She sews. He drums. Taken together, an eccentric fashion label and Australian punk-rock perhaps don’t make sense on paper, but Wendy Ma and Patrick Byron tend to make hay out of their differences.
The couple first met through a mutual friend at a gig in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. They laugh recounting that first night – “Wendy was in a state,” reflects Byron – but the pair already knew of each other from having intersecting circles of friends, and a relationship soon clicked. Three years later, they find themselves living together south of the river in the leafy suburb of Camp Hill.
On a Sunday afternoon they enjoy a brief moment of calm from their hectic schedules. Ordinarily, Byron’s probably on the road, playing drums for local punk band Thigh Master; while Ma’s in front of a sewing machine at home, filling orders for her fashion label, PHT Furry.
Ma’s small studio space is littered with stuffed toys and quirky figurines – a homage to her “typical Asian youth” spent gaming and collecting toys. The sewing machine and a desk sit on one wall, a small rail of samples on another.
Ma studied advertising and fashion, so it was natural to apply these skills towards a creative label that utilises social media and the internet. With PHT Furry she doesn’t deal in seasons, lines or campaigns, but instead looks to craft unique, handmade pieces that tell a story and appeal to those “who don’t mind standing out and appreciate quality over quantity”.
PHT is stocked online at Dolls Kill and Shop Jeen, and has been worn by a revolving who’s who of the Instagram world – thanks largely to Ma’s aptitude for blogging and social media (her teenage blog Panache Halloweentown was part of Vice’s Blogging Network).
Byron comes from a science and education background, but it was his elective music subjects that kept his focus throughout university. These days, most of the music takes place behind the kit for Thigh Master. After a few years of putting in hard yards, the band is starting to gain traction with airplay on Triple J, a spot on the bill for September’s Big Sound and a debut LP due out in October.
Ma and Byron’s relationship has its practical benefits – “I go to his shows and Pat helps me pack orders,” Ma says – but more importantly provides a source of creative support. “It helps having someone you’re so close with, being able to be honest and provide feedback that’s constructive and critical – and knowing that you’re not going to stay mad at each other,” Byron says.
While it would be an easy habit to slip into, Byron and Ma don’t see their relationship as defined by their creative outlets. “Our creative sides are our own personal things,” Ma says. “It’s our little alone time.”
Both work day jobs, slotting in their creative pursuits around the nominal nine-to-five hours – Ma in banking and Byron in the community sector – but they don’t mind. “My dad always told me to have a passion, and try not to make it your full-time work because you might end up hating it if it doesn’t go well,” says Ma.
Byron adds, “It’s nice to have a switch, interacting with people who don’t have a similar background in a creative sense and then finishing on a Friday afternoon and getting excited to go and play a show. A lot of great music comes from resistance to the mainstream, but if you don’t experience that then it’s hard to write about it.”
Ma and Byron feel they could be anywhere in the world, but for now they’re content with Brisbane. “There’s an excellent balance of things to do but then time to do your own thing. I require that,” says Byron.
“If everything’s online then you can be anywhere really,” Ma adds.