photos SUPPLIED models SUE-CHING LASCELLES, KIRSTY FATE, MEG BOXSELL AND LIZZY PORTER
The Close to My Heart project – the brainchild of Brisbane-based artist, sewist, Peppermint Cover Girl and self-described “maker of happy things” Sue-Ching Lascelles – is set to return for a third triumphant year as it continues to harness the power of art and creativity to make positive change in the world.
Previous iterations have seen Sue-Ching transform tea towels into tent dresses and work with incredible Australian artists to create heavenly hand-painted frocks, donating the proceeds to asylum seekers and domestic violence survivors. This year, the project is raising money to support organisations working with youth who have experienced bullying and mental health challenges.
“Growing up mixed race in a rural Australian town in the 80s and 90s meant I was seen as different and a target. Being that kid at school can be a very sad and isolating experience. It has affected me for my whole life. The scars run deep,” says Sue-Ching. “I still experience racism that triggers the intense stress and anxiety I felt as a young person. Through the support of the creative community, I feel compelled now to raise my voice in this space – to rise and sew!”
Partnering with Sue-Ching to bring the project to life is a star-studded lineup of fashion and lifestyle brands including Marimekko, Obus, Rachel Castle, Dowk and Jericho Road Clothing! Each brand has donated some joyously vibrant fabric – making use of excess stock, cutting room scraps or showroom samples – which Sue-Ching has transformed into five highly-covetable handmade dream dresses!
“It’s kind of like a ‘best of’ album from your favourite band – you get to have a compilation of these signature prints with a Sue-Ching Lascelles spin,” she enthuses. “Working with the fabrics of such beloved and iconic brands is a dream – I love collaborating and combining our strengths to create something bigger, brighter and that hopefully has a wide-reaching impact.”
I dream about a future where no young person feels excluded or victimised, where kindness is always first and our differences are celebrated.
On the last Tuesday of each month from July through to November, the Close to My Heart project will be dropping one of these marvellous masterpieces in Sue-Ching’s shop. The proceeds will go to a different youth support organisation each month, including Batyr, Minus18, Reach, Dolly’s Dream, and Western Australia’s #StopCyberBullying campaign.
“I dream about a future where no young person feels excluded or victimised, where kindness is always first and our differences are celebrated,” says Sue-Ching. “No young person should ever feel like ending their life, especially because of torment from others. Like most things, it takes awareness, empathy and education to make a change. With your help, I can’t wait to raise money for these important organisations and be a small part of that change.”
Ahead of the premier drop on 25 July, we sat down with Sue-Ching to learn more.
How did these collaborations come about and what was the process like?
It’s so exciting to be collaborating with these brands! I really just made a wish list of all the brands I’d love to work with and reached out directly. One by one, as they said yes, I had so many pinch-me moments – what a dream. This year I wanted to work with brands that have a distinct affinity with art, design and the creative process. I also chose to work with clothing brands over other creative streams because I know that through the process of manufacturing, there are often unused fabrics. It was my mission to make use of them, also knowing that they would make amazing print combinations.
One by one, as they said yes, I had so many pinch-me moments – what a dream.
Do you feel the pressure to go bigger each year or are you just following the next idea?
I’m definitely following the ideas – but as the project gains momentum, I think naturally it has grown and achieved more amazing milestones with each iteration. Last year felt like a big jump from the first year and this year it feels a bit more well-oiled, so it’s exciting to see it evolve in that way.
The project will be operating a little differently this year. Can you talk us through that?
After last year’s project, I honestly felt a little burnt out. Coordinating all the stakeholders, as much as I love it and am driven to see it succeed, is a lot of work for one person. Initially, I wasn’t going to run it this year but then I had this almost involuntary reaction or a force that propelled me and, well, here we are. This year, I thought I would try a different model which means I can manage the workload more easily around the other things I’m doing. And the bonus is that I have a longer time period to shine a light on the different organisations we’re raising money for which is the most important thing for me – next to raising the money of course!
Do you think you’ve changed or evolved since the first Close to My Heart project?
I think yes. The project has been such a valuable experience for me in every aspect. I’ve learned so much about running a project like this and working with all of the different facets involved to coordinate it. From the collaborators and sponsors to the charities, photographers and PR teams – forming beautiful relationships along the way – it has opened my heart, given me purpose and reminded me how art is such an important catalyst for change. There is an impact no matter how small your resources or contribution. I’ve been so fortunate to meet and connect with the most beautiful humans via this project and no doubt that has had a profound effect on me.
It has opened my heart, given me purpose and reminded me how art is such an important catalyst for change. There is an impact no matter how small your resources or contribution.
What brought bullying to the front of your mind as the cause for this year’s project?
As I mentioned, I was undecided about running the project this year but I had this very, almost out-of-body propulsion to do it once I had decided on the cause. It came from scrolling through Facebook one day. Reading through comments on a friend’s post, I saw a comment from my high school bully. Just seeing that person’s name sent me into a spin. I couldn’t breathe, I felt the blood drain away from me. It was awful. And that experience is very much in my past, but the repercussions have lasted a lifetime. Sadly, that experience isn’t an isolated one and so many people have their own similar stories. It reiterated to me how wrong it is to make someone feel that way. I started thinking about the young people growing up now with social media and all kinds of different pressures and I wanted to stand up and say that it’s not ok. I want to share my experience and, at the same time, raise money for organisations supporting young people through this. It doesn’t have to be a part of growing up. Kindness and acceptance every day of the week, please!
Your gorgeous models are all volunteers from your Instagram community. Can you tell us a little about them?
Oh my gosh. It gets me right in the heart every time I talk about them because they are all so gorgeous and courageous. It’s not easy to stand up and say, hey, I was that person. I was isolated and mistreated. People were cruel to me. It’s been hard but they did it in the hope it might help someone else. They are the most amazing bunch of creative people and I was so fortunate they responded to my call out on Instagram. Each one was subjected to horrendous bullying throughout high school. Awful life-altering bullying. Interestingly, and to their credit, Meg Boxsell and Lizzy Porter now both work with young people and Kirsty Fate has used her experience to be proud, strong and unapologetic through her colourful brand. The day we all got together for the photoshoot was an incredibly cathartic experience. To be able to talk through what we went through and find comfort in each other was so beautiful. I’m so grateful for that day.
I think that from sharing our vulnerabilities come the depths of honesty and connection. When we have that, we can rise up together, find joy and thrive.
Hearing that all of you have experienced bullying in the past, it’s wonderful to see you all looking so joyous. How does it feel to have created a community where vulnerability and joy can coexist and thrive?
I think that by sharing our vulnerabilities come the depths of honesty and connection. When we have that, we can rise up together, find joy and thrive. We have all been through an awful experience but have managed to channel it into something amazing. Each of the models from the shoot is the biggest advocate for the voices of young people. They are helping to celebrate and shape future generations in the most positive way. Often with hardship, there is also hope. Being able to have this outcome is definitely the beautiful rainbow after the rain.