Niamh Galea challenges Australia Vs the ( Fashion) world
The Sydney-based designer who is teaching us how to think around the Australian ‘cool kid problem’ so this industry can become a place we all want to stay.
Niamh Galea is a young designer who graduated from the University of Technology Sydney in 2019 with a scholarship to Parsons School of Design. After a year of living and working in New York, Niamh returned to Sydney in 2020 due to the COVID crisis. We spoke to Niamh (@ramptramptrampstamp) at the end of 2020, a point in time when she was finding a new sense of motivation and excitement towards making after being pulled out of her New York world.
Charlotte Agnew: Do you believe building a brand is easier here in Sydney than in New York?
Niamh Galea- Since rent prices have been raised in New York, there are barely any fabric shops left, there's only these weird evening-wear fabric shops and Mood which is fucking expensive. There are some smaller factories for making but not really and they're all working with the big brands in New York anyway. I was telling friends [ who run the Melbourne label] Maroske Peech that they shouldn’t move to New York because it’s so expensive and they wouldn't have the same access to what they do here in Australia. When they were speaking about needing to move, it was always in debate with loving and wanting the lifestyle of Australia — we can rent studios that won't cost us the world and still achieve media attention and stockists overseas so what is the point?
Why is it still, that young creatives feel the need to go to these fashion capitals in order to reach success?
I think people think it legitimises them or something, and it's just that thing of this weird 90s idea of the fashion capitals.
If we had a more supported system of development with young talent in Australia, we could inspire and grow more distinctive ideas here that could gain attention from everywhere else.
What is your inspiration for you personally in your making?
I’m starting to realise the core of my practice is looking at subcultural identities, marginalised subcultural identities and slurs in subcultures and trying to create community around those. For example, Ramp Tramp, which is a slur against girls who are obsessed with skater boys that is used by skater boys to demean these women. I wanted to create a subcultural identity for Ramp Tramp so it’s not just a slur but actually its own community. Another example is my interest in subcultures on the internet which are created due to the internet feeling like a safe space, especially for women and queer people; where it’s not safe to try on these identities in real life, it’s chill to do it online because you can be safe. ‘In the Fat community body taboos become part of your subcultural identity — you are proud of your belly and wear really tight clothes that accentuate your fat rolls.
What is your opinion on how ideas are formed and delivered in Australia compared to your experience in America?
I think there is something really pure with the way we think about fashion here. Something I found really disturbing when arriving in New York was that amongst my peers, they were so very aware of the industry at large. All those fashion schools such as London’s Central Saint Martins, London Royal College, Parsons are all so connected. They are all talking to each other in this way that seems almost stagnant where they will speak about other design students, even if they're not at their school, in this competitive and very much formulaic way; communicating ‘this is the type of collection that was successful last year’ and launched their career and then being given momentum to try and recreate that.
With Australians being so removed we are just so pure in our thought processes, we don’t come from knowing a set of references that informed our way of design. We are just really genuinely coming from a place of: what are my ideas, what do I want to make, how can I communicate them, what techniques am I passionate about. Whereas [overseas] there is a process followed by a type of work that will end in success.
This could speak to the education in fashion design as a whole — there is a formula in the way those teachers would communicate to you in how to achieve success: this is what is good and this is what is not good. So how is the freedom in your ideas found then in a place where one type of design is considered better than another?
Do you find with the Australian students that do go overseas, there is a different way of thinking towards creating than other students from elsewhere?
There is almost an innocence that is so powerful because you’ve been so removed so your ideas are built from personal experience and interest. We’ve just been working in our own bubble for so long, we can see things from a more removed perspective which allows us to be more critical of that way of thinking.
I feel it does give a sense of confidence because it gives you an awareness that you have just been doing your own thing in your own way so you feel really okay about keeping on with that mindset. I went there thinking everyone would be coming from the same perspective, but it just wasn’t like that.
What is your forecast to the future of Australian fashion?
I feel like Australia has a cool kid problem. It is such a strong creative community, but it is quite closed. Generosity and openness are emerging more and the realisation of ‘someone else succeeding here doesn't mean I won't succeed here’ and that there is space for all of us. But I think, weirdly, the fact that the partying aspect of life has been removed has put more focus on the creative stuff and the collaborations.
True. That joy that would usually be given to those type of social experiences is now completely towards making.
I feel like Australia is the place to be right now globally, fullstop. I'm excited about doing more collaborations and working with as many people as I can here. Having the sense of leaving in the distant future pushes you and motivates you to work with as many people as possible. I just want to collaborate.