I recently caught up with Shelly Gow, Kinki Gerlinki head designer, in her Brunswick based studio as her team prepared for an upcoming shoot. Kinki Gerlinki has recently rebranded, so a new look was being shot in their Sydney Road Office, the set being a budget high-school play complete with rodeo-style hay bails, cacti and cowboy boots galore. Shelly was honest and open about what really happens in the day-to-day-life of a designer; the good the bad and the beautiful.
When asked about the average workday, Shelly insisted that her day was anything but normal, “I work with really great people so my day begins with a bit of a chat. The owner of Kinki Gerlinki, Patsy, generally makes us all a coffee and then we do boring things like look at sales, then answer to emails and speak with our suppliers and agents. Patsy is very easy to work for, I can make my own hours as long as the work is done. It’s a fantastic work environment.”
Although her role can be challenging at times, Shelly insists that it is always enjoyable. As Kinki Gerlinki is a small business, the very small budget that it exists on can be difficult to manage, on top of solving problems, such as fabric shortage or fit issues. People tend to forget the balancing act of a designer, and as Shelly started listing her jobs on her counting fingers, I realized just how busy it gets: “My days are really busy and my role isn’t just limited to designing! Depending on the day, I’m range-planning ahead of schedule; or conducting fittings; or helping with a photo shoot, marketing and answering phone calls from stores.”
Shelly’s day involves balancing the book work with the fun and creativity of designing. Kinki Gerinki has a free style that is not possible in other pigeonholed commercial brands and Shelly loves it: “it’s broader than most labels, so consequently I have more freedom in design.”
When it comes to the process of designing, Shelly starts with whatever inspiration is floating about in her head and sketches a few designs down. It’s a haphazard process for most creatives, but Shelly has her own methods: “I might have 5 or 6 designs in my head that I know I want to do before heading to the fabric market in Guangzhou, China. I spend 1-2 days in Guangzhou 5 times per year sourcing fabrics. I bring the fabrics home and spend about 7 days coming up with the complete range.” Shelly designs in a variety of ways, from using old patterns, designing completely new patterns, or even taking a piece of clothing as a base and then altering its design: “It’s very varied, it comes down to the quickest way to get your designs collated.”
After the first design phase, as many as 20 designs are sent to their China factory, with complete specification packs. The factory was set up with past owner Nicole Fraser and Patsy, who are long-standing work colleagues with the factory owner Jacky. Shelly checks up on the factory throughout the year, to ensure that they’re operating in the right way, “We visit Jacky’s factory to make sure every thing is ethical and that everyone is happy.”
But it’s not all fun and games – although KG is adventurous and unique in style, Shelly still remembers to balance her creativity with saleability to ensure that the business succeeds. Shelly understands the importance of the bottom line in such a competitive industry, “I think a part of the reason people shop here is to buy things that stand out, so I have a lot of fun with designing. However, with the recent economic climate, we’ve had to be a bit more careful and consider numbers a little more. Now we might sell smaller quantities of our full sequinned dress and wait until it sells out before restocking our shelves, rather than going over board in the beginning.”
To cope with the influx in online shopping and competition from fast fashion giants, Kinki Gerlinki has recently also begun stocking other Australian labels. Laurel & Hector vintage, Besame makeup products, OKOK stockings and Flower Bird’s succulent plant range can now be found at KG, and keep Shelly just as busy with the added liaising and admin work.
In the short time I spent with Shelly in the Sydney Road office, she had finished my interview questions, traced a pattern, picked final details for the up coming shoot, attended to the computer work, and ensured the storefront was tidy.
Shelly shows just how hard local designers work, as well as the varied, less than glamorous responsibilities that are involved in working in a small business. To read Part Two of Shelly’s journey, sign up to our newsletter for the release of our magazine.
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