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6 May 2020

Slow fashion is about creating consciously and sustainably; local maker and designer Paula Dunlop epitomises these principles. Known for her eye-catching beaded accessories, Paula meticulously weaves each of her pieces bead-by bead. Using high quality Japanese seed beads and waxed cotton thread, one of Paula's accessories can take up to several days to complete. 

We caught up with Paula to talk slow fashion, and learn more about her material and process-driven practice.

You studied Fashion Design at university, did you plan to pursue a jewellery practice after graduation?

I’d made accessories on-and-off for a long time, even before I studied fashion, but started the jewellery label relatively recently. After graduation I stayed in academia for a time, to complete my PhD, then worked as a dressmaker. I launched the jewellery line in 2015, after a back injury made sewing a struggle (and eventually, an impossibility) but the change opened up new paths and I haven’t looked back, really.

The technique you use to create your pieces is very intricate and time consuming. Can you describe the process, and tell us what drew you to this technique?

I work with needle, thread, and beads. I typically use a particular kind of one-bead netting that is practiced the world over. It’s a neat, simple, off-loom technique. In both my art and my design work I prefer uncomplicated construction, but like to push the processes with different kinds of materials to see what happens. In this way, the development of a piece is always both process and materials-led, so the work tends to be time-consuming both in terms of the experimental, trial-and-error approaches I take to develop the ideas, as well as the slowness of the actual bead-by-bead assembly.

How long does it take for you to weave each piece?

Depends on the size of the piece (and the size of the components). Some might take only a few hours, others, several days. Some of my sculptures have taken months to devise, test and make.

It's clear slow fashion principles are core to your practice with every piece hand-made by you in your studio. What does the future of slow fashion look like to you?

I guess I hope for a slowness or a pause that would allow for a consideration of what we value, and these values playing more of a part in what we look for in a brand or product and how we choose to shop. This kind of reflection is important because ultimately we are all makers as well as consumers, insofar as our purchases, our consumption, our investments are how not only our world is shaped socially, culturally, and environmentally, but also how we shape ourselves. Our choices make us and have broader impact.

How does living in Brisbane influence your creative practice?

I value the DIY spirit of Brisbane’s artist-run scene. I’ve been reminded of it recently, with all the change and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic—the myriad geographic, institutional and economic challenges that have faced our artists through the decades, the histories of our ARIs, and the banding together that happens during times of shared difficulty. Historically, Brisbane artists have been particularly determined and resilient in that respect, and have always just got on with it despite a sense of being overlooked or undervalued. I feel like that spirit carries on here.

And it’s been particularly inspiring for me lately, because it reminds me that adversity can help identify core principles and what is meaningful, sustaining, or worthwhile about your practice in the first place.

How has your style evolved over time and what has influenced its development?

The emphasis is generally on texture and form, so I tend to be drawn to monochromatic colour schemes. I’ve been a bit afraid of colour, actually! Mixing them has never been a strength, but recently I took the plunge and have released a re-interpretation of the BASICS in dual colour-ways.

How has your practice been affected by the current state of the world?

Like most people I’ve taken a financial hit with the closure of most of my stockists, but besides this (and managing the feelings of worry and uncertainty!) my day-to-day life hasn’t changed too much. I work in solitude from my home studio, so I’m well practiced with working in social isolation, and have been taking the time lately to return to ideas that had been put to the side.

Career highlight to date?

Being stocked by Shop Cooper Hewitt at the Smithsonian Design Museum in NYC. I still pinch myself!

Do you have any exciting projects coming up?

I have a few projects in the works — some sculptural pieces in development that I’m hoping to show later in the year, as well preparing some special wearables for release around the same time (subject, of course, to social restrictions!).