The Age

My space - Nicole Mallalieu

Author: Interview: Frances Atkinson
Date: 29/08/2009
Words: 842
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: A2
Page: 13
IT'S the kind of place you pass but don't give a second glance. Big '70s-looking building, a former high school, nothing special. Inside, it's a different story. On every level people are tucked away in former classrooms working on a range of ideas  the first steps that might result in an exciting business venture.

The Brunswick Business Incubator is a fitting name  a place where people can shape a great idea into a career. One of these rooms belongs to designer and bag maker Nicole Mallalieu. Despite the concrete and tall glass windows, there's evidence of warming up the space  carpets on the cold floors, a burst of colourful bags hangs off racks in an orderly tumble. The view takes in the unbroken line of rooftops in one direction and, in the other, a hazy view of the hills.

Who works in this building?

It's very diverse, there's fashion-based businesses, architects, accountants, writers and photographers. There's a real sense of community, which is great. If I need something photographed, I just dash across and ask someone. We all bump into each other in the tearoom, too. It's a great place to catch up.

What do you enjoy about making and designing bags?

I love working with shape, fabric and textiles. I spent a number of years making hats and bags out of linens and tweeds in the west coast of Ireland. The plan was to return home to Australia and maybe write a book or make kits so that other people could make things too. But I decided I wanted to teach and make something that would appeal to contemporary crafters. That's how it all started.

How does this compare with other work spaces?

I used to work from home. I had a small sewing room but I was about to move to a new house with absolutely no room to sew at all. I suppose it forced me to look for a more professional space, a place where I could kindle the idea of creating a business. This place allowed me to take business calls and set up a place to run classes. It's been amazing.

What does your space have to have?

Space! I need a large cutting table and room for lots of machines. My workshops are often booked out, so it's good to have a room where everyone can work comfortably. My space needs to be very functional.

Do you ever get tired of what you do?

There was a time when I lost my passion for design  I'd been doing it for so long. I had my fingers in too many pies: I was selling at craft markets, teaching, making hats but my heart wasn't in it. I remember the moment when I realised something had to change. I was in the middle of making seven hats and I just stopped. I knew I wanted to run a business but I wasn't focused. It was about 10pm and I sat down at the computer until 4am and just wrote down all the things I wanted to aim for. That was where it all started.

How do you manage the workload?

It's a lot of work but these days someone helps me with the administration. I also do a lot of work in the middle of the night. I've always been self-employed. I get inspired by so many things  ideas stem from fabric or shapes and colours. I'm not really interested in shopping. I don't scout around for the latest look, but sometimes a certain pattern will catch my eye.

Do you ever get lonely working in this space?

No. I usually put on a CD and next thing I know, hours have passed. I really enjoy sewing in peace! It's lonely when I have to make the big decisions  when I have to make that next big business step and there's no one there to bounce it off. At the end of the day, I'm the one who is responsible for my livelihood and now I have other people who rely on me. Sometimes you just have to take in a big breath and take the next big step. You can never rest on your laurels, but that can be exciting too. Next I'd like to do a book that included patterns for bags and hats. Not everyone can get to a class, so a book could reach a lot of people.

What do you enjoy about teaching sewing?

I've been teaching for six years. I enjoy catering to all different levels, from beginners right through to the more experienced. I've learnt a lot along the way. I make sure I break everything down so that each person understands each step. We have a lot of fun, too. I love it when people leave my class holding their bag or hat  you can see how pleased they are with themselves. It's not just about me making a design available, it's about people having the chance to access something within themselves.

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