Artisan Spotlight: Susan Dimasi of MATERIALBYPRODUCT

21 May, 2024
Artisan Spotlight: Susan Dimasi of MATERIALBYPRODUCT

Fashion Designer and the Creative Director of luxury fashion house MATERIALBYPRODUCT, Susan Dimasi will be joining us at the Rare Trades Centre in July for a workshop inspired by her cult classic MATERIALBYPRODUCT Makeover Tee. Ahead of her visit, our General Manager, Erin Santamaria asked Susan some questions about her practice and career in fashion.

How did you learn the skills, knowledge and practices of your trade?
Like most country kids TV and radio shows gave me a sense of connection to the things I loved in the world far and wide while being grounded in a place where life was simpler. I grew up in a house where we made, repaired, remodelled and reused things.

Formal fashion education wasn’t really a fit for my desire to learn how to make beautifully hand crafted clothing but was great exercise in challenging the system which I’ve continuously done in practice and the way I’ve built my business.

Working on the luxury shop floor in London and Melbourne was a great place to see great design and craft, the type I dreamed of making come to life on real women. Knowing it didn’t only exist in TV shows was a very big eye-opener about the possibilities for taking my ideas out of my imagined space of period costume dramas and museum fashion collections into reality.

Working at the NGV as an Assistant Curator of International Fashion & Textiles was an opportunity to go behind the scenes of the museum fashion collection and do what I dubbed my internship with many European couture houses. When you get inside couture pieces you can see in some of them that they’re working it out as they go along and that’s a liberating take on the step from practising your craft to applying it and continuing to learn.

Not everyone can go to Europe and do an internship but that's not even necessarily relevant anymore. The world is moving away from exclusivity and towards inclusive, place based practices. There is so much knowledge online and multiple ways to access it. Accessing knowledge and remixing it to respond to your context is what will make your work connect with your community. While I’m teaching skill I’m really looking forward to having these conversations with workshop attendees to help them further their practice and women who just want to make sense of the cluster *uck of body, life, world changing that robs them of a sense of style at a time in life when they thought they’d fully own their identity.

Photo by Bronwyn Kidd

In your early career traditional tailoring and dressmaking techniques alongside a zero waste approach drove innovation, demonstrated in work such as Punch Out and the Soft & Hard Collections, both collected by the NGV. How does proficiency in the traditional and foundational skills and techniques of tailoring and dressmaking enable you to innovate in your contemporary practice?

I probably wasted too much time when I was younger wanting to know and master the absolutely right and best dressmaking and tailoring techniques instead of jumping into making, wearing and selling work which is such an important part of understanding process - what happens to it when it is used by people and you don’t have control over how they use and treat it.

That obsession did give me a certain level of proficiency but innovation really came when I dropped the obsession about every single micro step in a process (a lot of times I was learning from old books) and made up steps myself using the tools and materials I had. I was also conscious of the cost of time which is much more expensive now than it was when a lot of the techniques I was referencing were used.

The cost of time ever increases as a threat to artisan production outside of the museum. So then the innovation process has been driven by how-to challenge, reduce steps, substitute old materials and methods in parts of the process in ways that didn’t compromise the outcome but improved it.

When you get that right, you get an outcome that isn’t just faster to make and cheaper. Instead you get a process that you can quickly train, even remotely and outcomes that are more relevant for the way people live today. That’s exciting; they're the insights I want to share in this workshop. I’m excited to see where attendees will take it!

The Makeover T is a signature MBP wardrobe essential. How does this particular piece link back to traditional & heritage skills and practices in tailoring and dressmaking?

The intel I’m really looking forward to sharing with budding artisans and people looking for how-to upcycle the pieces they have is one way to keep heritage skills alive outside a living museum is to apply them to solving contemporary issues and your own problems.

We started doing T Makeover because it’s a piece considered a basic in a wardrobe but grown up women especially, have issues with finding T’s that fit and flatter them. We could make ones from scratch that did fit and flatter but the price point was firmly in the luxury realm and that’s fine we had people who would pay for it.

But there’s more to staying inline with our baseline sustainability values than just crafting the best products. In healthy self interest using a base T that already exists frees up time and money resources (two things every artisan is always sort of) to direct them into inventing things that women needed and couldn’t find.

That started with asking ourselves why we would use resources, time and money resources to make a T from scratch when there is a glut of them in the world that we could down on and owe our little bit towards reducing that problem and also why I’m sharing this intel in this workshop.

You can join Susan Dimasi for a hands-on workshop at the Rare Trades Centre. She’ll share her wealth of knowledge and experience while you make your own custom piece inspired by the MATERIALBYPRODUCT Makeover Tee.

Book your place below for an opportunity to learn directly from a fashion industry expert.

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