Tasmanian Leonie Struthers is the founder of lj struthers and lj junior clothing, and the force behind the inspirational the maker store, located in the heart of Hobart’s historic Salamanca Place.
Tell us about your interest in clothing and fashion. What was the first thing you ever made and how have you grown as a designer and maker since then?
At home my mother did a lot of sewing and as a child I was often drawn to seeing what I could make from odds and ends of fabrics alongside her. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t take pleasure in making things- clothes for toys, drawing paper dolls, or collecting beautiful things from the garden and nearby … though my aesthetic sense has evolved a little I hope!
How did this passion develop into a business, and when were lj struthers, lj junior and the maker born?
I never lost my early interest in textiles and no matter what else has been happening in my life there has always been a place for appreciating and working with fabric. During several years studying and working in Japan I found myself hand sewing and drafting patterns at the table after dinner, or collecting traditional cloth and visiting museums … It takes time to see the patterns in what inspires you, but once we settled in Hobart, establishing my label, lj struthers, and opening my two stores was probably inevitable! It was a steep learning curve honing my own production methods while managing the businesses (with two children added along the way) but I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Over the years, your range has grown to include women’s clothing, kids clothing, beautiful soft toys, accessories and homewares… Has this growth been a natural evolution or part of a long held strategic plan for expansion, and what’s next?
I think as a designer it’s natural to seek new areas to stretch and grow into, and we’ve been fortunate to have had the long term support of a really responsive and loyal customer base. The last ten years have been such a dynamic time for creative businesses in Tasmania, but the evolution of the maker online and at special events interstate such as Bowerbird are also becoming more and more important to our growth.
All of your products are made from beautiful natural fabrics. What other guiding principles are important to you?
You’re right, the fabrics are the heroes, and always will be – their quality is enduring and a constant inspiration to work with. More generally I’m also motivated by the values of good craftsmanship and all the flow-on effects that that brings to individuals and communities; buying less but of better quality, supporting traditional craftsmanship and expertise, and nurturing new talent. It’s also about appreciating the simple joy that a beautiful hand made ceramic piece or hand woven scarf brings to you in your everyday life.
the maker store showcases your own labels, alongside wares from a range of other contemporary Tasmanian artists, jewellers and designers. Was the idea to establish or support a local design hub and how does it work?
Yes, we’ve loved building relationships with other makers, and it’s a real pleasure to bring together some incredibly diverse and unique products under a similar aesthetic umbrella, if I can say that! Our makers might be as near as a few streets away from the shop, or from communities of artisans in far flung Japan, India and Madagasar. We often seek out one-off pieces that you won’t find anywhere else and we love to see the faces of people as they walk into our tiny shop, in a hidden laneway in little Hobart town, and discover these treasures.
Talk us through a typical day in your life – as designer maker for lj struthers and lj junior, and manager of the maker…
Like most creative business owners I suppose I wear a dozen different hats every day, but it starts and ends with the most important thing; my family. Eating together at the table or outside in the garden (if Hobart’s weather permits) is essential, even if only for a few minutes, and of course to talk through the day’s logistics over breakfast! Then after school drop offs it’s on to my Salamanca studio above the maker where I try to spend time cutting or on creative planning before anything else. The rest of the day is a collage of emails, meetings with makers and talking with suppliers, staff and customers. No two days are the same, which I love, and I’m lucky to have a fantastic, close-knit team alongside me, which enables me to focus on our core collections and new projects. I’m still dreaming about the maker at the end of the day!
Who and what in the world inspire you, and nurture your curiosity and creativity?
The culture and traditions of Japan and the innate beauty of Japanese textiles has been an enduring inspiration for me. Returning to Japan every year is a source of great renewal and I make new discoveries every time I go.
More information, http://themakerhobart.com.au/
Photography by Peter Whyte.