Rachel is an emerging artist born and raised in Hong Kong and Japan. Often working with textiles, she creates woven and knitted sculptures, embarking on narratives of empathy and memory. She also teaches workshops for practical mending skills as a way to share the meditative qualities of the Slow movement.
How have your personal values and life experience shaped your work?
When I migrated to Australia in my mid-teens, I had never lived in an English-speaking country before. I was born into a communal living religious group that was fairly isolated, with core values stemming from questioning systemic norms and prioritising an alternative approach. I grew up with hippies and social rejects and was taught that I was lucky to believe in something. Assimilating into Australian life was challenging for many years, but it taught me to have greater social and cultural empathy.
Feeling like an outsider through race or cultural and social understanding has offered a complete freedom from a certain conformity, allowing me to nurture my own definitions of space and vision, which has been a blessing. These experiences are at the core of what I aim to evoke through my work: our connection to one another, our choices, differences, similarities, shared history, and adaptability.
Has your time working as a model directly impacted your view of the fashion industry? If so, how?
From a modelling perspective, you generally enter the industry quite young and, as a result, very much grow up amongst it. I began knitting and weaving, two of the mediums of my personal work, at the same time as I was working on sets as a model. This meant having a very tactile experience with a wide variety of manufactured clothing, thereby learning about the people behind it, where it was made, and so on.
Having a hand-made perspective throughout my artistic practice has allowed me to compare creative processes and consider what it really means to create something: the cost in time, labour, and endurance. These parallel journeys have afforded me an education in quality; they’ve allowed me to see the vast impact the fashion industry has on the world, and how much of a role it plays in the changes we are experiencing in global ecology, economy and politics.
How would you describe your relationship with clothing / the notion of consumption?
Working in fashion, I’ve grown to respect the elevation that clothing can bring to the everyday. It’s incredibly powerful. Clothing quietly illustrates a person’s taste, perspective, and value system. What I’ve come to admire most are people who consciously choose to use clothing as a way to communicate without words. This is now something I consider greatly before consuming.
“The ability to transform something with your hands and a little patience yields a level of connection to the garment or an object that cannot be imitated. When we create this kind of value through sentiment, while also extending the lifecycle of a garment, we expand our personal relationship to our possessions. “
You work with textiles and “embark on narratives of empathy and memory”. Can you explore this sentiment further? Would you say your focus is on the emotional durability of objects / garments?
My artistic practice explores textiles and wearables as a representation of the layers of experience in an individual’s existence; the imprint of the world around us and its relation to our sense of personal identity and relatability to one another. At one point I was very interested in looking at what anonymity provides in terms of freedom of expression—what happens when we are liberated from accountability and fear of misrepresentation.
How can we encourage people to redefine their sense of value, look beyond an immediate price tag and consider longer term cost-per-wear?
I began hosting mending workshops as a way to share simple and practical skills for the everyday. What I like to highlight through my work is that the individuality of one’s effort, no matter its flaws or perfection, evokes a unique kind of beauty. The ability to transform something with your hands and a little patience yields a level of connection to the garment or an object that cannot be imitated. When we create this kind of value through sentiment, while also extending the lifecycle of a garment, we expand our personal relationship to our possessions. This widens our awareness toward their origins, environmental and social impact, and offers a potent trigger for change in the way we habitually choose to consume in the future.
Your workshops teach people practical mending skills; can you explain why extending the lifecycle of garments through mending is important to you?
Beyond its usefulness, what I have come to love most about mending, and sharing the ability to mend, is how much closer it brings us together as a community. We communicate constantly through images and text format, but there is less ‘real time’ in which to play and discover together, especially on such a simple, home front. In these shared moments, and even by the mended item simply existing, we are able to touch on nostalgia, storytelling, humour, and direct thought provocation. Nurturing this space improves our connectivity and insight towards each other in a very real way, ultimately encouraging greater empathy.
What are the ‘meditative qualities of the Slow movement’, and how do you apply the principles of this movement to your life?
Making things by hand, no matter the practice, cannot be rushed. With patience, we must thoroughly follow the steps to form and function. Whether it be with expert precision or because you are learning something new, making “slowly” opens a space of observation, which is a shared aspect of meditation. Through observation we discover a deeper awareness of our personal motivations, style, priorities and thus connect more closely to what we are doing and how it is done. When we begin to think “how”, we come to ask this of many more things, and the scope of our understanding becomes broader and continuously more curious. I use this curiosity to inform my responses to the challenges we are currently facing in terms of climate, excess, and social connection.
“I believe the expanse of the industry as a whole is the issue. Realistically, I feel many businesses will have to downsize in order to really make a difference to their environmental impact, which completely contradicts the mantra of capitalism.”
In the face of the recent bushfire crisis and other environmental events, how are you navigating climate anxiety? Does this inform your work in any way?
The climate crisis compels my work further, because I believe it is contributing to the repair and progress of our community by changing our habitual outlook towards consumption.
What do you feel needs to change in order for meaningful change to occur throughout the fashion system?
For me, I see it beginning with our cultural materialism, which seems to align the idea of one’s property with self-worth. If we could shift from relating our emotional and spiritual needs with material quantification, perhaps the desire to consume so readily would be lessened, and the systems in place would be forced to reassess their methods and key drivers.
Do you see scope for fast fashion businesses to drive positive change in the garment industry without changing their core business model?
The use of recycled fibres has been a start to that positive change, but overall I believe the expanse of the industry as a whole is the issue. Realistically, I feel many businesses will have to downsize in order to really make a difference to their environmental impact, which completely contradicts the mantra of capitalism.
When looking to the future of the fashion industry, what excites and/or daunts you most?
Young people inventing and innovating methods to align sustainable values with design. There are currently so many hands-on makers who are able to reach a global audience through social media, selling their one-off pieces as well as sharing their individuality and unique process. It’s inspiring and ultimately what fashion should be. I’m also heartened by mentorships and traditional craft heritage receiving due reverence and support through fashion foundations such as Loewe.