Fashion Designer + Art Director / Tigerlily
Tell me the name of a girl that hasn’t googled ‘Tigerlily Swimwear’ in the past two months? Found one? I didn’t think so.
This brand is like the living and breathing barometer of Australian summer fashion. Founded in 2000, Tigerlily has evolved to deliver the ultimate Holiday wardrobe all-year-round; fusing unique textiles, distinguishable prints with a strong ethical and sustainable focus.
My own summer memories are infused with this brand. I strongly remember being dumped by the waves at Torquay main beach, wearing a string bikini in late 2003 (Yes, you can imagine what happened). This #careerstory illustrates so much career advice goodness, but it also gives you a detailed path of how two very different designers got their job at this iconic brand. This interview is peppered with images from the Tigerlily 19 Summer Collection photo-shoot. A collection that both girls worked on… and they are incredible. Well done Tigerlily!
Girl, please meet Sarah and Caitlin….
Hi there, can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
Caitlin: Hi! I was born in Scotland and grew up in a very small, very quiet town in the North of England with nothing in the way of fashion inspiration, so I’m not sure where the drive came from. I was forever trying to make my own clothes so my mum took me to lots of craft exhibitions to get fabrics and trims, she taught me how to sew and knit.
Sarah: I grew up in Sydney on the Northern Beaches. Both my parents are highly creative, and when I wasn’t at the beach, much of my childhood was spent making things. I’m sure they definitely would’ve encouraged me, and naturally I loved it. Whether it was moulding clay, painting or drawing, and as I got older I fell in love with jewellery and photography. From an early age the idea of creating things was so familiar and comfortable, I love that it’s still apart of what I do today.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
Caitlin: I went to my local public high school which was overall a positive experience. I think high school is always going to be difficult to navigate, but from a young age I knew I wanted to pursue fashion as a career so I had a lot of drive and made choosing my electives really easy. Looking back I do wish I had put more effort into other subjects, I deemed chemistry and maths unnecessary for my career path so I slacked off a bit in those classes. Little did I know I would need pi for pattern making!
Sarah: I went to Wenona, in North Sydney. I think I tried every sport and class the school had to offer. In the end, it was the art classroom that you couldn’t tear me away from. My friends and I would spend lunch time hanging out there, listening to music and working on our projects.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
Caitlin: Definitely! My high school had a great arts program that allowed me to study graphics and product design, so I was able to tailor my coursework as a fashion design portfolio. All the uni courses I applied for required an art foundation diploma, which is a year long college course to be completed after high school. As I had studied these specialised art subjects in high school I was able to sneak my way into uni a year early.
Now, I just google everything, but back then it was different, I didn’t know what my options were. My school was great, but they were focusing on more traditional careers that I didn’t have any interest in. It was actually my mum that put me down for Visual Communications at UTS University.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience?
Caitlin: Living in such a small town, there wasn’t much going on in fashion or design but I wanted to be connected to fashion in some way, so I worked in a fashion retail store throughout high school. I had an amazing manager that mentored me, and with her support I ended up doing a lot of visual merchandising and window displays, which was great to put into my portfolio for uni applications.
Sarah: I did work experience for a week at Harper’s Bazaar. I think all I did was send out mail and make phone calls, but it felt so glamorous and exciting at the time. I absolutely loved it!
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
Caitlin: I was super keen to get my career moving straight after high school, I applied for a few different Uni’s with my high school diploma, mish-mash portfolio and crossed my unqualified fingers. Most of them told me to go to college and apply again next year but miraculously, one course did accept me and was at my dream Uni, London College of Fashion. I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of the Arts in Fashion Design and Development. LCF is globally one of the most respected institutions for fashion, and there are a lot of courses that specialise in creating avant-garde, boundary pushing designs, but the course I chose has a curriculum that realistically prepares you for the real world fashion industry. The focus was on pattern making, fabric knowledge and silhouette development, but also made sure we engaged with the marketing, business and the production side of the industry. In my second year, all the classes used real projects where we developed concepts to a set brief, then presented designs to the client – which is literally my job now!
Sarah: I went to UTS and studied Visual Communications. It was a really broad degree that took us across font, web, motion, graphic design. I sub-majoured in photography. I loved being taken across so many different mediums, it really opened my eyes to different opportunities and I learnt skill sets that I still draw on to this day.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
Caitlin: Throughout Uni I continued to work in fashion retail for financial support, but I also was desperate to work in a designer’s studio. I knew it would be difficult to get a foot in the door at big brands, so I did some research and found some emerging designers, then emailed them asking for work experience – nobody turns down free labour.
My course at Uni had the option to take a year out and go work in industry before completing our final dissertation. After a few interviews and a project, I was taken on by Urban Outfitters, completing a 1 year paid internship with them in Philadelphia. This was absolutely the best year of my life, I learned how a commercial fashion brand worked, how to carry myself in a professional environment and met some amazing people in an amazing place. This experience opened a lot of doors for me when I graduated, I moved to Sydney and quickly got a job as a Design Assistant for a company that owned a few fast fashion type brands. Sadly, the place went bust and I was made redundant, which felt devastating at the time but was a great lesson that the fashion industry is so volatile, and you just have to ride with it.
