RRebecca Thompson is a vivacious, charismatic, very approachable woman with an endless amount of experiences to share. She’s a self-taught fashion designer who has built a fashion label out of sheer determination and a bit of hard work. Rebecca Thompson shows you how the power of persistence and the love of what you do, can help you to succeed in life.
Purposely choosing not to retail, the Rebecca Thompson label has been sold in boutiques for thirteen years now. She also has an online shop. Her clothes are timeless and very wearable pieces. Over some very French mushroom soup and delicious coffee (at Cafe Amalia in Armadale) Rebecca opens up about how she landed where she is today.
This is one inspirational, Fabulous Femme with an infectious smile.
What is your favourite quote?
My favourite quote is what my agent said the other day –‘You will always look fabulous if you have a hair do!’ It doesn’t matter what you are wearing, if your hair is done you’ll look great. She said ‘You’ve got the hair! Use the hair! When you have your hair done you’ll never look terrible. It always helps.
What does your typical work day involve?
I’m up at 7am. I get my little boy (2yrs old) ready for his day. He goes to childcare 3 days a week. I’m at the warehouse in Richmond by 9am or I might work at home in Toorak. I’ll finish work at about 4.30pm. Most days I’m in a pair of pants and t-shirt doing hands on stuff in the warehouse. Three times a year I go to India. Over there I actually live with the people I work with, in their homes! With my son, I only want to be away for two weeks at a time. This is the time I have to get my collection together.
What made you want to get into fashion design and how did you get started?
I have been designing dresses since I was 5yrs old. I was forced to go to mass every Sunday, which I hated, so I sat there and designed wedding dresses during mass. My first freelance job was to design a gothic wedding dress – it was a bit scary, like Morticia’s (from the Adams Family), with long sleeves and cobwebs.
A girlfriend and I started by selling painted pots at the Camberwell Markets. We only sold one! We saw that other stalls were doing well selling second-hand clothes and knew we needed to do that! We started off by raiding our own wardrobes, then our families wardrobes. To sustain this, we approached deceased estates and offered to buy bulk lots of them. This was way before vintage was cool!
I was always interested in making money, but more importantly doing something that I loved. When I finished high school I went to Japan for three months. I came back and applied for Fashion Design at RMIT and got knocked back three years in a row! I got into Art and Design there but only lasted four months. I was so out of my depth! The students were super creative and talented and I was just drowning! I then sent out three hundred and fifty resumes in one week for jobs in fashion. It took me a long time to get a job, maybe due to my size back then. I was a size 22.
I got a job as an agent, selling other people’s labels. I worked in production, then moved into other various roles which helped me move forward. Then I started freelance design. By the time I started my own label, I had been designing for another label for two years. I did a lot of work in India for them, seeing the designs go from production through to sales which gave me the knowledge I needed to start my own label.
My first fashion label was called Swan & Thompson. This was a joint venture with my best friend, Chrissie Swan, when we were aged about twenty two or twenty three. We designed for women size sixteen plus. We relaunched the Swan & Thompson label for one season last year, but it’s on hold again now.
Where do you look for inspiration for your collections? What are your designs influenced by?
I do look at fashion forecasts through to street level (what people are wearing). I then see how I can convert it to wearable pieces. After that I head to India. That’s how the process works for me.
My design process does not involve the current trends. I like to go my own direction.
I try to design pieces which are wearable and not scary! Value for money pieces which can be worn in many ways.
Who are your favourite designers and why?
Right now I just love what Eastern Pearson did at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival (MBFF). I love prints and embellishment. You can’t go pass Prada and Miu Miu and other overseas designers for inspiration. It’s not necessarily the brands that I love, more the concepts and designs that blow my mind! There are some really talented, undiscovered designers over in India who are coming up with forecasting concepts and trends. They are the people designing for big labels and don’t get a mention.
Who is someone famous that you would like to be seen in your designs?
I am totally obsessed with Mary Portas, an English retail expert. Obsessed. I’m always fascinated with what’s going on with fashion in England as it eventually arrives here. I’m always listening to what she has to say. I just want to send her something!
I also love Suzie Bubble the blogger. She has a kooky, eclectic sense of style. Last year when she was here, I personally gave her a hand-dyed scarf from my label.
Name the three favourite pieces of clothing that you own?
A vintage leather jacket which I bought from Camberwell market. A hand beaded cardigan which was given to me by my mum. She bought it in Hong Kong in the 70ties. A pair of taupe Hoss Intropia shoes!
What do you love most about your job?
Having an idea and then converting it into a real piece. Love it! It’s the most satisfying thing in the world. Having a dream and making it work!
What has been the highlight so far?
Making it for this long! I’ve been in the business for 13 years now. I always knew I could do it but I’m totally satisfied to know that I’ve made it past 10 years in the business. Last year we lost 12 stores here in Melbourne. It’s a really hard trade so it’s good to know I’ve made it this far.
What motivates you to keep doing what you are doing?
I just love what I do. I wake up every morning and think ‘man, am I lucky!’.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully I’m in the same position as I am right now, but better. We’ve sold to the U.S but we entered the market when the recession hit. We had people like Paris Hilton wearing our stuff. We had lots of fantastic exposure. I’d love to go back to selling internationally. I just want the business to work. I like the idea of the label being known, of people knowing my name.
What’s the most fabulous place that you’ve been to?
I loved Sri Lanka! I loved the craziness of the women’s dresses! It’s so eighties. It’s all the wrong prints put together which makes it so beautiful. I went there approximately thirteen years ago when it was relatively untouched. There were still grottos with Christian symbols here and there. I loved it for it’s kitchiness. That place is really beautiful and inspirational.
I also love India. India always blows my mind!
What do you love about Melbourne?
There’s so much to love about Melbourne! It’s so pretty and the coffee is fantastic here! I have to take my own coffee to India!
What are some words which best describes you?
Colourful, funny, confident, self-assured and happy.
How would you describe your fashion style?
I always want to create a look with a pop element. I want that’ Wow!’ factor. It may just be the shoes – I changed mine three times today!
What is your favourite mood lifter?
Unrestricted time with my girlfriends! There’s nothing like time spent with my girlfriends. Nothing better than going out with your girlfriends for dinner.
Finish this sentence: To be happy, fabulous and successful, a woman should …
…Believe in and love what you do! Get rid of all the negatives from your life and embrace all that you love. I know it’s easier said than done, but you’ve got to try. Life is too short to complain and not be happy. One of my closest friends died of brain cancer at the age of 30. It put things into perspective. I’ve known him for a long time and he always did what he wanted to do. You can change your situation with some hard work.