Arkie Barton is the rainbow-mad designer and magical sewing fingers behind her namesake fashion label, Arkie. Fresh from her uni graduation and debut festival runway show, she talks with us about the print making process, her love of beading and how her heritage inspires her.
You must have had a whirlwind couple of months. Are you hanging on?
It’s honestly been crazy balancing full time work and a start-up label, but I’ve been lucky enough to work in the industry I love as my 9-5 job, as well as funnelling my time into my fashion label, so who can really call that work?
How did it feel showing your graduate collection “Dreamtime” at this year’s VAMFF?
It was pretty incredible. I’d shown my graduate collection as part of QUT’s graduate showcase but it’s something else entirely being able to showcase something that has been so close to you for the most part of a year to the greater public, especially somewhere as amazing as VAMFF.
Could you explain what it was to be apart of the Global Indigenous Runway? How did you get involved?
The Global Indigenous Runway project is an amazing initiative. I stumbled across it and entered the application process to become involved and was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to show my collection as part of the event. It’s an amazing program that is run around the world to celebrate Indigenous culture. I can’t tell you how inspiring it was to be able to meet not only the other designers, but also the Indigenous models.
Did you have a chance to catch other shows whilst at VAMFF?
Unfortunately not! With the combination of a plane and luggage misshap I was only down there for 2 days and caught the plane back 10 minutes after my collection showed!
How have you found the reaction to your work since the show?
Its been really positive, which is very heartwarming. I’m in the process of developing my first full range so I’m hoping that it will be a good follow up from my graduate collection, which was a lot smaller and more conceptual.
“I think because I hand sewed all of these pieces myself over many, many hours they will always have a special place in my heart.”
Heading right back to the beginning, how did you find your way into fashion design?
I’ve always been creatively inclined, but it wasn’t until high school where I found myself leaning towards a more interactive way to engage with this. My high school (QACI) held a fashion workshop and that’s when I really started to explore fashion as a platform to express my artistic practice.
“Dreamtime” is such a vibrant collection! Do you have a favourite piece?
I’d have to say any of the pieces that had my hand beading in them. I think because I hand sewed all of these pieces myself over many, many hours they will always have a special place in my heart. My absolute favourite though would have to be my rainbow dreamtime beaded shoes.
There is quite the conversation surrounding your collection’s expression of your indigenous culture. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind your designs?
A huge part of Indigenous culture is our people’s connection with the land that we live on, and I think this is something that has always translated through my artistic practice, with nature always being a large aesthetic influence on my colour palette and print development. I’ve also always been drawn to the Australian fashion greats such as Jenny Kee, Romance Was Born and Linda Jackson and their somewhat outrageous, inherently bright but laidback Australian style.
“Whilst there’s an increasing amount of Indigenous culture being covered in education and media, it’s quite hard to get a real snap shot and understanding of contemporary Indigenous Australian culture…”
You have previously spoken about the gap between Indigenous culture and mainstream Australia when it comes to design. Are you hoping to help bridge the gap?
Absolutely, this is something that I’m very passionate about. I think there’s a huge disconnect between mainstream Australians and contemporary Indigenous Australian culture. Whilst there’s an increasing amount of Indigenous culture being covered in education and media, it’s quite hard to get a real snap shot and understanding of contemporary Indigenous Australian culture, and that’s something that to me is such a beautiful and rich thing.
Other than your heritage, where else do you draw inspiration? Where else do you find your motivation?
I love everything bright and vibrant. I’ve always found myself drawn to kitsch Australiana and I think if I were to find the essence of the inspiration for my aesthetic it would have to be anything by Ken Done.
Your prints, particularly your collection’s signature “Black Spinifex”, are so intricate and mesmerising. Can you tell us more about the process you undertake when designing a print? Where do you start?
Its quite an organic process. I work straight onto the computer with tablet and pen technology to create my digital prints. I hate erasing, or in this case control-Z-ing anything, so I’ll usually paint over anything I don’t feel works, so my prints tend to be quite layered!
Do you have a garment in mind for your prints when you’re designing or does their purpose become apparent once you’re finished?
I always start with my prints. I’ll develop these before I even start thinking about garment design and usually the latter comes a little more easily to me as I’m constantly surrounding myself with the current trends and fashion research at home and at work. I usually go through a fair few print designs before I hit a collection of them I’m happy with!
“I do love a good 90s silhouette.”
Beading is become more prevalent in your designs. That must take a toll on your fingers! Is this a motif we can expect to see more of?
I absolutely love beading! It’s the strangest thing to enjoy but its so monotonous and mindless I find it incredibly therapeutic. I think it’s probably the only time I stop thinking. It’s definitely something that I will be incorporating into my future collections.
Your silhouettes are quite unique; from draping, almost exposing silk dresses to 90’s-esk oversized bomber jackets. Where do you find the inspiration for the shapes you create?
For me design is quite a natural thing. I think because I’m constantly immersed in fashion and follow the fashion shows every season. When it comes to the drawing board I usually just sketch as much as I can then narrow it down from there. I do love a good 90s silhouette.
Who did you collaborate with for your “Dreamtime” photoshoot?
I’m very lucky to have a lot of talented friends in the creative industries so shooting my Dreamtime collection was absolutely amazing. Both my photographer, Charles Subritzky and make up artist, Jordan Stewart are close friends of mine and have incredible direction and portfolios. My gorgeous model, Jessica Fernance was a dream to work with and she carried the clothes so well!
Have you been working on any new designs recently? Is a second collection for Arkie in the works?
Can we expect to see Arkie at VAMFF this year?
Hopefully! It was an amazing experience and I would love to be involved again.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I would love to see Arkie in boutiques and online and be something that I could invest all of my time in. It’s my creative baby and I’m looking forward to seeing how it grows!
All photography credit to Charles Subritzky, courtesy of Arkie.