Growing up on a wool farm in rural New South Wales, Therese Rawsthorne spent her childhood shearing sheep and working in the paddocks of her parents’ property. Providing her with ample time to daydream about her future, the experience also taught Therese a tenacity that she would call upon again later in life. Defying her family’s advice that she pursue a career in law, Therese chose to follow her heart and leap into the fickle world of fashion. After stints working in London for Issey Miyake and Oswald Boateng, she returned to Australia with a dream to start her own fashion label. Now, thanks to that rural tenacity, fresh from a critically lauded showing of her self-titled label at Melbourne Fashion Week, 31-year-old Therese’s dream is well and truly a reality … and she’s realised that perhaps it’s time to dream a little bigger.
What was your childhood dream?
My early one was to be a runner. I was set on being an athlete, but once the fashion urge took over that took a back seat. From then on it was all about clothes and I put my head down at school as I had to study all my senior-high textiles subjects by correspondence. I was really determined to get into university because I knew it was my ticket out of the country. Can you describe the moment that you decided to take the leap and dedicate your life to becoming a fashion designer? I think when I really got serious about it was when I sat down and did my first proper business plan – although it wasn’t much chop when I look back at it now! That was when I stopped dreaming about it and thought about what I was going to do in real terms to make it happen. Up until then, it had all been a bit vague and idealised. It was exciting but also quite a scary feeling – there was so much to do! I was really only aware of the tip of the iceberg at that point. If I’d known what I was in for then I would have been justified in being scared!
What has been your greatest achievement?
Being able to support myself through my own business. Quitting each of my numerous part-time jobs was the best feeling ever!
What is success to you?
When I started, I had definite goals, but really my idea of achievement and what’s possible has shifted pretty much every six months since I started the business as I’ve learnt more and more. I think, ultimately, success would be to build an inspiring brand that gives both creative satisfaction and is a vibrant, growing enterprise. And to have fun along the way with it – it’s an all-consuming business so I’m realising how important it is to fit life in there with it.
What has been the greatest challenge you have had to overcome to get to where you are today?
Probably just battling myself – in the end it all comes down to me and I have to have the self-belief and tenacity to do it. It would have been easier to give up at times when there’s been no money in the bank, a stack of bills and no end in sight. It’s really important not to compare yourself to other people. There are a lot of different paths to success, and it’s good to see how others have done it. But, as many as you study, they are other people’s paths, not your own. You have to take your own journey. And really it’s still very early days for me – I’ve passed the two-year mark now but I must admit I still feel like the business is very much a baby. What made you not give up? Sheer bloody mindedness … and really not knowing any better! I think I inherited that rural stamina and ability to hang in for the long haul. Whenever I hit a wall, I always question what I can be doing better. It’s challenging to have your own business but I think I need that level of engagement.
What has been a defining moment in your life?
Quitting a hated part-time job, the day before my 30th birthday. I could not have gotten up the next morning and looked at myself in the mirror if I hadn’t quit. I had never quit anything before; never let people down who were counting on me. In truth, it was the first time I really stood up for myself and said enough is enough.
What fuels your creativity?
I want to get better. I want to design more successfully – I mean make clothes that people love but also are really a part of their lives. I’m not precious about clothes, but I do believe they’re emotional – it’s the cloak we put on to show the world who we are. So it’s an incredibly important thing we do each morning, with what we put on to present to/ hide from/move amongst the world – to express wit, style or something more practical. Hopefully, none of these are mutually exclusive. And besides that I’m never really satisfied. It’s all about the next collection! There are always new things to improve on.
What would you like to achieve with your work?
Creating a balance where creative satisfaction and commercial goals can both be achieved. I would like to build a really successful brand – a brand in the true sense. It takes a lot of different types of creativity to build a true brand – a culture. If I could do that, it would be a major achievement.
What advice would you give aspiring fashion designers looking to emulate your success?
Fashion is a business. Take care of that side so that you can keep being creative – whether that means getting someone in with that expertise or doing it yourself – but you must give the energy to it. Other than that I think it’s really important to be creative and to create beautiful wearable clothes. I think we are in a market that is really receptive to creativity, ideas and good design.
What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? I was very moved by the Picasso Museum in Paris. There is a lot of raw power in Picasso’s work. But probably it was seeing my eldest niece for the first time when she was a newborn. She was so tiny and fine – a masterwork. And to think that my sister who I had grown up with, half murdering each other, had carried her. It was breathtaking.
Who has influenced you personally?
My grandmother Amy, she was very gentle, down to earth and gracious – a very beautiful lady. Also, one of my high-school teachers, Meg. She was incredibly smart, generous and encouraging to me as an anxious teenager who could never get where she wanted to go fast enough. I really held her up as a rolemodel and she was the first really intellectual person I had met. Her grace and wisdom were awesome. Cancer took her at 40 and far too young, but even when sick she never stopped looking outwards to the world. And, finally, my dad. I think the things that made us butt heads are probably the things that I’ve grown to respect about him now. We are
probably similar in more ways than I would have liked to admit at times in the past.
Who has influenced you professionally?
My dear friend Sonia – she was the first to explain to me that a business needed to have systems to run properly. She was very into professionalism at a time when I had only worked for people who ran very ad hoc businesses. And she was incredibly fussy! She used to make me practise cutting pattern-making cardboard until I could get a perfect, smooth edge with no bumps! Not as easy as it sounds. She taught me that there are no real shortcuts. You either do it right or you don’t do it. Also, working for Issey Miyake as a company was an eye opener. It was the first time I worked for a fashion business that said that creativity leads. I know that they’re out there, but it was my first experience of being inside a company with that culture. ‘Let us be creative first then follow on from that’. It is a powerful value.
What inspires you?
Reading, travel, art – but especially the time and space to daydream. Where do you find peace in life? Underwater. Long swims are good for shaking the cobwebs out. Running is a close second. Almost any kind of exercise will do it, as long as you do it to the end! The first time I strapped on my boxing gloves, I practically levitated afterwards. The connection between mind and body is something that is very powerful for me.
What is your dream now?
I’m in a transition phase at the moment, I’m really re-dreaming. I don’t think I actually thought I would make a living out of designing clothes, but it’s happening and so where to next?! I’m really playing with expanding my ideas at the moment and re-envisaging my goals.
What are your words of wisdom?
Thank people; it means a lot.