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Interview - Lisa Gorman (+ giveaway!)

Creative People

4th November, 2011
Lucy Feagins
Friday 4th November 2011

Gorgeous new pieces from the Gorman Summer 2011 range

Gorman Summer range (no one does socks with heels like Gorman!)

Lisa Gorman at work in her Abbotsford studio - these shots by me.

I have long been in awe of Lisa Gorman.  I can think of very few more inspiring local creative businesswomen in this talent-filled city.  It is so amazing to think that Lisa started out in 1999 with just a few handmade pieces sold through Fat stores, and no real intention of launching a fully fledged label.  Twelve years on Gorman is a household name, with high street stores across the country and around 140 employees!  It's an incredible and truly inspiring story.  Seriously, how does that happen!?

I visited Lisa in her Abbotsford studio this week, and whilst sifting through a storage box of photos from her earliest collections, we got chatting about this very question.  How did it happen!?  At what point does an fledgling indie label morph seamlessly into an iconic Australian fashion brand?  To be honest, she seemed kind of stumped.  'I don't know!' she said, thoughtfully.  'It's weird... I'm not sure what the answer is... but I think in the end, it really just comes from a complete obsession with sewing beautiful clothes'.

So simple and so true!  Of course hard work and drive play their part in the success of any business, but in the end, it's a genuine passion for making unique and fabulous clothes season in and season out, that, after 12 years in the business, keeps Gorman ahead of the pack.  And to be totally honest, even though there are Gorman stores in every major shopping strip across the country... as a customer I reckon you do feel that obsessive compulsive perfectionism when you're browsing in store.  The brave yet perfectly cohesive colour combos, prints and patterns (all designed in house), the carefully considered accessories - chunky jewellery, fabulous patterned socks and stockings with cute clogs.  That quirky / cool / smart / sexy uniquely 'Gorman' look.  I am not sure it would be such a consistently excellent shopping experience if this brand weren't run by a woman who, in the end, is just completely and utterly obsessed with making awesome work.

I am truly thrilled to interview Lisa today, because she really has been such a hero of mine for a long time.  I'm also SUPER excited to announce that Gorman are making some insanely cute T-shirts for our crew to wear at the The Design Files Open House!   Which may or may not involve YELLOW POLKA DOTS.  OMG.  So. freaking. excited.  Thankyou Gorman!  We heart you to death.

Another reason we heart Gorman is that they've offered a very generous giveaway for one lucky reader today!  To celebrate the recent launch of Gorman's brand new online store, Lisa and the team have offered a $500 online shopping voucher giveaway! Alls ya have to do is leave a comment on this post by 10.00pm this evening, Melbourne time.  A winner will be selected at random and contacted by email.  The giveaway is for online shopping only, and is open only to Australian residents.

UPDATE - wowsers thanks for all your amazing comments ladies (and gents!).  A lucky winner has now been drawn - comment #384 was the winning number - congratulations to Bianca!  Thanks SO MUCH for this excellent response guys!  You are fab.  Every single one of ya. :)

Massive thanks to Lisa for her time and for this super giveaway!   Do share the love by paying a little visit to the excellent Gorman online store!

Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to starting Gorman?

It was an unintentional path actually. I did nursing at the Royal Melbourne Hospital after I finished school, then did a retail / visual merchandising traineeship with bridal couturier Mariana Hardwick, then eventually became a designer with her. During this time I shared a house with the Rachel and Kym who had just started up Fat 52. While I designed wedding dresses, I continued to sew for myself. oneday in 1999 Rach said ‘why don’t you make some stuff for fat?’ and i said ‘ok’ and off it went! I gradually phased out nursing and bridal once I could survive on Gorman alone. It took 4 years of multi jobs.

Gorman has gone from strength to strength since you first started back in 1999!  Did you ever expect to have your own high street stores and a brand that has become a household name?   What were your initial goals for Gorman when you first started?

I had no expectations to be honest. My initial goal was to do the 10 peice exhibition-style collection for Fat, of which there were about 25 pieces of each style all made from almost the same roll of fabric. I didn’t want a fashion business. I couldn’t think of anything worse than comitting to rent, staff, overheads, calculators, margins. Scary.

Once I got to the 3 year mark, (6 collections into it) and had around 50 stockists, I had to make a decision as to whether this was on or off. so I went for on, and it’s continued to be on for the last 12 years. Miraculously though I must admit. It’s a choppy old industry out there, I was untrained and inexperienced in the world of business and sort of flew by the seat of my pants. there’s something to be said for naivety and creativity I believe.

Gorman Spring range - love that cute copper dress!

How is the business structured? –  how many people work with you and do you still play a very hands-on role in the day-to-day running of the business?

