Adelaide based Kalila Stewart-Davis started NaMOI at the tender age of 22, when she was still a student at Sydney’s Raffles College of Design & Commerce. Four years on her label has grown to incorporate luxe resort wear inspired clothing, jewellery and home décor, all proudly made in South Australia from natural textiles.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you become interested in fashion and resort wear?
I grew up in the Adelaide hills and started sewing when I was roughly 12 years old, bored in my school holidays. The creative process became addictive, sketching outfits, endlessly flipping through Vogue, sewing and making at every opportunity, spending hours putting together different outfits and sewing.
I recall when I was younger my mother threatening to take me to school in my pyjamas if I didn’t choose an outfit to wear, (a fairly common story). I think everyone can relate to the feeling of being uncomfortable in their clothes.
This has very much shaped my designing process – if it’s not comfortable I’m not wearing it. If you have movement, freedom and comfort, and an overall look that you feel confident wearing then you will always be happier.
I studied math and science in high school thinking this would be beneficial to getting a ‘good job’. Post high school I worked in hospitality, then studied politics for a short period of time.
My first fashion job was working for a dressmaker, and Adelaide labels Yogini Street Wear and George Gross Harry Who. By then I knew that I absolutely had to work in fashion and applied to go to fashion college in Sydney.
You have mentioned that when you were at high school you used your exam study time to check out the latest collections on Vogue.com – Were there any fashion designers, stylists, photographers or models in particular that inspired you back then, and which fashion icons do you follow now?
I used to look at every designer, collate all the looks I loved, and all the design details, and then start sketching. It wasn’t until I studied fashion that I became fascinated with any particular designer.
I love the 1920s abandon of structured garments by the likes of Madeleine Vionnet, Chanel and Paul Poiret.
I also love contemporary Japanese designers such as Yoshi Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo who were part of the deconstruction of fashion movement, using raw edges and non conventional construction techniques, they redefined the way we wear clothes and the shapes we use.
Vivienne Westwood and Hussein Chalayan are also icons that I admire, I love the way they incorporate particular identities and themes into their work.
It wasn’t long after you finished school that you started NaMOI, when you were studying fashion design in Sydney. What were the first pieces that you created and how has the label grown from there?
My first collection was very neutral – beige, pink, white, incorporating recycled textiles and silks. The range was comprised of dresses and tops. Through retailing the range I have been able to refine it into more wearable useful garments in colours and fabrics that can be worn on a daily basis. Gaining direct feedback from customers has been the most valuable part of growing the label and refining NaMOI into what it is today.
All of the NaMOI clothing range is made from natural fibre materials. What is it about these fabrics that you like working with, and how much do they inform the clothing that you make?
People often say when looking through my racks ‘it all feels so good’ which is a huge compliment, I love soft luxurious fabrics which feel great to wear. If you have a solid foundation (textile) for a garment, the finished product will always benefit.
I have actually extended the range to include man-made fabric because they are useful for travel and washing and everyday wear, but silk and jersey are still my favorites.
Tell us about your jewellery and homewares ranges. Are these a complement to your clothing line, and how do the three work together when you launch a new collection or seasonal range?
I tend to make as I sell as this enables me to work with what my customers are buying, and not have an excess of stock that I have to clear on sale. So yes, I produce a small range of cushions and jewellery for the shop that complement the clothing. They tend to be large lounge cushions and wooden or stone beads that lend themselves to the resort wear, boho luxe aesthetic.
Given that you’re someone who used to collect online photos from your favourite international fashion shoots and collections, which image of your own work makes you feel most proud of NaMOI and why?
The first photo shoot I did in Sydney was a big step for me, just handing over that creative control to someone else! Luckily her work was beautiful. Every photo shoot is special and dates your work and I always feel really nostalgic looking back at every photo shoot and garment.
What will you be bringing to the Bowerbird Autumn/Winter market?
A range of winter woollens, cashmere wool vests, woollen ponchos, draped jersey tops and dresses, which are great layering pieces, and basics such as leggings and ponte skirts that look great with winter boots.
I have also been collaborating with a textile designer on some prints exclusive to NaMOI which I hope will be ready for Bowerbird this May.
What’s next for NaMOI in 2015?
I’ll still be retailing from my shop/studio this year, at 29 Glen Osmond Rd Eastwood, open Monday — Saturday, but am also hoping to grow my online shop at www.namoidesigns.com. I am just starting to fill some wholesale orders for other retail outlets, and will be continuing to develop that side of the business, as well as expand the production and online retailing especially in the eastern states.
I would also really like to take a holiday!!
Find out more at http://www.namoidesigns.com/