Imagine you’re sitting front row at a fashion show with Professor Jimmy Choo. Now imagine him trying on a shoe that you have designed yourself.
The stuff of fantasy? Well for fashion graduate Mallory Maduka-Ike it was a fantasy that became reality, thanks to a year-long mentorship with the iconic shoe designer – the reward for winning Curtin’s inaugural Fashion Tank competition in 2015.
As part of the mentorship, Mallory flew to Malaysia to spend a month with Professor Choo, following in his footsteps as they attended fashion shows and networking events for Malaysia Fashion Week and KL Fashion Weekend.
“On the first day, we went to at least five fashion shows. And then, over the next two days, it was probably more like 20,” Mallory recalls, laughing. “Just so many fashion shows – and so many good ones!”
Check out Mallory talking about her experience winning Curtin’s Fashion Tank competition and about her experiencing learning from Professor Choo.
A creative heritage
Born in Nigeria to an African father and Indian mother, Mallory moved to Australia at the age of eight. It was here that the future designer discovered her creative side.
“My parents had always wanted me to be a doctor or teacher or lawyer, but when I got to Australia I caught the creative bug and it took over,” she confesses. “My grandmother had owned a clothing store with her son [Mallory’s uncle] back in India, and it was definitely her influence that got me into fashion.”
Under her grandmother’s tutelage, Mallory learned to sew – at first by hand and later on her grandmother’s old sewing machine. At high school she took formal sewing classes and from there, completed her diploma in fashion at Challenger TAFE.
Though her technical skills by this time were strong, her mother’s insistence on having a university degree drove Mallory to enrol in the Fashion course at Curtin.
Hear about Mallory’s experience at Curtin and the conceptual side of fashion design.
Weaving her way forward
It was at Curtin that she discovered her passion for knitted wear.
“I’ve been knitting forever – but I can’t remember where or when I learned how,” she muses. “I’ve just kind of always known, which is strange to say … it’s like a super power!”
Perhaps this super power is rooted in her formative years in Nigeria. Although she confesses to remember little of her time there, she holds a strong memory of braiding hair with friends. It seems a small leap to connect this childhood pastime with the designer’s newfound fascination with chunky textiles and knitting.
This fascination even led Mallory to develop a prototype for a knitted shoe – a piece she included in her winning Fashion Tank showcase and one she took with her to Malaysia as part of a collection of her work to workshop with Professor Choo.
Mallory recalls discussing the piece, knitted with rope, with Professor Choo: “He was looking at it and thinking oh this is an interesting design and an interesting texture and textile. And so he put it on his foot and I just thought – Jimmy Choo is trying on one of my shoes! I have to take a photo of this!”
If the shoe fits: Professor Choo trying on one of Mallory’s designs
If you’re keen to try your own pair of Mallory’s knitted shoes, however, you may have to wait. Although her newly launched MKO label will feature knitted accessories such as bags, a final shoe design has yet to make it into the collection.
“I love designing shoes, I just need to learn how to make them better! Although Professor Choo liked the texture, he thought it was a bit too heavy because it was knitted with rope, and suggested finding a lighter textile – but something that still produces the same texture,” she explains. “But shoes are definitely something that I hope will make up part of my future collections.”
For now, Mallory is focusing her efforts on a mini-collection through her MKO label, using the manufacturing and production contacts she made in Malaysia.
“The mentorship pushed me to actually start what I want to start,” she says. “I think Professor Choo’s relationship with Curtin [as an Adjunct Professor for the University] is pretty special, and definitely provided me with an opportunity that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. I’m incredibly grateful.”