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cassie byrnes is the first local artist to collab with uniqlo and we're obsessed

Hoo boy, we’re rather thrilled for Melbourne’s reigning print queen Cassie Byrnes! She has been tapped by Uniqlo to be the first Aussie artist to design a worldwide UT (Uniqlo t-shirt) collection for the big-time Japanese brand. We chat to the Variety Hour designer about her creative process, her love of journaling and the blast she had bringing her colourful, quintessentially Australian aesthetic to a global audience.

Hi Cassie, tell us about yourself, please. I’m a Melbourne textile designer and I run a label called Variety Hour. We design clothes where the print is really the focus, and we want women to feel really comfortable and confident in themselves.

Describe your aesthetic in a few words. It’s Australiana, but modernised. Colourful, naive, bold and sometimes childlike.What drew you to textile design? I grew up in regional Australia, with no creative influences in my life. I was just a really weird, creative kid, who had a lot of ideas and loved experimenting. I thought I’d go into interior design, until I read about women weavers and textile artists of the Bauhaus movement in the early 20th century. I saw their pictures in an online article and felt really connected to them. They weren't fashion designers; they looked a bit daggy – kind of like I was. For me, textile design was the perfect marriage of design, craft and art.

How did your collab with Uniqlo come to be? They emailed me at the start of 2020. I thought it couldn’t be real, that it might be a scam. That’s just me; I never get my hopes up. Then I thought maybe they’d want me to design one t-shirt, but they wanted an entire collection. I couldn't believe it.How does designing for a huge global brand compare to your work for Variety Hour? The Uniqlo market is so much bigger. It’s a worldwide release, so the clothes have to work for people in Australia as well as, say, Russia. What I do for Variety Hour might be a bit out there for a lot of people, so I had to go to the Uniqlo store to really look at their customer, and think about how I could evolve my style to best suit them. I really loved that challenge.

Tell us about the range you came up with. It’s inspired by a lot of previous prints I’ve done, but we played around with colours and bringing the scale right down -- at least compared to a typical Variety Hour print, which is huge. I love the orange and blue hero print I call Souvenir, which is so colourful in person. And we had to get my signature protea print in there [the red bottoms]. It just represents me, and I really wanted to share that with Uniqlo.

What did it mean to you to be the first Aussie artist to collaborate with Uniqlo? I think about print designers before me, like Jenny Kee and Ken Done, and their representation of Australian culture. It’s amazing to be able to do that, too, to have designers from Uniqlo in Japan look to me as someone whose work encapsulates Australia, because I have always designed with the Australian aesthetic in mind.Talk us through your creative process. I journal most days. I’m just painting and sketching ideas all the time, and something will spark from there. I’ll take a high-resolution scan of something I’ve painted and play with it in Photoshop. Then I have to figure out how to repeat it, so it can go seamlessly onto a piece of fabric. That’s definitely the toughest part of textile design.

Where do you look for inspiration? Books and encyclopedias are great because they show you things you weren’t necessarily looking for. It’s all about keeping your ideas original. That's why sketching every day is critical, because it just gets your ideas out. I’ll often look back at journals from two years or three years ago and find a new idea there.

What’s your advice for budding textile designers? Stay true to who you are – your style and your aesthetic. It's so easy to get influenced by the noise around you. But if you’re authentic, people will respond.

This colourful chat was presented in partnership with Uniqlo. Check out their new range of tees, pants and dresses with prints designed by Cassie Byrnes in-store and on the Uniqlo website.