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Young alumni stories: Sustaining an artful life

Alumni News

The average Australian buys about 27 kilograms of clothing each year. Around 85 per cent of that ends up in landfill, and approximately two thirds of those discarded garments are made of synthetic fibres that may never fully break down.

Kate Hannah has fun with her models backstage at the The Perth Fashion Festival.
Hannah and her models backstage at the TPFF. Photo: Michelle Maretha

In a culture that encourages consumerism and conformity, it can be difficult to buck the trend and find threads that are ethically and well made, and aesthetically pleasing.

Kate Hannah is a Perth-based designer whose textiles tick all the boxes. Her label, P’JUNK, is rebellious and sustainable fashion sourced predominantly from recycled and pre-loved materials.

“Sustainability and slow fashion are at the core of P’JUNK,” Hannah says. “They’re very important to me as I wanted to do something vastly different to what is happening currently with ‘fast fashion’ – workers being exploited, environmental pollution and extreme amounts of cheap, poorly made garments being tossed into landfill after only a few wears.

“In my work, I use a majority of upcycled and secondhand-sourced elements. For example, tartan from old kilts, denim from secondhand jeans, wool and yarn sourced secondhand and fabric remnants or offcuts.

Three models wearing bright clothing made from denim, tartan, wool and toys.

Secondhand material gets a new lease on life in P’JUNK. Photo: Michelle Maretha.

“I love giving secondhand materials a new lease on life as something different. Turning things that would otherwise end up in landfill into artisanal fashion gives me a great sense of accomplishment.”

Even old toys become wearable fashion in Hannah’s P’JUNK collection, which debuted at this year’s New Generation showcase at The Perth Fashion Festival. Her designs strongly evoke a sense of youth and whimsy (which Hannah says we don’t have to lose with age) and emphasise bold colours, crazy textures and plenty of personality.

“I just love how happy it is!” Hannah says on her vivid collection. “Colourful, fun things make me happy, and they seem to have the same effect on people who view or wear my work! I love spreading that sense of joy.

“I think it also stems from my study of psychology … I have seen some of the less cheerful sides of what it means to be human, and being a person who is very empathetic, I hate to think of other people going through life unhappy.”

Hannah made the decision to switch from psychology to a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Fashion in 2013 after realising that, while she enjoyed psychology, she didn’t want to pursue it as a career. Hannah became hooked on fashion after taking an optional unit in fashion design and illustration during the second year of her psychology degree.

Kate Hannah in a watermelon dress and heart shaped hand bag.

Tutti frutti: Hannah sources her own clothing from vintage stores and other local designers.

“This unit planted the seed of switching courses from psychology to fashion, as I really enjoyed it and found my tutor, Dr Anne Farren, to be a wonderful source of inspiration and knowledge,” Hannah says.

“She was also a great help in assisting me with deciding what I wanted to do with my study pathway, and giving me the confidence to take a chance and switch degrees.”

Hannah entered the fashion course with only basic sewing skills, but graduated with a wealth of design abilities and knowledge, as well as the confidence to break sartorial conventions.

“The fashion course at Curtin is a very supportive environment for pushing the boundaries and trying new creative things that don’t have to be commercially-minded,” Hannah says. “It was through this freedom that I was able to experiment … to find a way of designing that was truly ‘me’.”

Hannah’s designs are especially unique – one of her favourite pieces is a large jacket created from hundreds of handmade tassels sourced from new and secondhand wool.

“It made me so happy seeing it bouncing down the runway!” Hannah exclaims. “Hours of work went into it and I think the time I spent on it totally paid off – it proved to be a real crowd favourite from my collection.”

Two models wearing clothing from Kate Hannah's colourful P'JUNK collection.

Hannah’s pom pom jacket was a crowd favourite at TPFF. Photo: Michelle Maretha.

Hannah is set to launch her online store early next year, and has built a legion of followers through her fashion and lifestyle blog, An Artful Life, which she began in 2011. Hannah says social media can be a powerful tool for independent fashion designers, and she’s grateful she’s had years of experience to build rapport and establish her identity with the fashion community.

“When I’m asked my number one social media tip for fashion designers and creatives, I always say this: you have to create a ‘story’ around your brand using your social media, it can’t just be about what you are selling,” she says.

“Bring in elements of art, literature, pop culture, music etc., that are not directly related to your own work, but that encompass the aesthetic you are portraying through your brand.

“Having those other elements that add depth to what you’re doing makes consumers far more engaged and immersed.”

And her advice on how to make more sustainable purchases?

“Try to avoid cheap and poorly made fast fashion, and instead buy well-made pieces that will last longer, preferably from a local designer to support small business!”

This story is part of Curtin’s Young Alumni Stories series where we celebrate the achievements of Curtin graduates 35 and under. Learn more about the Young Alumni Program.

Alumni Snapshot

Name: Kate Hannah

Studied: Fashion (Bachelor of Arts)

Graduated: 2016

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