I have a staff of around 140 people, mostly being our prized and precious retail staff out in the stores.  I have a small product design team of 3, including myself, a graphics and IT/online team of around 3 and a management / admin team of around 8 people. I’m very hands on, basically directing all creative elements of the business from store fit-outs to product design to branding to promo’s. I spend most of my time directly on clothing and accessory product design which I believe is the backbone of the brand. If the product isn’t spot on then the rest of it is a waste of time. I have excellent support within the business in managing the day to day runnings of the retail side of the business, which is super important when my skills lay naturally with the creative side.

Gorman Headquarters - these shots by me.

Sample shoes at Gorman HQ

What does a typical day involve for you?

Straight into my design office and working with Sarah and Sara on clothing and accessory product. This can be anything from planning the next month (we work on a month at a time) or fittings, or finishes or materials selection or the million questions and approvals and swatches and answers the factories need from us. I speak with Sophie daily about whatever we having going on in marketing, I speak with my business partner David somewhere in the corridor usually, and talk to Freya about colours and units and delivery dates for stock. I speak to Summer about fittings and leadtimes and production joys and woes.

I have a brand meeting weekly with managers from all departments to look at the business end of the stick. Sales figures, staffing, sell throughs, deliveries, re-runs, great stores, problem stores, new stores, VM, PR, store promo’s.. and whatever anyone needs to discuss.

Then I sprint out of the office, down the stairs, out the door and into my car with about 45 seconds to spare until the school bell rings, and always in fear of being one of those bad parents who always picks their kid up last. The other half of my day begins here.

Lisa with Sarah from her design team

How would you describe your own sense of style?  Are you more comfortable in jeans and Converse, or do you always wear pretty things and cute shoes!?

Always more comfy in jeans and conny’s, but in fear of that getting boring I mix it around with lady-shoes, shirts and my favourite... the printed pant.

The printed pant!  Gorman Summer 2011

Can you list for us your top 5 creative resources across any media?

The Sartorialist
Geometric Kapitza (a book of geometric patterns)
Google images (can I say this??)

Which designers / creative people do you admire?

Vivienne Westwood for being a true example of sticking to ones style through the decades.
Marcel Wanders for his knot chair and for all the other brilliant furniture and lighting he comes up with.
Rhys Lee for his beautiful style with brush on canvas and gorgeous use of colour.
Andrew McConnell for food, glorious food.
Pia Murphy for her ceramics.
Dean Angelucci (my husband!) for his ability to hunt down the best vintage french and danish furniture.
Kylie from Obus for her seasonal colour palettes.
Beci Orpin for everything she makes.
Raph for his Beatbox Kitchen concept, delicious burgers included!
Jean Paul Rosette for his way with hairdoo’s.
The Fat girls for representing new fashion for over a decade.
Cameron Brott for his ability behind the decks.
Ben Glezer for his sharp eye behind the lens.
Nest architects for making nice buildings.
Anna Krien for her written word.

What would be your dream creative project?

My dream creative project at the moment is bike decoration.  I think my most joyous creative moment in recent timess was when I did the polka dot bike last christmas. I couldn’t stop looking at that thing and was a bit surprised at how much I loved it to be honest. I don’t own one, it was about making it, not really having it. It was partly because it was out of the usual day to day clothing realm for me. I can’t say it was wildly significant, technically or creatively, in the world of design... it was just cream dots on a red bike.. which is why I still wonder why I was so fascinated with it.

I’m working on another one right now with a slightly more ridiculous pattern... moving on from the dots. You’ll see it instore in december.

Gorman 2010 Christmas bike (a brand new bike design is coming next month!)

What are you looking forward to?

Right now I feel quite content in the present. I don’t think i’m a big into-the-future sort of a person. I can tell you I'm looking forward to my roo-burger BBQ at home tomorrow night, and that I’m looking foward to seeing the new re-furb on the GPO store next month, and that I’m looking forward to those figs on our tree being edible, and for the tadpoles we caught that have just sprouted legs turning into frogs.  I look forward to living in Rome or Paris someday with my family.  Not sure if this is as likely as the tadpoles turning to frogs, but it’s an idea I frequently entertain...

Ooh la la I love this one.  From Summer 2011 again.

Melbourne Questions

Your top 3 favourite shops in Melbourne? (except Gorman!)

Angelucci 20th Century on Smith st, Fitzroy... (of course, he’s my husband)
Tarlo and Grahram on chapel st prahran windsor
Craft Victoria

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Tough, but I would have to say Union Dining in Richmond.  Not just the food but the fit out, the staff, the whole damn lot. I’ve been there a few times now, always brilliant.

Outside Melbourne however (just in case you want to know) is Loam, about 10 minutes inland from Queenscliff, is truly delicious, and in the middle of an olive grove, with a super creative degustation menu of amazing deliciousness. The service was impeccable.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

At home, in the house. Going nowhere, hopefully with no plans. Awesome.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

The best bakery in the whole of the world in fact, Fatto a Mano on Gertrude st, Fitzroy, specifically the chocolate brownie, organic and all.

Another cute polka dot bike at Gorman HQ!

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email