The Interview: Holly Chandler and Rebecca McKenzie of Foemina

What inspired you to start Foemina?

Bec: When Holly and I first set about creating Foemina, it marked a turning point in both of our career paths. We have been long-time friends and had both reached crossroads, where we had an unresolved passion to work in fashion. We both had young children, Holly had moved to the country and I was a dentist who really longed to be creative. The timing felt right to make a change and go for it. 

Holly: Together, we honed in on our vision until we arrived at a neat capsule edit, incorporating luxurious fabrics such as tropical wool and organic cotton poplins. We were inspired to address the need for modern functional dressing at a time when utility ruled the wardrobe. Our desire was always to create future-forward fashion with a minimalist aesthetic, where longevity was key. 

What was your first priority when creating the brand, and your company? Bec: Our mission has always been to produce purposeful clothing and connect with a community of women empowering them to feel confident and resourced for their life. For our clothes to add ease and confidence to the day and to have the same confidence in choices they make. 

Holly: Our priority is to remain true to our vision. Masculine and feminine, pragmatic and empathetic, our vision reflects a foundational approach to dressing and explores the idea of forming a modern utilitarian dress code for the contemporary minimalist. There is a simplicity to the Foemina look, yet it’s multi-layered: we do like to zero in on one area of the body that we're going to accentuate, whether it be the waist or shoulders, and from there we create tailored pieces that feel quite sculptural, that can be worn in different ways. 

Bec: Versatility is important, but more than that I think we are thinking about how the clothes make you feel. Ultimately, we want our woman to feel good. 

How did your previous experiences shape you into the designer and business owner you are today? 

Bec: Growing up in Hong Kong I was exposed to the incredible culture and energy of a large city. Absorbing this way of life from a young age made me incredibly driven. After working as a Dentist for ten years and having no job satisfaction, I made the incredibly hard decision to leave dentistry and become a designer. I wanted to set an empowering example to my daughters and other women that it is important to put your happiness first. It taught me that trying to be the person that you think fits the mould is not the best way to live and I want to empower other women to have the same confidence in the choices they make.

Holly: Growing up in a small country town, I was exposed to strong values and work ethics. After moving to Sydney to attend fashion business school, I was exposed to a very different lifestyle. The fashion world was where I wanted to be. I gained a lot of experience and knowledge during my six years in Sydney working with numerous pioneering Australian Fashion brands including Jac+ Jack. I eventually moved back to the country where I can inspire my three daughters to work hard for what they want in life. 

What is the creative process like for you? 

Bec: We find inspiration in so many ways, so at the beginning of the design process we sit down together and discuss what we have been reading, listening to, art we have seen or places we have been. 

Holly: From there the ideas just flow. We think about fabrications we want to work with and brainstorm a palette. Our goal is to produce empathetic design to a woman’s body and lifestyle, utilitarian and pragmatic but stylish. 

Bec: Our Foemina woman is slightly off centre in her own cool way. She has a less conventional way of expressing her femininity in her look and is not fussy or girlie. She’s confident with her choices and authentic to herself. With all of this in mind we scrutinise each piece in the collection and make sure that they are utilitarian in essence and true to the feminine uniform we are creating for this woman. 

Holly: Finally we tackle the difficult task of condensing the collection. The key for us is to think about who our Foemina woman is and how our clothes are an extension of her rich and varied lifestyle. 

Bec: We design in partnership, though our studios are apart. Despite this or perhaps because of it, there is great complexity and tension in our aesthetic, yet our overall vision is about ease. 

Who have you learned the most from in your career thus far? Do you have mentors? 

Bec: Inspiration and information is so easily accessible and ideas are constantly being delivered to us via our mentors, our factory, our suppliers, our agents and our customers. We are lucky enough to have an incredible team who teach us on a daily basis. 

Holly: We have definitely learnt the most from our customer. She is connected to and loves to explore life. There are no barriers to her adventures, travel, business and personal discovery. She is the “all in” modern woman. 

What is next for Foemina?

Bec: As we have grown we have started working with more texture, and our Resort 24 collection will feature new mediums for us, as we introduce jacquard, knits, silk cotton and voile to sit beside and compliment our current fabrications. We will always source material that is derived from natural compositions and therefore planet-friendly. 

Holly: We are committed to being socially and environmentally responsible from fabric selection, atelier partnerships through to packaging and carbon offsetting. We embrace slow fashion and through careful design and considered construction, each piece is made to stand the test of time. We truly believe less is more and by offering a capsule collection of versatile, refined and timeless pieces, Foemina transcends seasons and trends. 

Bec: Because we are conscious of our environmental impacts our processes are constantly evolving. A large part of our business is to involve and support our local industry by working with small businesses to complete as many processes as possible within Australia. 

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a business owner? Bec: Always remember your vision and stay true to it. Learn to reset, be flexible and pivot. The key is to keep going and find your motivation in enjoying the brand and solve problems where you can. Look for the little wins in every situation. 

Holly: Think about what motivates you. There is always an angle and always a way. You have to be willing to get together and rethink. In tough times good ideas come as you are forced to think outside the box. Remember to stop and celebrate the successes. 

What motivates you with your brand? 

Holly: Foemina is the latin word for woman, and it is women that motivate us the most. We are driven by their confidence and their interaction with other women, in the sharing of what they each love and what they wear - the womanhood community. 

Bec: To put our happiness and desire to create first and be an empowering example for our daughters and other women around us.