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A Day In The Life Of Textile Designer, Cassie Byrnes

A Day In The Life

There’s no two ways about it: Cassie Byrnes is a dead-set legend. Remember when we chatted to her for our podcast and told us about the lowest point in her life – that time she only had $10 in her back account after self-funding her first collection, and then her card got declined at McDonald’s drive through? Hysterical. Of course, that was before she became a textile megastar who partnered with Nike to dress Nick Kyrgios and Serena Williams for the 2020 Australian Open, and designed an apparel collection for Uniqlo (out this September!).

Cassie manages her time juggling her textile business Variety Hour, with her 18 month old daughter Lottie by forcing herself to be organised, taking on freelance work in her spare time, and staying up for a night shift where she can truly channel all her creativity. Her schedule is jam-packed and chaotic, but it’s worth it to be able to be able to do what she loves every single day. Go Cassie!

15th July, 2021

Cassie starts the day with her daughter Lottie, who is just 18 months old. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Look at them in their matching Variety Hour get-ups! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

They eat breakfast together and then scoot Lottie off to daycare, while Cassie heads to work. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The family’s cute house! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Cassie wears a dress from her textile label, Variety Hour. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The Variety Hour shop is on Gertrude Street, where they sell apparel, home textiles and accessories. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Chatting with retail assistant Hayley before heading upstairs to the rest of the team. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The walls of Variety Hour are just as vibrant as the textiles within it – and Cassie herself! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The light and bright Variety Hour studio sits above the shop overlooking Gertrude Street! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Cassie manages a team of five: some full-timers and some part-timers. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

They’re currently working on three collections at once, plus workshopping a new homewares range. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

A lot of ‘fabric touching’ happens with the production team to ensure each piece has the right look and feel. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

A super colourful and busy moodboard. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Varuety Hour also has a content arm, so the team spend some time talking about what’s going to happen in this month’s vlog. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Sasha Gattermayr
Thursday 15th July 2021

‘After Lottie goes to sleep, I go up to the home office and start the night shift. I always get my creative work done in these hours because it’s quiet and uninterrupted.’ – Cassie Byrnes

‘I was that kid who was hustling from an early age and had my first “business” at 14,’ says Cassie Byrnes. She even had a ‘very short-lived but very lucrative’ eBay business selling vintage clothes in the early days of online marketplaces.

A fascination with vintage fashion prints spurred Cassie to make the move from Brisbane to Melbourne in 2012 to study Textile Design at RMIT – despite having never been to Victoria before! Luckily – it was the right move. She quickly fell in love with textiles, and threw herself into her studies, working super hard to excel in her course. Then, in 2016, not long after graduating, Cassie launched her own brand, Variety Hour, working freelance on the side to prop up her new business.

‘The year I started my business, my parents were on the verge of bankruptcy after working incredibly hard in their small business for the past three decades,’ she says. ‘It was heartbreaking, but I also knew I was completely on my own, there was no safety net and no one to fall back on. I definitely get my resilience from them. It also taught me that just working hard does not guarantee success, and you have to remain nimble and adaptable to change.’

Today, Cassie manages a team of five people, working from their dreamy Gertrude Street studio above the Variety Hour retail store! In-between designing new ranges for Variety Hour, and managing her retail store, Cassie still regularly collaborates with with big brands, designing prints for the likes of Nike, Anthropologie and Uniqlo.

Cassie has big picture goals for the future of Variety Hour. She wants to get her team up to full-time hours, experiment with new applications like jacquard weaving and embroidery, and do more to celebrate body diversity (VH clothes now go up to size 22!). In doing all that, Cassie sees the domino effect it has on supporting local manufacturing, creativity in the textiles industry, and promoting size inclusivity among Australian women.

Imagine if every day was as colourful as this!

First Thing

I wake up around 7am to the soothing sounds of my daughter either singing or yelling from her cot – my alarm now for the past 18 months.

I pretend I am asleep long enough for my husband to get Lottie up and start breakfast, then I lie in bed contemplating my existence in the world. Eventually I accept my reality but like clockwork it’s way too late and it’s a mad rush to get out the door within 20 minutes (in case you didn’t realise I am  definitely not a morning person). Having once worked a solid decade in hospitality, I will forever be a night owl, unfortunately my daughter has still yet to receive that memo and I have to find a way to function in the mornings.

