Designer Interview With Uncle Phuncle
Uncle Phuncle is a Melbourne-based, independently owned clothing label founded by high school sweethearts, Ash & Steve through a love of t-shirt culture and vintage fashion. Their timeless pieces are all 100% designed and hand-made in Melbourne with the help of Bernie (the Bernina sewing machine). Uncle Phuncle is all about timeless silhouettes and fun prints inspired by mid-century design and music.
Uncle Phuncle's ethics focus heavily on slow-fashion - a movement that is gaining momentum as people begin to make more conscious clothing choices, opting to purchase higher quality items that last over mass produced, cheaper garments that have a shorter life-span. This led to the Phuncle Philosophy, “Your wardrobe should be like your favourite music: A great hit should be enjoyed for years to come!”
We spoke to Ash about how the Uncle Phuncle brand came about, her take on the slow-fashion movement and the Gold Coast vs Melbourne clothing scene.
AF: How did you start Uncle Phuncle and how did you come up with the name?
UP: I started Uncle Phuncle primarily as a T-shirt label and it evolved from there. Uncle Phuncle was the name of a cartoon Steve (fellow Uncle Phuncle founder) drew in high school. The Uncle Phuncle character looked like a 1920s gangster caricature wearing a pin striped suit, smoking a cigar pointing off into the distance. I’d like to say it was a long journey of brainstorming names and logos but basically I saw the name and it made me giggle.
AF: When did you know you wanted to be a fashion designer?
UP: There was no conscience moment of deciding I wanted to design clothes. It came out of necessity and frustration of not being able to find the designs I wanted to wear. I didn’t start sewing or designing until I was about 19/20 years old. Once I started sewing and designing my own clothes I essentially became addicted to it. I didn’t study fashion so I feel uncomfortable calling myself a fashion designer. If people ask me what I love to do, I usually say that I love to design and make clothes, and they often reply ‘Like a fashion designer?’ and I say ‘I guess you could call it that’
AF: Can you describe your creative process?
UP: I would say it starts with an idea, followed by a rough sketch, a test pattern, sample garment + alterations then finished product.
AF: What is your favourite piece you've ever created?
UP: This always changes because often it’s what I’m working on at a particular moment. I was especially fond of the digital textile prints we released, but then I fell in love with hand stencil printing our own fabrics. I must say, our recent satin lined cropped bomber jackets make my heart sing!
AF: What's your biggest source of inspiration for your designs?
UP: The designs are heavily influenced by the aesthetic and silhouettes of the 50s, 60s and 70s. I like to stay away from fleeting trends and focus on classic styles that always look fabulous. Whilst we are heavily influenced by the mid-20th century, I’m quite weary of creating a carbon copy or costume piece of that time, I want our pieces to look inspired by that era, rather than a direct recreation. I love to design pieces with a classic/vintage influence with a modern take. Some of our designs are undeniably 60s or 70s, but I design them to be easily worked in with a modern wardrobe.
AF: What is the most challenging thing about being a designer?
UP: In this fast fashion culture that has been building over the past 40 or so years, it can be difficult to shift the consumer mindset to value handmade and local work. One of my biggest challenges is reaching an audience who understands the value of hand-made classic design over mass produced fashion trends.
AF: What's the best thing about owning your own clothing brand?
UP: Having the freedom to have a creative outlet that is my own. Also, having control of product design and production.
AF: What other creative interests do you have besides fashion design?
UP: I studied music at Uni so I play (and teach) the piano as well as running Uncle Phuncle.
AF: What's your experience of the design scene in Melbourne compared to the Gold Coast?
UP: Chalk and cheese. We started out in Queensland, and even though we grew up on the Gold Coast, we always found our audience in Brisbane. Unfortunately the fast fashion culture is king on the Gold Coast. We attended a few design markets on the Gold Coast and learnt very quickly that it is very difficult to sell a handmade tailored blouse to a girl in a bikini. We always enjoyed attending design markets in Brisbane and now living in Melbourne can see there are many similarities between the two. Melbourne is just on a larger scale.
AF: What music have you been listening to lately?
UP: I’m pretty embarrassed (am I though?) to say that I have been on an Earth, Wind and Fire BINGE since June this year. Just Earth, Wind and Fire. All day. Every day. Every. Single. Day. Please send help.
AF: Do you have any secret projects for Uncle Phuncle you can tell us about?
UP: We are currently workshopping some new textile designs for the new season so keep a look out!
AF: Many of your pieces have a strong 70's feel, where did your passion for vintage style clothing come from?
UP: I’ve always loved print and colour and the 60s and 70s were unashamedly psychedelic and colourful. My grandmother had a mega stash of fabric and vintage sewing patterns and I’ve always loved drawing inspiration from the pattern envelope illustrations and the vibrant colours and prints from her fabric collection.
AF: What advice would you give to others who want to start their own clothing label?
UP: I’m not sure I’m in a position to give advice seeing as I didn’t study fashion and have just stumbled along since we started, ha! But, there are mentorships and courses available to those wanting to launch their own fashion label. There is a company in VIC called the Sample Room which is a fashion pattern making and product development business that guides creatives through the complete launch process, from initial design to finished garment.
AF: Is there anything within the fashion world you would like to see change?
UP: YES. This fast fashion culture needs to calm down. Through the second half of the 20th century consumers demanded more for less which fuelled the fashion industry into hyper drive to create more for as little money as possible. This has essentially devalued the garment industry as a whole through the valuing of quantity over quality. The huge manufacturing powers of the 20th century have created a trend based fashion culture that has had huge impact on the environment and horrific working conditions for people in countries where these garments are manufactured. Before the industrial revolution, fashion trends lasted for half a century with only minimal changes in style, I’m not saying we go back to that, but the trend turnover these days is 2 weeks! Ok maybe I’m exaggerating (am I?). I think the tide is slowly starting to change and the mood is shifting but it’s a slow process. I’d like to see consumers shift importance from the cheapest product trend, to valuing local design and manufacturing to promote quality, longer lasting products that are loved and treasured for longer than a single season.
AF: What has helped you the most with staying motivated?
UP: Motivation comes from inspiration so being surrounded by things that inspire you help motivate you to create. Having a goal always helps too!
AF: What do you enjoy doing when you're not designing?
UP: Playing music, and doing nothing. Doing nothing is one of my favourite things in the world and anyone who says they don’t like doing nothing is lying.
AF: What are some other independent designers or brands you absolutely love?
UP: I have many but one Australian label I have a huge crush on at the moment is Publisher Textiles. They specialise in traditional screen printing techniques so they offer printing services to local designers as well as having a range of their own in house textiles and garments. They also support and work closely with indigenous communities, providing creative platform to designers by printing their beautiful artwork onto fabrics and launching a full range of their designs. Very cool!
AF: Do you have any mentors that have influenced your work?
UP: I didn’t have any mentors per say, but I’ve always had wonderful support from family and friends who I can bounce ideas off and who helped immensely with the creative process and all things Phuncle.
AF: If you could bring back any fashion trend from any era what would it be?
UP: I’m not sure about a specific trend, but I’d love for the attitude towards clothes to go back to how they were years ago.
AF: What's your future vision for Uncle Phuncle?
UP: Continuing to provide fun prints and classic styles that can be treasured for years to come.
AF: Where can we find more of your work?
UP: We have an online store (www.unclephuncle.com) and you can follow our antics on Instagram (www.instragram.com/unclephuncle) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/unclephuncle)