Sharnee Thorpe grew up in the seaside village of Hastings Point, 25 minutes north of Byron Bay and nestled in between Pottsville Beach and Cabarita. Hastings Point is adored by streams of holiday makers who take to the caravan park each year during summer to enjoy the surf and sun at Hastings Creek with their families. It’s a tiny oasis - the perfect picture of Australian beach culture. For the rest of the year, Hastings remains relatively quiet, giving locals like Sharnee boundless time to explore and appreciate their enviable little piece of paradise. "My childhood was spent outside running on the beach with our dog, gardening, or paddling around in canoes in the backyard," she says.
Now based in Sydney, it’s only natural that Sharnee’s humble beginnings in beautiful Northern New South Wales have given her work a signature bohemian aesthetic and exciting creative style, now sought after by many industry professionals. "I think growing up in such a small place really inspired me to get out and explore more of the world, which opened my eyes up the endless possibilities of what I could do with my life," she relates. Her designs have now been interpreted into garments shown in Elle Magazine, Vogue and Marie Claire and have graced international catwalks. Her work has been used by some of Australia’s most popular up-and-coming labels, including Steele, Sabo Skirt and Peony Swimwear and by household names like Sportsgirl and Lee Australia.
Emily. You are obviously a highly creative person and a very talented artist. How did you make the decision to incorporate your artistic talent with fashion and pursue a career in textile design?
Sharnee. Since I was a little girl I can remember drawing and painting birds with my artist Grandma. My Mum and both of my Grandmas were amazing at sewing so I used to spend hours playing in their sewing rooms making everything I could out of the amazing fabrics. School was always about the creative subjects for me - art, dance and marine studies… I think that's the only thing that got me through! My family were very open to whatever I wanted to do and never put pressure on me to go to university. After leaving school I did two snow seasons and a bit of traveling, mostly working in hospitality. I realised that I really didn’t want to work in hospitality for the rest of my life, so studying something creative was the next step.
I first studied Design Fundamentals at North Coast TAFE in Kingscliff to find out what kind of design was going to suite me best. This is where I found out about Textile design. I then looked into courses for Textile Design. RMIT was the only school in Australia to offer a degree in Textile Design, so I moved to Melbourne. It's quite a sought-after school and hard to get into as they only take 30 students a year. I worked really hard to get together a great portfolio. I even made my own portfolio folder out of painted silk and resin (a surfboard shaper friend helped). I was so glad to be accepted because I didn’t have a plan B - my heart was set on this school! I always wanted to be an artist but a lot of artists end up as art teachers. I didn’t really feel that was for me. So now I’m a artist for fashion labels! I feel very blessed being able to draw and paint every day and seeing my artwork walk down the street never gets old.
Emily. Consumers never really get to see all of the different aspects that go into creating the clothes we wear. People are obviously familiar with fashion and garment design and the idea that somebody designed our clothes. It's not often though that we go deeper and consider what went into creating the prints on those clothes. Can you talk us through a typical day for a textile designer?
Sharnee. I completely agree, nobody really knows that my job exists! As a full time freelancer my day starts off quite slow. I’m not a great morning person ... I’m still trying to work on that! I normally start by replying to emails, checking my to do list, or re-writing it, as it can sometimes be two pages long! I then prioritise what work is due first as most people in the fashion industry are running behind and I need to get the prints to them ASAP! I normally paint or draw up the elements for the design, then scan them in and complete the print in Photoshop, playing with colour, layout and scale.
Managing my time has got to be the biggest challenge throughout the day as sometimes you can lose hours to emails when the real fun is the designing. Things can move quite quickly in the fashion industry compared to the art industry. I’m quite lucky because the industry here is so small so word of mouth has really kept me in the job. Most of my work comes to me now through people I have worked with before or friends of that label. New labels are popping up all the time and Instragram has been such a great platform for people to find me. I’m normally working with about five different labels at one time! I find it hard to say no to anyone and take all the work on then try and figure out how the hell I’m going to meet the deadline! My boyfriend is also an amazing drawer so he helps me when my work load is getting a little out of control.
At about 12pm I go and get my daily coffee from my local coffee shop and get my dose of sunshine before heading back to my studio busily trying to finish everything so I can run to my favourite yoga class at 6.30pm. I do tend to work into the night as things tend to take a lot longer than expected and you never know what tomorrow will bring. I do my best work late at night when I can’t be distracted by emails or my phone.
Emily. Where do you draw your inspiration from to continue to constantly create fresh designs and ideas?
Sharnee. People always ask me how I keep coming up with new designs and I say that's the easy bit! Having enough time to do it all is the tough part. I love exploring and traveling so this is something that always keeps me inspired. Being a freelancer has allowed me to be so much more flexible so I can work remotely and design a lot more. It's pretty good lifestyle. My boyfriend and I own an old camper van so we are always going away for the weekend to escape the city and live the quiet life surrounded by nature. I’m always taking photos of flowers, textures and plants so that I can use them in my prints or paint from them. I’m also a bit of an addicted vintage shopper. I love nothing more than rummaging through an op-shop looking for beautiful old dresses with amazing prints. 80% of my clothes are vintage and the other 20% are my own prints! Pinterest is always a great source of inspiration. Before I start a design I always collect other images that will inspire me to begin the next print.
Emily. Who is your favourite artist/designer?
Sharnee. Favourite artists: Illustrator - Kelly Smith, typographer & illustrator Gemma O’Brien and local Byron artist Jai Vasicek. Designers - Roberto Cavalli, Mara Hoffman, Mathew Williamson and SPELL from Byron!
Emily. What's next?
Sharnee. Well I have just launched a little lifestyle label called Wandering Folk. I’m making canvas-printed picnic rugs. They are more like a magic carpet than picnic rug, with large tassels on each corner, a waterproof base and a detailed print designed by me. So between growing this new business and freelancing I’m quite busy.
Feed that visual appetite and follow Sharnee's utterly inspiring Instagram @sharneethorpe