Kay McMahon

Kay McMahon is a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology, and the Fashion Business Advisor for QUT Creative Enterprise Australia, where she helped to establish the Fashion Business Incubator and mentors early stage fashion businesses. In addition to her teaching roles, she is fashion industry entrepreneur, commentator, and business advisor. She has been integral in establishing and supporting new initiatives for emerging designers, including a student fashion magazine, Frock Paper Scissors, a pop-up design shop, the Fleet Store, and a collaboration between young designers and Indigenous artists, AKIN.

Over the years you’ve been involved in the industry side of fashion, including buying and retail, consulting, public relations, trend forecasting, journalism… the list goes on! How have you seen the landscape change in Queensland in relation to the retail sector, and opportunities for emerging designers?

When I first started working in the Queensland fashion scene I had a consultancy in public relations and worked with various start-up designers who not only had a studio and produced a label locally, but also had a shop front from which to sell. Since then there have been many variations on this theme. However, today most designers try to have as few overheads as possible and many source their manufacture as well as some of their business tasks internationally. Crowd sourcing, crowd funding and online wholesale and retail strategies have changed the way retailers buy from emerging designers. While it has opened up the competition from emerging designers in the global marketplace, it has also opened up the opportunities for local emerging designers to sell globally.

You have a lot of experience mentoring up-and-coming fashion labels. For young Queensland designers, do you think there is an advantage to developing a local identity, or is it better to aim for a more international direction?

It is important that all emerging designers do BOTH. There is a need for designers to address the new GLOCAL phenomonen. They need to have something unique or a specific story to tell while at the same time being able to excite customers globally to buy their label. Today the niche markets that may support new or emerging designers may live anywhere in the world. The other advantage for Queensland designers is that many who have left Brisbane say that they didn’t realise until they left, how supportive the local industry is here.

Tell us how you came to be interested in fashion…

At university I studied History and Communication. The History has informed my love of garments and their connection to important historical, political and social events and the Communication has increased my understanding of why and how people buy and wear clothing. The biggest impact though, was on leaving university and travelling to England where I was lucky to get a job doing public relations for regional Topshop and Miss Selfridge. It was the time of Biba, Hyper Hyper and the heyday of Kensington High Street. I became hooked on dressing and being whoever I wanted!

Where do you look for inspiration on matters of style?

I’m an avid magazine reader from fashion through to lifestyle. Because of my work I also have access to WGSN which is an industry trend forecasting site which always makes me excited every time I open it. I get incredibly motivated reading the consumer trend articles and LOVE to be on the zeitgeist of what’s happening in the world whether it be how, where, why or what consumers are doing to affect their lifestyle. Having said that, I also love the thrill of finding an awesome old garment in an op shop that fits me!

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

When I was involved in Arsenic and Old Lace (a vintage retro retail outlet in Coorparoo) I sourced an original 1920’s beaded dress from the grand-daughter of a woman who had it made in Paris on her honeymoon. In those days I used to wear it to parties and functions………oh they were the days!

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

Sunshine, relaxed, bright

Is there such a thing as a distinct Queensland style?

I have answered some of this in the above question. I am always very aware when I visit other cities that the colours I wear are brighter, I have more summer clothes in my wardrobe and my aesthetic is always more relaxed and casual rather than a city/constrained style.

Kay McMahon and Chiu-Ling Lee, Credcom, featured in The Courier Mail, early 2000s
Kay McMahon and Chiu-Ling Lee, Credcom, featured in The Courier Mail, early 2000s
Kay McMahon (right), ca. 1980s
Kay McMahon (right), ca. 1980s
Kay McMahon (right), selling vintage at a market stall, ca. 1980s
Kay McMahon (right), selling vintage at a market stall, ca. 1980s

Published in , on October 22, 2013.