Kelli Wharton, creative director and fashion designer, TALULAH
You’ll never succeed at something brilliantly until you can feel the hunger and you want it badly enough ...
The idyllic setting of Byron Bay, with its turquoise waters and sweeping pockets of green, serves as the daily muse for fashion designer Kelli Wharton. As creative director and founder of sought-after label TALULAH, Kelli spends her days dreaming up delicate threads that capture the essence of Australian style. Founded in 2005, the label is now on the cusp of its tenth year and has plenty to celebrate, having expanded internationally and added both swimwear and high-street lines in recent years. Before local admirers catch the designs flitting down the runway at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival Brisbane (MBFF) on Thursday August 28, The Weekend Edition took the opportunity to chat with Kelli about the label’s early beginnings and her style philosophy.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I wake in Byron Bay to my two sons and husband, and spend most of my day working with my team to create the TALULAH vision.
You grew up in Brisbane but now live in Byron Bay; what do you love about your tranquil pocket of the world?
I love living in Byron as it gives me so much life balance. We have such a busy business but I can then just relax and totally unwind being amongst the Byron vibe, and it’s such a free-spirited place to bring up our young boys.
We understand you were a creative child, when did you first put needle to thread?
I learnt to sew in year 6 and continued sewing throughout high school. A funny thing now is that my husband always jokes that he can’t even get me to sew a button on his shirt!
Have you had any epic sewing fails over the years?
Looking back at some of the hilarious outfits I made when I was young, I would definitely call them epic sewing fails!
You launched your first collection shortly after you finished high school, was your age a blessing or a curse?
A blessing. I feel very lucky to have what I have today. I think my naivety and passion was so strong when I was young – I had nothing to lose.
Your first line of hand-sewn lace tops and silk lingerie was stocked in boutiques throughout Brisbane, how did you go about winning over the retailers in those early days? Were you literally knocking on doors?
That’s about right! I just approached the stores and asked them to stock my designs on consignment, then they started selling and the stores kept wanting more. It was really quite simple, just making things that customers love. In the early days, I had to do everything myself and I knew every customer personally and dealt directly with them. I sold the first TALULAH collection myself and secured 60 boutiques, so they must have believed in me or liked the range!
What do you love about your job?
Prints and more prints, plus all the amazing women who work in our office that help make the TALULAH dream possible!
You’re creative director and designer, while your husband is the company director. Do you have any tips for mixing family and business?
We have a really beautiful relationship, with so much mutual respect for each other’s abilities. The main thing we always do is look after each other, respect each other, and speak with love and kindness to each other, even in tough situations. We plan to be together forever, so nothing is too hard for us to work out. If we keep our love in, our life flows wonderfully. Our little life always comes before work too.
What’s your personal style philosophy?
Always take one piece off, only ever one accessory, and I love a printed dress! When I’m not wearing a beautifully printed dress, I love denim, great tees and mixing back all of our collections casually. I love shoes – I’m totally obsessed – so a key statement shoe is a must with any look. My philosophy though is just be yourself and wear what brings you alive.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received or given?
My father once told me that you’ll never succeed at something brilliantly until you can feel the hunger and you want it badly enough, then – and only then – you’ll be able to create it. I remember at the age of 20 telling my father, ‘I’m hungry, I want it, I’m going to do it,’ and I never looked back. He always told me to never take no for an answer from anyone, and to this day I don’t often take no for an answer, I’m always striving to get what I want across the line. Persistence, drive and passion was something I really gained from him.
What’s one mistake that taught you a very important lesson?
I have to keep reminding myself every day to trust my intuition. When I don’t, I always regret it.
What are your essentials for the perfect weekend?
My family, the beach, seafood, wine and music.
What’s the last thing that made you smile?
My little boys – they’re super cute!
What’s your personal definition of success?
A beautiful balanced life of family, love, creativity, reaching business goals, good health and lots of smiles.
You’ve survived a decade in the fashion industry, nabbed awards like the Mercedes-Benz Lifestyle Collection Award and managed to balance a young family with running a business. What do you personally consider to be your greatest achievement so far?
The biggest achievement for me personally is probably that I’ve been able to do all this by the time I reached 30. I’m really proud that I’ve been able to make my dreams a reality from a young age. It’s amazing to look back over the past ten years while growing this business and the things I’ve learnt and am still learning today. The most challenging thing I’ve actually found, which is one of my greatest achievements, is holding it all together as a woman: being a mother, a wife, a business woman, a friend, and still being myself and being happy, and making all those people around me feel loved and helping inspire them to feel positive in their lives. Becoming the best person I can be is something I’m working on every day.
What does being involved in the MBFF mean to you and your label?
I love Brisbane, it’s where I grew up so I love coming to share our collections. The festival is great to be involved with as it keeps our customers up to date on our latest releases. The MBFF has a loyal following of people who attend every year, so it allows us to stay in touch with all of the wonderful people attending.
What’s next for TALULAH?
I’m working on some beautiful homewares that will be launched in the summer time! I can’t wait!