“I feel every one of the last 10 years in my stitching thumb … my heart is an applique,” Dana Lenko says giggling brightly over the phone from Austin, Texas.
The unisex fleece sweaters have detailed animal appliques, and have become the cornerstone of her brand. They have a strong following – fans love their quirky, easy-wearing design.
Despite moving from Australia to the United States two years ago, Lenko sets aside a couple of months during the Australian summer to return to her home town of Melbourne and work on her signature animal sweaters.
The sweaters are made entirely in Melbourne, and the production process is lengthy and rigorous. Fleece is dyed, milled and cut by hand by local makers in Preston. Lenko then gives her hand-drawn animal designs to her team of embroiderers, who are based in Reservoir.
“The embroiderers say it’s their toughest project each year, but they always tell me it is the most rewarding,” says Lenko. “It gave me chills when [one of the embroiderers] once told me, ‘we’re making art’.
“Most people think it’s too expensive or too hard [to make clothes in Melbourne]. I wouldn’t make the sweaters if I couldn’t make them in Melbourne with my team,” she says.
The community Lenko has created through her brand extends to its wearers.
Each season, Lenko fans vote for which critters they want the limited-edition sweaters to feature.
For this year’s 10th Anniversary Collection, Lenko’s inspiration came from home, and her recent travels in North America. A grizzly bear, puffin, koala, guinea pig and racoon peer out from the comfy jumpers in this year’s collection.
“Giving people the choice has allowed the project to become bigger than just me, which is a really beautiful thing,” says Lenko.
Lenko also produces a range of enamel pins. The current range features a T-Rex, a cockatoo, a sloth and a French bulldog.
Lenko’s limited-edition Animal Sweaters and pins can be purchased online at ilovelenko.com.