20 Cheeky Questions: Annie Hamilton

Sydney based designer and musician Annie Hamilton grew up surrounded by plants. Whether getting her hands dirty with her mum in the backyard, or exploring her rose collecting grandmothers magical garden, Annie’s childhood was very much connected to the earth. This grounding in green has formed the basis of much of Annie’s creative output, whether she’s capturing the timeless beauty of native Australian plants through illustration and pattern or railing against the ephemerality of the fast fashion industry with her small clothing label.

Annie Hamilton. Image by Isabella Kerstens

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself, and your life with plants? I’m a Sydney-based designer and musician with a love of pattern, small detail and contemporary Australiana. I grew up surrounded by plants. My mum is an avid gardener and my grandma was a horticulturalist and rose enthusiast.

Some of my earliest memories are of helping mum with the gardening, or exploring my grandma’s incredible rose garden. It was a maze of moss-covered stepping stones that twisted through an overgrown plant-filled wonderland. Everywhere you turned there were flowers, fishponds and little ceramic fairies hidden amongst the bushes. The house I grew up in was down the road from a national park so I also spent a lot of time playing in the bush. I’ve loving drawing since I was little and the natural world has always been a big inspiration for me.

Can you also please tell us a bit about your career? You’ve done lots of different things! I spent several years at the College of Fine Art at the University of NSW, studying fine arts, textile design, graphic design, jewellery and photography but I never actually finished a degree as I was touring a lot with my band (Little May) at the time. I dropped out of uni and focused on music for the next few years, touring and recording, while doing freelance design on the side.

I spent a lot of time drawing while on tour – it’s a nice way to pass the time on planes, in airports, in hotel rooms, and it’s also a really nice way to record bits of the different places we visited.

In 2016 I decided to design a couple of silk scarves. I’ve always loved them – they’re the perfect combination of an artwork and a beautiful piece of fabric.  The project escalated when I had a chance meeting with Christiaan who runs the Fashion Production Company – a small studio in Redfern that produces garments for a few different labels. I’d always loved making my own clothes but I’m pretty bad at sewing, so working with people who are actually really good at it and pattern-making has been great! The production quality is amazing. I ended up leaving the band in January, so now I’m focusing on my own projects and doing freelance design work, mostly for bands and music industry organisations like FBi Radio and MusicNSW to pay the bills.

Now, onto your clothing range. Can you please explain the philosophy behind your work?  I’ve always loved fashion, but not in a ‘I-must-be-wearing-the-latest-trend’ kinda way… I see fashion as creative expression; what you choose to wear can say a lot about you, and can also reflect and affect the way you feel on any given day. I admire labels like Romance Was Born and designers like James T. Merry (who designs Bjork’s headpieces) who push fashion into the sphere of wearable art.

With the rise of fast fashion, we are now producing and consuming more clothing than ever before. This is having a hugely negative impact on our environment and the people who are making our clothes. ABC TV just did an installation in Martin Place of 6000kg of fashion waste – it’s basically a small mountain of clothing – with the message that Australians generate this amount of clothing waste every 10 minutes. This is insane! If you walk through a shopping centre you’ll see countless shops offering clothing for $5, $10 or $20 and as there’s constant pressure to keep up with the latest trends, it makes sense for people to just buy the cheap stuff. It doesn’t matter if it falls apart after two or three wears, because it only cost $5, so it’s easy enough to just go buy another one.

What people don’t always think about when buying these items is the lives of the people who made them. If you’re buying a t-shirt for $10 it’s safe to assume that the person making that t-shirt was paid less than 50c and was working in pretty terrible conditions. Considering that approximately 80% of the textile industry worldwide is female, the purchasing of these cheap clothes is supporting a system that exploits women in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia. Documentaries like The True Cost and movements like Fashion Revolution Week are doing an amazing job of bringing this issue into the spotlight.

I started learning about ethical and sustainable fashion when I was at uni; once you know some of the facts you can’t really ignore them. I stopped buying cheap clothes when I was bored on my lunch break (I used to work full-time in the city so this was a pretty regular occurrence) and decided to have a year of buying no new clothes, mainly to force myself to really think about my purchases and whether or not I really needed something and would get a lot of wear out of it. Since then I’ve tried to be a much more conscious consumer, trying to only buy something if I know that the people making it are being paid fairly and working in good conditions, only buying natural fibres, and generally buying way less.