Morning

After getting into the car and breathing a sigh of relief, I turn on ABC Melbourne and listen to Virginia Trioli on my way to drop Lottie off at daycare in Fitzroy. I usually get sucked into hanging out with her adorable baby friends and chatting to the teachers before grabbing a coffee at Gabriel and making my way to the Variety Hour office, just around the corner on Gertrude Street.

The morning is a whirlwind of emails and planning out the day. I am a meticulous planner (because I am also a meticulous procrastinator) and have forced myself over the years to get more organised.

The team arrives between 9-10am and we gasbag about life, which eventually turns into chat about this week’s production dramas and what content we have on the horizon. Penny and I spend the morning creating content, today we are filming our monthly vlog. We finalise an upcoming photoshoot and go over our plans for socials for the week. Our office sits above our shop so I might head downstairs to check in with Hayley, our shop girl.

Lunchtime

I don’t really eat breakfast so by midday I am starving. I love having lunch with the team so I usually see someone start to prepare their lunch and I tag along for the adventure. Having lunch together means we can chat freely about non-work stuff and we always have interesting convos. It gives me a chance to let out all that pent up conversation that I have pushed down all morning while trying to focus on work.

Afternoon

I spend my afternoon bouncing around working with the team. I spend some time with Jess – our production manager. We currently have three collections on the go: finishing winter and getting the last production run from our manufacturer; sampling our Classics collection; and designing new cuts and finalising prints for summer. There are always a billion things to decide on, from choosing zip colours to how many centimetres we need to take off a sleeve.

I spend time with our designer sarah on our homewares collection, which is a work in progress at the moment. We feel a bunch of fabric strike-offs and look at samples. There is a lot of time spent in the office touching fabrics and discussing details people wouldn’t probably think about. Today Sarah and I had a great chat/debate about what is the perfect shade of olive.

Evening

At 5pm I clock off for the arvo and go pick up Lottie and make our way home. Between 5-8pm is baby/family time and I let myself have that and try to put work aside. My husband has become a domestic goddess since Lottie was born and normally cooks us all dinner. We have a pretty boring but delicious roster of favourites that are quick and healthy. We both play sports so sometimes one of us runs out of the house if it’s an early game.

After Lottie goes to sleep, I go up to the home office and start the night shift. I always get my creative work done in these hours because it’s quiet and uninterrupted. I still have not mastered getting print creation done while at the studio with people around, but I am sure that will come with practice.

I put on some terrible but fab TV like Real Housewives and paint in my sketchbook or work on a new print. This week I am deep into our new summer 2021 collection. I have to be asleep by midnight because anything later I am an actual mess of a human the next day and get nothing done. I wrap up work around 11pm.

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Cassie at the Variety Hour office. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Cassie’s greatest moments of creativity come at night, so after dinner she heads to her home office, puts on some trashy TV in the background and gets to work with her paints and sketchbook. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

An explosion of colour! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Right now I’m listening to, watching, and reading…

Listening: Love a podcast these days. My favourites are You’re Wrong About, How I Built This and The Indicator

Watching: Peppa Pig, CoComelon and The Wiggles

Reading: ‘Who Gets to Be Smart‘ by Bri Lee 

I get my best work done when…

I have the entire day and evening in the studio. I usually do this on a Sunday while no one else is around and all is quiet in the world.

My productivity tool/tip is…

Turn your phone off and put it really far away (like, a different floor of your house). I deleted the email app from my phone a while back now because I read a great quote that called emails ‘someone else’s to do list’. I really try to keep things as separate as possible because my work and home life are so intertwined.

A philosophy I live and work by is…

Be a nice person.

Something I’ve learned the hard way is…

Creativity needs to be nurtured. When you are a creative that also happens to run a small business, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day running of things. I learnt back in 2019 that you need to work a daily/weekly practice into your routine. A time to ponder and experiment by sketching, painting or writing that you can look back on and draw from when looking for inspiration.

Variety Hour’s 2021 winter collection has just dropped! Shop online now, or pop in to their gorgeous shop at 155 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy (open Wed – Sun).

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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 – we would love to hear from you.

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