I met the talented Leeyong at Cecylia's Bloggerversary Celebration. I was amazed when she told me she had made the beautiful hot pink dress dress she was wearing out of a scarf she bought from an op-shop!
It turns out making clothes and accessories from op-shop buys was only one of Leeyong's many talents. Currently a senior writer for Peppermint magazine, Leeyong has previously worked for Vogue Nippon, designed her own label called Fourth Daughter and started a blog called Style Wilderness which focuses on sustainable fashion, documenting Leeyong's many creative projects.
I was lucky enough to interview Leeyong to learn more about her varied experiences in the fashion industry.
1. Although never formally studying fashion, you have worked for Vogue Nippon and Peppermint Magazine, started your own label Fourth Daughter and have a successful fashion blog. What influenced your decision to pursue a career in the notoriously competitive fashion industry?
I always wanted to be a fashion designer when I was younger, and would sketch designs and spend ages looking through fashion magazines – I just love fashion, although I never studied it! I never dreamed I would actually get to work at Vogue but when the opportunity presented itself to me in Tokyo, I jumped at the chance (at the time I think I said something like “I’d be delighted even to clean the toilets at Vogue”!!)
2. You worked for Vogue Nippon in the editorial department from the end of 1999 to 2007. What are some of the most memorable experiences you had during your time there?
So many… at both ends of the glamour scale. There were the times when we had to put out a shoe and handbag supplement and were up until the early hours of the morning surrounded by hundreds of bags and shoes while we worked out what would make it into the mag – and then of course all the packing up after the photo shoots for those supplements (a nightmare, as everything had to be returned in exactly the bag it came in, items had to be checked off lists, measurements had to be taken, press contact numbers confirmed, etc – all inevitably after more than 12 hours shooting in a studio). Then there were the times when we went to huge parties and met celebrities, such as Dita von Teese (we all went out to dinner and I got to swap op-shopping stories with her – she loves a bargain too!); Isabella Blow, who I looked after on her trip to Tokyo – she had to take taxis everywhere because her hats wouldn’t fit on public transport, not that she would travel by public transport anyway; Anna Dello Russo, who singled me out in an editorial meeting full of staff wearing top brands to compliment me on my earrings (which cost something like $1 – yes, I was extremely happy about that compliment!); the Hilton sisters and Victoria Beckham… and those were just the times in Tokyo itself. I also got to travel to overseas fashion shows, which I won’t start talking about because I could go on about them forever.
3. You are currently working as a senior writer for Peppermint Magazine. How did your time in Japan influence your work at Peppermint and other fashion projects you are currently undertaking, and plan to undertake?
Despite all the celebs and events at Vogue, the highlight of my time there was organising a Fair Trade project with a company called People Tree. I got four international designers to donate patterns for garments, which were then manufactured by People Tree’s Fair Trade groups in India and Bangladesh. These garments were then sold at Isetan, a major department store in Japan, as well as People Tree stores in Tokyo and the UK and online. We also got top models to model the outfits for a 6-page story in Vogue. I think it was probably the first time major designers had collaborated with Fair Trade producers, and almost certainly the first time it had been done through a major fashion magazine. It was great to be able to spread the message about sustainable fashion to people who wouldn’t necessarily be interested normally. I’ve carried that on since coming back to Melbourne, but Peppermint magazine is a bit different in that it is aimed at girls/women who are interested in sustainability, so everything that I do for Peppermint has that focus.
As to other ways my time in Japan influences my work in fashion, well, I was working at one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world when I was there but certainly was not getting the biggest pay packet in the world, so while I wanted to look the part, I couldn’t go and buy designer fashion every day. I’d always made my own clothes, but I became more creative and resourceful with my designs, and that has continued since returning to Melbourne.
4. You are passionate about sustainable fashion and on your blog Style Wilderness, feature a lot of secondhand garments you have re-worked. How can adopting sustainable fashion benefit consumers?
Where do I start? It depends what sort of sustainable fashion you mean, as sustainability is very broad and can mean recycled clothing or new garments made ethically from sustainable materials, for example. My take on it is as much about cost as anything – I shop at op shops most of the time and rework what I have bought there, which means some of my outfits cost under $20 (and some even less than that). Of course there is also the bonus of having a unique garment – none of that chain store stuff! Plus, if you do alter a garment, you get that unbeatable creative buzz.
5. You have worked in both the Japanese and Australian fashion industries. How do these industries differ, and what do you believe the Australian fashion industry could learn from the Japanese fashion industry?
The Japanese fashion industry is just huge because the market is so much bigger. Trends catch on a lot quicker and are a lot more visible in Japan – not just fashion, but foods and all sorts of other products too. I’m not really sure what our industry could learn from Japan’s because Australia is so different in terms of population numbers and density, and our spending is so different too. Whereas most Australians buy a car and a house during their lives, I would say most Japanese don’t. They also can’t take holidays for long stretches of time so there’s not much point saving up for that either. This is why they tend to spend so much more of their income on fashion, whereas Australians are more limited in that regard.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this feature!
Check out some of Leeyong's beautiful creations: