just trading problems,” she says. “It’s also employing local people and putting money back into our economy.”
Stuckey places huge value on the speed to market of local production. “I can design something and produce it within a month,” she says. The turnaround for manufacturing overseas (in China, for example) is between 12 and 18 months.
Stuckey’s design process begins with a mood and a point of inspiration. “Generally it starts from geometry or an architectural base,” she says. “This season it’s spiral staircases and the natural spirals that occur in nature – ferns and waves and rolling hills – that curvature. And then I interpret that into the garment.” She is keen to point out the engineering aspect of her craft. “Pattern-making is a science,” she says. “You’re taking a two-dimensional picture and turning [it] into a three-dimensional object.”
Once Stuckey has sketched her concepts, she sews samples and gets feedback from family, friends and keen-eyed colleagues. Often this begins with her partner. “He really doesn’t understand anything about fashion, so it’s good to have him look at it. He sees it purely from a masculine point of view – whether it looks good on a body or not.”
She explores ideas with her studio neighbours, and seeks feedback from her seamstress on the technical aspects of each design. “Self-editing is essential,” she says. “If you can’t self-edit you’re never going to make it as a designer. You can’t say ‘everything is fabulous’ because there are going to be some terrible ideas in there.”
Stuckey’s learned to put distance between creative and business decisions. “Essentially, you're a split personality,” she says. “The hardest part is saying ‘I like the design, but it doesn’t go with my aesthetic [or] it doesn’t suit the brand’, and I have to say, ‘No’.
“You’re telling a story when you’re doing a collection. It’s what you perceive to be the future – or the immediate future – of fashion at a particular moment in time. It’s a science and an art form all at once.”
Stuckey takes inspiration from fashion-photography icon Bill Cunningham, who said: “Fashion is the armour you wear everyday.” “That really resonated with me,” she says, “because you do need something between you and the world.”
For all its perceived superficialities, fashion has immense influence over how we feel, act and are received by the world. A well-fitted garment makes you walk that bit taller, or approach the day feeling more headstrong. It’s the outer layer that makes you feel comfortable in your own skin.
“I get a lot of emails from my customers after they’ve worn [one of my pieces] out, and they say how many comments they got on it and how beautiful they felt in it,” Stuckey says. “For me that’s what it’s about: making the wearer feel more confident, more beautiful and more empowered.”