At home with Fiona

Fashion designer Fiona McPherson. (Photo Louisa Jones)

Justin Flynn

Fashion designer Fiona McPherson moved to Jan Juc 21 years ago. In that time she has seen many changes in the industry and to her home. She speaks with Justin Flynn.

You founded Oishi-m, a very successful children’s fashion company that closed down in early 2019. Now you have Okki, which is a grown-up version. What does your day look like?

I do everything for the business. I generate the business, marketing, PR, sourcing, production, design, cutting, manufacturing.

Okki is the evolution of Oishi-m. It’s basically the adult version. I do women’s apparel and venture into a bit of homewares as well. With the demise of Oishi-m, it feels right to start up 
my kidswear again – OkkiD.

Has fashion always been a part of your life?
My grandmother and grandfather used to do all the illustrations for Georges [department store] and Women’s Weekly. They’ve been in the fashion game forever.

I think it just came from loving fashion as a kid and when I was a teenager – you follow all the trends and when you start to travel 
around the world, you don’t have the budget for High Street fashion so you start being quite creative.

I’d find some scrap fabric in Camden [London] and spend the weekend just sewing up garments by hand.

[When] I came back to Australia I just started partying really hard with all the gay guys. We’d go off to all the nightclubs and every weekend I’d have a different outfit that I’d make on a Saturday.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in central Victoria in Maryborough and then moved to Eltham in grade 6. Twenty-one years ago I moved down here.

What brought you to the Surf Coast?
I needed a bit of a career change. I used to do a lot of stuff for Village Roadshow and Channel 10 in the online entertainment area, and I really wasn’t interested in that, so I thought I really wanted to move down by the coast because I used to surf quite a bit, which I don’t do anymore. I found myself a job at Rip Curl and just learnt the ropes. So rather than going to uni I learnt through all my peers and I have some really great friends who are amazing designers and talented illustrators. I learnt a lot through that.

But then you found that working for someone else wasn’t really your calling?
Being a sole parent with two kids, there was just no way I could be a reliable employee. So I figured out that if I can’t be employed by somebody, I have to make it work around the kids. I have to generate income by myself. So I took my skills and I’ve been doing it ever since.

The fashion industry sounds glamorous, but I bet it’s not all the time?
That’s the fashion game. It’s never going to be easy. You always have to work really hard at it.

It all looks glamour and glitz but today I’m dressed up in my factory wear, I’m in my heated jacket and out in my garage and it’s freezing cold, cutting fabric and tracing patterns.

It’s relentless.

Tell me a bit about your home and what renovations you’ve done.
I live in a late ’80s build. The bathroom was pretty average. Typical terracotta tiles and tackiness with seashells and stuff.

For a little while we had this black mould growing and I called up insurance and they came and evacuated the house straight away.

Apparently black mould is terrible.

They ripped out my whole bathroom and I had to put all the old stuff back, which the builders were just about to do. I caught them doing that so I said “no, I’ll go and source some stuff straight away”.

I went into Geelong Tiles & Bathware with my beautiful friend Melinda Skoko and we had to create this bathroom in two hours.

It was hilarious. The first thing the builder needed was the bath so I put it in the back of my car and hooned down the freeway and got it here just in time before they put the old retro one in.

The pictures are great.

The kids and I feel like we have a hotel luxury bathroom in our crazy little house. It’s one of the rooms during the first [COVID-19] lockdown that we spent so much time in because the kids just love having a bath. At the end of working in the garage all day it’s so nice to sit there and bliss out.

You have a lot of artwork around your home. Where did it all come from?
It’s mostly all generated by me and kids or friends or family. All the original stuff that my grandmother did for Women’s Day and Georges – all the charcoal sketches.

Most of the furniture is either friends’ offcasts that they were throwing out or secondhand or I built myself.

I built my bed, I built a desk, renovated the television cabinet and the table was badly stained but now it looks brand new.

Tell me a bit about your shed that you work in?
I call it the Mini Factory, Justin. It’s a treasure trove of fabric and during the last lockdown I thought I won’t be able to go to the big factory in Moolap anymore so I’ll have to build it into my own little garage.

I got Dean Kellett from Kellett Built to make my big cutting table and we designed it together and crafted it just before all the orders for masks came in.

It’s got my beautiful industrial cutting machines which are just joyous to use with my chainmail Michael Jackson glove.

I get to play my music really loud, my kids don’t come out and bother me while they are homeschooling. It’s great, what’s not to love?

Do you think it’s important to spend your money locally when doing renovations or buying furniture?
It’s a community. I just wanted it all to be local. I just really think we can do it all here. It might cost a bit more but people are starting to change their tune as to how they purchase things.

I could have gone and got a boring cutting table … for a third of the price but would I be happy? No. Would it last forever? No. Would it have a story? No. Would I love working on it every day? Definitely not.

What’s next for your home?
It’s going to be an evolution this home. The dream is to turn the garage into a studio. I’d love a mezzanine in the studio as well and I’ll get a carport because I really like my car being protected. It means if there’s a hailstorm I don’t cringe.

Good luck with Okki and OkkiD. It sounds like you have a loyal client base.
I have a lot of previous clients from Oishi-m and a lot of local ladies as well who have been amazingly supportive.

It will be interesting to see what happens now that I’ve started OkkiD and whether it will attract the old clientele from Oishi-m.