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Ana Diaz

Budding Brisbane fashion designer Ana Diaz, 25, is a big fan of colour, prints and wearing pyjamas by day. Her burgeoning label, Diaz – with its vibrant colour palettes, quirky motifs and comfy cuts – channels her passions. As we speak, she has just put her spring/summer 2012 collection to bed and is designing her fourth collection while tutoring fashion at Queensland University of Technology. She also has a collaborative jewellery range in the wings and is working with Melbourne artists to craft eye-catching swing tags for her garments. Needless to say, Ana is busy chasing big, brightly coloured dreams for Diaz.

“I love putting together colours that don’t traditionally work together to give it a real pop,” Ana shares of the imaginings behind her namesake label Diaz, which melds quirkiness, whimsy, strength and simple beauty. Her label debuted at the 2011 L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival (LMFF) Graduate Showcase in a whirl of dusty pink, olive and ochre inspired by wild desert flowers. “Just putting together the colour palette every season is my favourite process. Maybe it stems from a childhood love of finger painting or something,” she laughs sweetly.

Ana’s spring/summer 2012 collection – her third – will hit stores in August. Christened Edo Tropica, the range is a kaleidoscope of tropical brightness: think dreamy pineapple prints and shocks of mango, wild strawberry, rainforest green and a deep Pacific blue. Each piece is also precisely tailored and comfortable to wear, from the culottes to the floaty shorts, kimono blouses, cape-inspired dresses and soft organic t-shirts.

A Queensland University of Technology (QUT) fashion and business graduate, Ana enjoyed what she considers to be her greatest achievement soon after she graduated in 2010, when Sportsgirl’s head honchos noticed her debut collection. From that first nerve-wracking show at the 2011 LMFF, Ana was chosen as one of two designers out of a field of 12 to design a signature range for Sportsgirl as part of the first iteration of its collection-design and mentoring program, The Graduates.

Ana credits the Sportsgirl collaboration for motivating her to fully commit to Diaz. “It was definitely one of the biggest things that has happened to my brand,” Ana says gratefully. “And it definitely helped me make the decision to stick with Diaz and make it into an Australian label, rather than just doing one collection.”

The collaboration involved a behind-the-scenes mentorship of all aspects of Sportsgirl’s business, which Ana describes as “a massive learning curve”. Ana’s Sportsgirls Like: Diaz range went on sale nationally in March this year. “All the pieces in general had a great sell-through, which is exciting,” Ana says.

Ana is fortunate to have found her niche, considering she stumbled into fashion design. She recalls that, as a little girl, she loved to make clothes for her dolls but that’s where the fashion fascination ended. As for childhood dreams, Ana says she had many. “I was such a bookworm when I was little,” she recalls. “I used to live with my head in a book at all times, so I am sure that I had lots of different dreams.”

After high school, Ana debated whether to pursue a career in engineering or graphic design. She chose the latter, but after one year of study decided it wasn’t for her. When Ana submitted a portfolio application for QUT’s dual business and fashion degree in 2007, she jokes that she was in the midst of a “mini-life crisis”. At the time, she was one year into a business degree at QUT and working at Brisbane fashion boutique Violent Green – a job she held from the age of 17 up until recently and one she credits for being a “game-changer” by inspiring her love of fashion.

“I wondered if they had made a mistake,” she admits of the moment she found out she was accepted into QUT’s course. “I didn’t know anything about anything. I hadn’t sewn since I was little and I didn’t know how to use a sewing machine. I remember we had to make a mini-scale concept garment and I stapled the whole thing!” she laughs of the very first class challenge.

“I guess it goes to show you don’t need any sewing – or pattern-making experience, for that matter – to get into a course like that. You have to have the ideas and determination as well – and prove that you’re a hard worker.”

She recalls that when she completed her degree in 2010, the world suddenly felt like a very big place. “It was very stressful,” Ana says of graduating. “I wasn’t doing it for grades anymore;I was doing it for life and money. And money has been the biggest challenge. I’m sure every starting business has problems with cashflow, but that definitely influences design and how you work as well.”

While it’s clear Ana has talent, she is adamant that her label’s future depends on her drive and determination. Asked if she considers herself a success, she replies: “Not yet. I’m working towards success. I think I’m successful in the way I get to do what I love for a living, but I’ll truly be a success when I’m able to live off my work 100% of the time.”

Ana is starting to see her hard work pay off. Her garments are stocked in two stores in Victoria and three in Queensland, including Violent Green’s two Brisbane boutiques in Elizabeth Arcade in the CBD and in Fortitude Valley.

But the young designer says she still has much to achieve with her label. Her dream is to have a small team working with her on Diaz as an international label. She’s also focused on the finer details, like hand-finishing garments and keeping her fabrics and manufacturing all Australian, except for her knitwear, which is sourced from New Zealand.

Ana is inspired by working with other creatives and has a collaborative jewellery range in the wings with Queensland fashion designer and silversmith Holly Ryan. She also looks for opportunities to marry fashion and art, and is collaborating with Melbourne visual artist Billie Justice Thompson on the design of her “really beautiful” swing tags. The tags will be printed by Melbourne-based boutique letterpress and design agency The Hungry Workshop, which originally hails from Brisbane.

When things get tough, Ana remains motivated by looking to others for inspiration. “I have a guilty obsession with TED talks. So when I feel like I need help, I’ll put a TED talk on while I’m sewing and it’ll put things into perspective,” she laughs. “I’m inspired by people who are quiet, consistent hard workers, who always push through and succeed.” And when she needs wise words to guide her? “I try to remind myself to look on the bright side.”