When I decided to start this little clothing label, local production and natural fibres made sense. All of my clothing is 100% silk, digitally printed in Alexandria and made by hand in Redfern. It’s very small scale; everything is made-to-order in small production runs – I usually only make one or two of each thing in each size. The prices are higher than your typical fast-fashion brand, because making things out of silk in Sydney is expensive, but the higher cost of making is worth the knowledge that I am employing people who work in excellent conditions and are paid fairly.

My aim is to design pieces that are timeless rather than trend-driven, and are made to last a lifetime.

My hope is that people will start putting more thought into their purchases and consuming less – maybe investing in one better quality item instead of five cheaper things.

You use a lot of plant motifs within your work. What is it about plants that inspires you? There are so many things about plants that inspire me. They are beautiful, peaceful and resilient. They are constantly growing and evolving and can truly make a space feel alive. I have a lot of succulents and indoor plants growing in my room and I love watching them moving towards the light.

I think I subconsciously anthropomorphise plants a bit. Tendrils remind me of twisted fingers reaching outwards and drooping branches seem very sad. I try to illustrate this feeling, drawing vertebrae made of grevilleas, gumnuts with eyes, and lungs made of native plants.

I’ve always drawn flora and fauna, I guess I just love the details and patterns. I like drawing things that are a bit creepy, like insects and bones, and I try to capture that slightly eerie feeling of being alone in the bush.

The two prints in my clothing collection are inspired by grevilleas, but my drawings are rarely scientifically accurate. I wanted the prints to be dark and mysterious but also beautiful, with a sense that the plants are growing upwards and outwards and snaking their way around the body.

People have been creating floral textile prints for centuries so I wanted to explore this tradition while adding my own mark.

'Lungs', fine art print by Annie Hamilton
Leafy silk shirt by Annie Hamilton

If you were a plant, what would you be?  I think I’d be a Hoya, growing in all sorts of different directions, a bit all-over-the-place.

What cheers you up? The right song, my silly floppy fluffy dog Ollie, giggling about ridiculous things with my friends, a good coffee in a good mug, a few hours spent being working on creative things without pressure.

What is the habit you are proudest of breaking? Using disposable coffee cups. They suck! BYO mugs all the way. My sister and I recently started an instagram account to celebrate reusable coffee cups, called BYO Mugshots

What is your favourite word?  Dónde. I can only speak very basic Spanish but for some reason I just love saying this word.

Name a skill you wish you had.  Cooking the perfect poached egg 🙂

What inspires you?  Listening to my favourite album, reading a good book, seeing art, being outdoors.

If you had to make a garden with 3 plants, what would they be?  A flowering gum, cherry tomatoes and basil. So I could eat the cherry tomatoes and basil (yum) while admiring the gum blossoms.

What’s the first thing you notice when you meet a person?  How they respond to that awkward moment where you don’t know whether to shake hands or hug, so one of you leans in while the other one extends a hand, and then the first person puts their hand out while the other person retracts their hand and leans in for a hug… and then you laugh about it awkwardly.

What qualities in people do you admire the most?  Openness, generosity, a good sense of humour.

What would you be doing in an alternate life or career?  Maybe I’d be a scuba diving instructor somewhere tropical. Every time I go diving I have an epiphany that I should quit everything and move to the jungle and go scuba diving (obviously this jungle is near a beach, maybe on a tropical island).

What’s your perfect three-course meal?  Tacos for entree, more tacos for main (heaps of lime, coriander and guacamole) and flourless chocolate cake for dessert.

What is special about where you live?  The morning light in my bedroom.

If you could control your dreams, what would you dream about?  Swimming with dolphins and living in a world made of fairy floss and trampolines.

What’s your favourite kind of weather?  Wintery, bucketing rain or snow, while sitting around a fire, drinking red wine, eating chocolate and feeling snuggly.

How many people are you completely yourself with?  Hmmmm…. I try to always be completely myself, but I’m definitely more reserved when I’m around new people, like a quieter version of myself.

Check out Annie’s WEBSITE and INSTAGRAM . She also has some printed textiles available through The Club of Odd Volumes.


'Pretty Fly' enamel pin set, by Annie Hamilton
X Marks the Spot silk scarf, by Annie Hamilton. Image by Michelle Pitiris