Alice Payne

Alice Payne is a fashion designer and academic who researches sustainability in design. Her recent PhD project looked at the way environmental issues, such as waste and pollution, are negotiated by Australia's high street designers. She is particularly interested in the design process itself; how design thinking is engaged at each stage of the process, from conception to disposal or re-use.

You’ve completed a PhD about sustainability and fashion in Australia… in a local context, do you think there are distinct challenges that Queensland designers face when tackling sustainability, for instance, in relation to our climate?

Certainly Queenslanders face particular challenges in relation to sun protection with our climate. Of course, this is less about fashion and more about how clothing is worn for comfort and protection. Regarding environmental sustainability, Queenslanders could choose to wear more wool that wears well, wicks moisture from the body (unlike cotton), and is a renewable resource (unlike synthetic fibres that are petrochemical by-products). There are many beautiful lightweight wool knits that can be worn even in summer.

Do you feel that sustainability has become a ‘trend’ in recent fashion design? Are designers approaching this area thoughtfully with a desire for substantial future change, or is this just a passing interest?

I feel that many fashion designers are approaching environmental and social sustainability with a view to long term future change, as opposed to short term trends. Many designers I have spoken with are deeply concerned by the industry’s waste and pollution and the impact on workers and the environment – and even starting with small changes can help. Sustainability isn’t a passing trend for fashion as it is part of a wider movement that extends far beyond the boundaries of the fashion industry. This movement is a response to a set of converging global problems such as food and water security, climate change, loss of biodiversity, global inequality and overpopulation – and unfortunately these problems will impact every industry and individual into the future.

Tell us how you came to be interested in fashion…

For me fashion had always been about the stories and the objects. So as a teenager I loved reading Boucher’s History of Costume in the West and seeing how people dressed over time and why. And I liked making things – when I was fourteen I taught myself to sew and began making patchwork quilts from my family’s old clothes.

Where do you look for inspiration on matters of style?

I take a very pragmatic approach to how I dress myself: what’s on eBay. I search via designers (mostly New Zealander but some Australian labels) who I know will have high quality textiles and finishes, then I limit the search to second hand and to my own size, and then I choose by colour, textiles (embroideries, prints, beading, drape and handle) and details (pockets, seam finishes, buttons). That’s for the special clothes: the more prosaic ones are found by serendipity in op-shops!

What is your most treasured dress-related object or memory?

In the 1970s my mother had a pair of bright green pin-striped flares made for her. Throughout our teens and twenties, my sister and I shared them and they were our go-to pants. They skimmed your leg, made you appear taller, were high-waisted, and the colour brightened the darkest day. We repaired them multiple times. And even after almost 40 years, the zipper has never broken. They are a little snug for me now, but one day I’ll pull them out for my daughter to wear!

Give us three words, people or places you associate with Queensland fashion…

I’m a relative newcomer to Queensland, and I live on the Gold Coast. So I’d say Paula Stafford bikinis, Billabong surfwear and the beach.

Is there such a thing as a distinct Queensland style?

No, I don’t think so. From my observations, the majority of Queenslanders are dressed by the same Australia-wide retail chains as any other part of Australia. But there may be some truth in the usual Queensland clichés about relaxed living and a warm climate influencing a preference for casual dress and brighter colours – I don’t know!

Alice in installation space of her work with Daniel McGuiness, Pieced Room, 1998, comprising 2000+ fabric and paper hexagons
Alice in installation space of her work with Daniel McGuiness, Pieced Room, 1998, comprising 2000+ fabric and paper hexagons
 Alice’s mother Anne on her voyage to Japan, c. 1973
Alice’s mother Anne on her voyage to Japan, c. 1973
Alice with her father and sister, c. 1984
Alice with her father and sister, c. 1984
Alice Payne, c. 1999
Alice Payne, c. 1999
Alice’s sister Priscilla, aged 16, wearing their mum’s flares
Alice’s sister Priscilla, aged 16, wearing their mum’s flares
Alice Payne, sketch of Mum's flares, 2013
Alice Payne, sketch of Mum's flares, 2013

Published in , on November 19, 2013.