Rachel Matthews always had a passion for clothes.
Being the youngest of four, she was no stranger to receiving hand-me-downs from her brothers and sisters. And for young Rachel, this kickstarted a joy for garment alterations.
"I had a grandmother that sewed and knitted a lot, so learning to use a sewing machine was something that I picked up quite early, as a way of kind of turning the hand-me-downs into something I wanted."
Throughout her early years, Rachel's creative spark saw her altering outfits, whether it was personalising her school uniforms or tailoring her sister's clothes.
"Taking hems up and taking hems down was quite a necessary activity. And just kind of changing the silhouettes of garments, taking the sleeves off, those kinds of things," she shares.
“I sort of always had quite clear ideas about what I wanted to wear and I used to make a bit of a fuss if I was being forced to wear things. School uniform was never my favourite and I was always trying to adapt that to try and be a bit more individual in what I wore."
"I think people were a little bit suspicious because I did start altering the garments that I had quite early. My mum was quite happy for me to alter my own garments. But soon I had people asking me to change things and make things for them once they saw just how stylish I was as a young person.”
Rachel's love for garments paired with a desired to draw meant that a career in fashion was something she always envisioned.
“I've always been somebody who draws and I think either drawing fashion patterns and clothing, or working with existing garments and changing them was something that really helped me find my direction.”
With much of Rachel's childhood spent altering family clothes and partaking in what she describes as “funny little plays and little art projects” with her friends, it didn’t take much convincing for her parents to be on board with her creative dream.
The first step was to go to art school.
“My parents were really supportive, they could kind of see that I'd found my thing. In Year 12, I got a job working for a tailor. My Saturday, part-time, casual job was actually doing the adjustments and alterations to men's suits and tailoring, so my sewing skills started to help me earn some money as well.”
After attending school in Southeast London where she grew up, Rachel packed up to study Fashion Design at Central Saint Martins, where she was surrounded by London’s thriving nightlife.
“I was very much into the London club thing during that time. Friday afternoon at Central Saint Martins was really making your outfit for the weekend. Pretty much everyone was there making something to wear to go out over the weekend.”
Rachel left Central Saint Martins during London's recession, leading to a period of silent setbacks.
There were no companies taking on anyone with little experience. But determined to make it into the industry, Rachel cast her career doubts aside and actively worked on freelance project-based opportunities through friends and broadening her network with up-and-coming creatives.
“I started to get little one-off projects to do things like a bit of visual merchandising, window dressing, and although I wasn't designing then, I was much closer to fashion. I also made theatrical costumes for a couple of big cabaret clubs in London. None of these were kind of my dream fashion job, but it let me use my skills and it felt closer to where I wanted to go.”
Wherever she went, one thing remained constant—her tenacity in chasing her dream.
"I kept plugging away at some of those jobs to build up my track record and get closer to the kind of work I wanted to do. I began to understand the value of my skills."
“I think once I found fashion, once I found being able to say something about my identity through the way I dressed, I knew I wanted to be in it."
As Rachel pursued her passion, she found herself working in the education sector, teaching at Chelsea College of Art and Middlesex University in the UK before moving to Australia and settling in Melbourne.
While leading as Head at Melbourne School of Fashion, Rachel gained her PhD in fashion communication at Monash University—titled Contemporary Fashion Tastemaking: Changing The Shape Of Fashion & Taste—exploring the digital transformation of fashion.
“I came to Collarts after I finished my PhD and the job that was advertised was the Head of the Fashion Marketing program. It felt like an opportunity to step into quite a particular area of fashion, which I think is overlooked often in fashion education,” she recalls.
Over the last three years, Dr Rachel Matthews has built and developed Collarts’ Fashion Marketing and Fashion & Sustainability courses, which teach both the communication and marketing aspects of fashion, alongside the incredible importance of creating a sustainable future.
When reflecting back on the history of fashion, there’s one thing that Rachel wishes she would have known.
“I've always loved fashion because of the change that happens. Every season we're looking at something new. I wish I'd known what a mess of things fast fashion would make of the fashion industry and the problems it would have caused. I wish I'd known that earlier. And I would have worked harder sooner in my career to try and bring on some sustainable practices and to in some way, try and counter the damage that fast fashion has created for us as we stand here in 2021.”
“Our over-consumption of cheap fashion was something that was really damaging and unhealthy. I think because I have spent so much of my life engaged with fashion, I don't want to get to the end of my career and find myself working in a field that's causing so much environmental damage."
"It was that realisation that there are lots of people in the fashion industry that are starting to do good things. And I just wanted to be part of that."
An agent for change, Rachel set out to do just that, sharing her knowledge in sustainable practices with the next generation.
Today, she continues to champion slow fashion and looks on with pride, “I've written a number of fashion degree courses in Australia, and I'm super proud of seeing people go through those courses and graduate and go and get jobs in the industry. That's something that I'm really proud of.”
On her favourite thing about the creative industry, she says, "I love the way the creative industries overlap with things like technology. I love the way that new fabrics that are being created for fashion overlap. Science and biology and those sorts of things."
"It's a really rich way to see the world. That growing sense of collaboration between different parts of the industry. It's those sorts of things that I think make it so exciting."