Gallery owner and curator Sally Johnston has always worked in the arts, largely in bringing the spotlight to rural Queensland and promoting regional artists.
Those in the know will recognise Sally’s name from Toowoomba gallery space, Blockwork. However, it is time to be acquainted with Sally in her new role – children’s fashion designer.
Named Blockwork Kids, her clothing range is designed to be easy and comfortable for play, yet classic enough to transcend seasonal whims and get the tick of approval from grandma. Sally has put a strong emphasis on using quality cotton for the garments, something that already places the range head and shoulders above most kids’ fashion brands.
Sally has always felt a pull toward the fashion industry. “I’ve always wanted to do my own creative projects,” she said. “I had managed other peoples projects over and over again; it felt like the right time.” With two children of her own, it was kids’ clothing that provided the natural fit. Sally’s sister, who works in fashion in New York, advised her to make it a clothing range for ages four to 12, where there was a gap in the market. This is something that has since been confirmed by Sally’s customers.
“I noticed this from my own experience and from talking to lots of other mothers and grandmothers,” says Sally. “Finding clothes that were suitable for kids in that age bracket is really difficult. The quality is often really low.” Sally cited a lot of girls’ clothes designs that looked too grown up, or were made poorly with lots of tulle and sequins, and hardly stood the test of play and washing. The same went for boys, with what Sally called t-shirts with “really violent images on them”. Without being stiff with her designs, Sally is making clothes that are still age appropriate, but are made with quality fabrics and in a style which will last years, not just a season.
Starting a fashion business is no mean feat, especially for someone new to the industry. Sally’s journey has taken her from Toowoomba to India. Through her partner, Sally became acquainted with a small family-run clothing manufacturer in the Indian city of Mumbai. “The process was a really big learning process for me. India has amazing cottons and that’s why we chose to go there and work with a small family business,” she says. “I went to India and it was amazing. I met with the family and all the workers. It was really hands on and it was great to see how it all happens.”
At home, one of Sally’s biggest influencers is her stepdaughter, Harriet, who at just 11 years old loves being part of it all. “Watching the way the kids play is really important. I make sure I have longer hemlines for the girls – they need to feel comfortable when they play and move. Making things they don’t want to wear is useless.”
So far, the public reaction to Blockwork Kids has been great. Sally sells her products online and also at local markets. “I love going to those markets because you hear first hand from people what they think of the product. It has really backed up what I was thinking – people want better quality and timeless styles,” she says.
Words by Alice Thompson | Images via Stan Paytner.