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Charlotte Terry: ANU to New York Fashion Week

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Law student turned fashion student turned New York Fashion Week designer Charlotte Terry has come a long way in a few short years.

I first met Charlotte at ANU’s Woroni student newspaper in 2014. It turned out to be a particularly fortuitous encounter, as Charlotte helped me land an internship at InStyle Magazine, a placement that had helped her clarify her own career ambitions. She told me she had absolutely loved learning about the fashion industry—a very different place to her Law lectures.

Fast forward six years and Charlotte’s The Arlo Studio has just taken to the catwalk at New York Fashion Week.

But what exactly happens between a Law Degree and the world’s most iconic runway? A lot of dedication and hard work, according to Charlotte, who used the opportunity to premiere her new capsule collection created in partnership with fellow designer Julianne Propsting.

We caught up with Charlotte and Julianne to talk about breaking into the industry, sustainable fashion and Canberra’s fashion scene.

When we first met, you were studying Law at ANU and interning in Sydney when possible—tell us when you realised you wanted to devote your time solely to fashion?

Charlotte: The pivotal moment for me was sitting in my first lecture of Property Law. I realised that while the content was interesting, I didn’t feel any spark of passion for the degree, and I wanted to find out if there was a career that was a better fit.

When we met, I was studying law, working as a Paralegal in family law, interning weekly in Sydney at InStyle magazine, organising large-scale events at college and taking short courses in illustration to figure out my direction. It was a busy period!

During that time, I happened to meet the former Head Teacher of The Fashion Design Studio, a design college that has produced some of Australia’s most successful designers—including Dion Lee, Alex Perry, Akira Isagowa, Nicky Zimmermann, Genevieve Smart (Ginger & Smart) and Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett (Romance Was Born). I couldn’t draw or even thread up a sewing machine, let alone sew in a straight line. But I had the drive to try and make it happen. I really haven’t looked back since.

Your short journey from fashion student to designer to showing at NYFW is a huge accomplishment—tell us the story of The Arlo Studio.

Charlotte: It has been a bit of a whirlwind if I’m honest! The Arlo Studio is my brand that I created with my graduate collection at the end of 2018, but my experience with fashion weeks started earlier than that.

In mid-2015 I was scouted by an Australian brand called Saveus to help produce a 32-look runway collection for their show as the international designer guest at Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week. I was six months into my degree and it was the most exciting challenge to be a part of. We travelled to Malaysia for it and the collection was really well received.

Charlotte Terry and Julianne Propsting.

I graduated in 2018, and was sponsored by Vancouver Fashion Week to show my graduate work in Vancouver for their Autumn/Winter season in March 2019. After that, I was lucky enough to be awarded the 2019 Fashion Design Graduate of The Year Award by The Design Institute of Australia.

Then the invitation arrived to show at New York Fashion Week. It’s a huge commitment and as a recently graduated designer, the task seemed gargantuan. Over some beers and pickles, my friend and fellow design graduate Julianne and I decided to take a leap of faith and work it out along the way. In hindsight, maybe that was a bit reckless, but taking the chance has paid off in the most amazing ways.

Julianne: We’d always had so much fun working together at The Fashion Design Studio, so collaborating on a collection seemed like a natural step forward for both of us.

Where do you draw inspiration for your designs? Who inspires you?

Charlotte: Julianne and I have always been conceptual designers, even through design school. We draw inspiration from non-fashion references and try to create a visual narrative to our collections.

Julianne: I think we’ve always been inspired by film, art, social movements… And strong women! We love creating clothing that we imagine people will feel confident and fierce wearing.

Tell us about ‘Gone Bush’, the Autumn/ Winter Ready to Wear collection you’ve just shown at NYFW.

Charlotte: ‘Gone Bush’ is an ode to the transformative experience of the iconic Australian road trip through the bush and outback. It is a 24-piece capsule collection which features deconstructed tailoring and demi-couture.

Julianne: The collection is full of bold prints developed with Emilio Frank Design, and custom knitwear created by the iconic Australian knitwear designer John Macarthur of Purl Harbour especially for our collection.

The Arlo Studio at NYFW. Credit: Kristina Staal Photography.

Charlotte: We’ve tried to balance design innovation with commercial viability to deliver a debut collection that’s unique and interesting to its audience, but remains commercially viable. It’s a lot of fun!

Sustainability is something close to your heart—how do you put this into practice when creating designs for The Arlo Studio?

Charlotte: Julianne and I both love fashion design but will be the first to admit that it is a problematic industry that is actively destroying the natural environment. Textile production consumes a vast amount of water and resources and often uses harmful chemicals.

Julianne: We put our concerns into our design practice by employing minimal waste cutting techniques and in buying predominantly designer dead-stock fabric instead of ordering new fabrics for production.

There is also a lot of paper used in the production of a collection. We’ve estimated our in-studio paper usage at roughly 15 kg for this range. Mid-year, when it is cooler, we have committed to planting upwards of 50 native trees with Land Care Australia to give back way over what we have consumed.

The Arlo Studio at NYFW. Credit: Kristina Staal Photography.

Charlotte: It is also really important to us that we work with people who share a similar ethos. For example, our prints have been printed by Sydney-based company Think Positive which recycles their inks (an uncommon practice in this industry), encourages smaller print runs, and also has their own tree-planting initiative. We also use local makers when we do outsource, so that we can ensure working conditions are fair.

What advice would you give to Canberrans who have always wanted to transition into fashion?

Charlotte: Don’t underestimate the creative potential of a place like Canberra. In terms of a fashion scene, it isn’t overly saturated yet like Melbourne or Sydney.

While it means there may sometimes be less opportunities, it does mean there is potential for aspiring designers to create their own niche and be at the forefront of a local emerging industry.

Julianne: I’d tell aspiring designers that creativity is often as much of a learnt skill as it is a talent. Like building a muscle, it requires discipline and consistent training.

Often you can meet people who are incredibly talented but lack the drive, or work ethic to persevere. Be the person who goes the extra mile and it will always make a difference to your outcome.

The Arlo Studio at NYFW. Credit: Kristina Staal Photography.

Charlotte: What Julianne has said couldn’t be more true! I would also tell aspiring fashion designers to focus on building their technical skills, however, I do think developing people skills is just as essential. Your relationships are everything. Stay humble, build other people up and always pay it forward when someone helps you out.

Say thank you, and treat everyone you meet kindly and with respect no matter whether they’re the intern steaming your garments or an editor who is interested in covering your brand. I can’t stress this enough. In an industry with a lot of ego, it pays not to buy into it and keep a level head.

Julianne: Be prepared to put in a lot of hard work and long hours. The job is often isolating so make sure you have a good support network!

Feature image: Charlotte and Julianne at NYFW. Credit: Kristina Staal Photography.

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