What do you get when you combine bold colourful designs with size-inclusive styles? Kablooie of course! This local Brisbane brand features funky multi-coloured prints and oversized yet flattering silhouettes, with sizes ranging from four to twenty-four.
As a lover of all things colourful myself, I couldn’t wait to ask Keneena, the owner and founder of this brilliantly bright brand, a few questions.
What motivated you to start Kablooie?
I wanted to create my own job! I had three young children and I wanted a job with the flexibility to be with them as much as possible, and I felt that a home run business did that the best – I’m never one to back down from a challenge!
I read that you studied business and economics – what made you decide you wanted a career in design instead. And do you find that your business and economics side has helped you with building you brand?
Yes I have a degree in business and applied economics, and I worked in a government department for 6 years in strategic finance, budget negotiations and policy analysis, and loved it! However, I did get sick of the political nature of my work, and I felt there wasn’t much flexibility in the role when I had to come back to it as a Mum. I wanted to do something that felt more REAL and hands on. I have always been creative as well, and I think creativity and business can go hand in hand. I think my degree has really helped me, because I have always approached Kablooie as a professional business first, not as a hobby or a creative outlet.
What does your creation process involve?
It really starts way back with the concept of a fabric design, going through a process with a designer or artist, to bring it to life! I often have a very specific idea for my fabrics, and I create a concept or vision board with sketches, colour swatches, design style and scale. I chat with the designer about what I see in my head, and they then take all those ideas and input and translate it into an actual digital design. We then refine the design – the colours, the finish, the scale of the pictures, until we have a finished piece. It’s truly a collaboration between me and the artist, and this is the part of the process I find incredibly exciting and also nerve wracking. I also regularly research the work of my favourite artists and designers, and if they have finished work that I love, I do often purchase completed designs to use. Once we have a design, I test it on fabric, sew it into garments and make it live on my website. Each order that comes in, my team and I individually cut, sew, check over then send out to each customer.
What is your favourite part of this process?
I LOVE the fabric design stage. It’s incredible to me that the crazy idea inside my head can turn into an actual fabric that people actually wear. So, on the flip side, one of my absolute favourite parts is seeing real people wearing my designs and loving them – it’s a real buzz.
What steps do you take to make your brand more sustainable?
The fact that we individually make to order makes the process slower but immediately makes our process very sustainable, as the number of finished garments we make is much lower, so I have minimal waste. The fabric stays uncut until someone orders, and can continue to be used each season, as I generally make my collections permanent, rather than bringing in something new every month and discarding the old. Once cut, I also use smaller pieces to cut out our famous surprise pockets, for accessories like fabric belt ties, hair scrunchies, and matching kids clothing for my VIP customers. The pieces that are too tiny to use for any of these, we bag up and donate to therapy centres, childcare, kindys and schools for non-profit/non-commercial fun.
Because everything is sent in the mail, we use biodegradable satchels and brown paper to send parcels out in and we try to recycle as much of our office waste as possible, like collecting our soft plastics and popping them in the recycle tubs down at the local supermarket. I think as a business it’s simply about doing your best to be responsible and learning as you go.
How do you choose artists to collaborate with for your prints?
I get many requests from artists to collaborate with me, which is exciting. I particularly look for artists who already love the style that Kablooie is all about – big, colourful, quirky, unexpected, and fun. It is much easier to work with artists to bring my vision to life if they really understand it and it resonates with them already – and doesn’t clash with their own natural style. I also look for artists who are skilled in a broad range of illustration styles and can pivot quickly, as I do have quite a variety of illustration styles in my range.
What piece do you wear the most?
My favourites that constantly come out are my showcase Kablooie print by Ellie Whittaker titled This Is Australia. I have two top and a dress in this print and I LOVE it. I also really love my Faces dress, which was a print that I loved seeing be brought to life as I had a really specific vision for it and it was one of my boldest designs ever when it came out.
What is your favourite out-there colour combination?
I LOVE either orange and pink or red and pink – best combos ever!
If you could design anything, regardless of the cost and time, what would you make?
Probably a full gorgeous amazing two piece tailored jacket and pants set in my most outrageous prints for evening wear!!
What do you want to inspire in others?
I want people to feel really happy in their clothes! It sounds simple but so much of the fashion industry is making people feel like they SHOULD like certain things or wear certain things because that’s what’s IN. I want people to wear things that just automatically make them smile when they see their reflection in the shop window. One of the things I hear most from customers is how many people come up and want to know where they got that amazing dress – day MADE.
What advice would you give to an emerging or aspiring designer?
Understand WHY you are doing what you do and understand WHO you are helping in doing it. For me, the choice of creating fashion wasn’t about making a big statement that said something about myself – YES I took a leap making clothes with big crazy colourful pictures all over them, but ultimately, it’s about really understanding my people and what makes them happy, and doing that consistently, over and over. Find a specific niche. Don’t be vanilla or just try to follow the trends, because your lack of passion will eventually show. And be prepared to dig in and do the hard slog – never be entitled!
What are your plans for 2020?
Keep making colourful and amazing things! I have recently started once a month ‘open studios’ – where people can come to my home studio on a Saturday afternoon and try on samples to work out their size, get some style advice and have a lovely chat. They have been going really well and I am loving meeting my local customers. I am about to launch my first big new fabric design for the year and I have another five lined up throughout this year as well so it’s already full. We are also in the final stages of refining a brand new garment pattern, ready to launch for winter, which is really exciting, so watch this space!
Renata is a colour-loving, op-shop-going, beach-frolicking writer and designer. She's passionate about supporting local businesses and highlighting local and hand-made brands. She also loves reading YA, napping in the winter sun, and re-watching Gilmore Girls one too many times... find her on Instagram @totesweird