My next job was as Assistant Designer at Zimmermann, this was a very challenging role mentally and professionally, it was polar opposite to my fast fashion experience. I learned a lot about myself, about the industry and about great design. The level of detail in their clothing and the way they design is impeccable, and I had a shift in perspective about what kind of designer I wanted to be. My role now is as Designer at Tigerlily, I’ve only been here about 6 months, but loving it so far.
Sarah: During Uni I did a lot of work experience at Graphic Design studio’s, but I had a feeling I wanted to work for a brand. I started off at Tigerlily as the Graphic designer, taught myself textile design and begun doing some of the prints as well. I then went to Sheridan and designed Homewares for a couple of years, which was an incredible learning experience and was unlike anything I had done before.
How did you get into the job that you are in now?
Caitlin: I have a friend who knows our Creative Director and knew Tigerlily was looking for a new designer. I thought I had no chance, but she believed in me and put forward a recommendation. After a few interviews and a project, the job was mine.
Sarah: I’m back at Tigerlily now as the Art Director. It’s the experience I’ve had along the way that has definitely attributed to where I am now
What is the hardest part of your current job and life at Tigerlily?
Caitlin: The hardest part for me is finding the balance of artistry and commerciality. After being at Zimmermann, all I want to do is mix together beautiful trims and silk fabrics and make everything a bit over the top. Tigerlily as a brand is no plain Jane, but still I have to be smart with my choices, the product can be beautiful, epic designs but they also need to be cost effective and accessible to a wide range of people. I find it easier to design an eccentric, crazy detailed dress with the price through the roof than to design a plain $160 dress. I don’t believe in throw away fashion, to me every piece needs to be special and have a purpose. I’m still learning to compromise, finding easy, cost effective details to add to plain styles, so there’s still an element of something artisan that satisfies my inner couturier.
Sarah: I read somewhere that having too many ideas can be a disadvantage, whereas someone that has only a few ideas learns how to explore them more effectively- as they really make the most out of each one. I am naturally inclined to move from one idea to another very quickly- it’s something I always have to pull myself up on.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job at Tigerlily?
Caitlin: Every day is totally different, and that’s what I love about my job. I usually have a fitting twice a week with our pattern maker, where we have a model try on all the samples to make sure they look the way we envision. I spend a lot of time researching for concept development and print inspiration as well as silhouette ideas. Etsy and Ebay are great resources to find vintage elements that put a twist on an otherwise modern silhouette. Hand sketching is a big part of my job, I probably spend a good 3-4 weeks sketching every season. For me it’s the quickest way to get all my ideas out, and I think evokes more feeling than a computer drawing. Once I’ve finished drawing I’ll piece together the collection, working with our Creative Director to make sure we have a great variety of shapes, prints, textures and price points that will merchandise in store cohesively.
Sarah: No day is ever the same!
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
Caitlin: It might be soppy, but my mum! She has continually supported my career journey from the beginning, mostly helping me knit and picking up all my dropped stitches! I think a career in fashion seems quite frivolous to a lot of people, but my mum never had that mindset, and made me believe I could achieve anything I set my heart on. Even now my mum helps me work on my resume and gives me pep talks before big meetings. I owe her everything.
Sarah: I don’t think I’ve ever had one, there have been so many people that I have looked up to, sometimes for just the smallest reason.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Caitlin: Get sketching, get draping and get sewing! Get paper patterns from a craft store and make your own clothes or pick up some drab old dresses from the op shop and up-cycle them into something amazing. I think it’s important to decide early on what kind of designer you want to be, don’t put yourself in a box but if you love swimwear or tailored suiting then make a point to learn more about these areas – they’re super technical!
Learn about production, marketing, supply chain, planning to inform your design decisions – Fashionary books are an amazing resource and I wish I had them at uni.
Sarah: Keep your mind open and try as many things as you can. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something, but at the same time, teach yourself as much as you can.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Websites: Tumblr, WGSN, BoF, Vogue Runway, Fashion Gone Rogue, Pinterest, Vestaire Collective.
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: I love to check the tagged posts on the Tigerlily Instagram to see what product our customers are buying, where they go and how they style it.
- Favourite Podcast: Guys We F*cked – so real and so hilarious.
- Favourite Netflix Series: The Good Place.
- Favourite all time book/s: For fiction “Pretty Girls” by Karin Slaughter, this novel is quite dark and gritty but so compelling and unexpected. For non-fiction “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari, I highly recommend everybody reads this book, I struggled to get into it in the beginning but definitely persevere, it will change your perspective of the world. Try the audiobook, much easier to absorb I think!
- People: Honestly the love of my life is my cat, Peanut – does that count?
- Favourite Websites: Actually don’t have one at the moment – its Instagram
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: Conde Nast Traveller
- Favourite Podcast: Gucci Podcast
- Favourite Netflix Series: True Detective
- Favourite all time book/s: All the light you cannot see
- People: Those I have worked with.
- Others: Markets and Bookstores