At just 24, Rachel Burke has carved an eclectic career for herself as a self-taught fashion designer, maker, photographer, blogger, and pompom-making craft queen. Driven to squeeze the most out of every day, Rachel admits she gets “jittery feet” if she isn’t working on multiple projects at once. Her chief focus is her fledgling women’s fashion label, The Hiding Tree, sold through Princess Polly boutiques nationwide. Rachel explains that her fervour for fashion started in 2010, when she challenged herself to make dresses and auction the creations online to raise money for children’s charities.
From her office at Lightspace – a creative hub in Fortitude Valley – Rachel Burke designs monthly collections for her new label, The Hiding Tree. She also covers freelance photography shoots and still occasionally makes pieces for her first label, Yellowcake, which launched in September 2010. She’s also an artist and avid crafter, and her most recent exhibition, titled Pomiscuity, celebrated her love of the humble pompom with imaginary worlds sprouting soft and pretty sculptures of ice-creams, clouds and flowers.
Rachel has sustained her hectic work pace since August 2010, when she launched her i make, you wear it blog, followed by her i make my day blog. Both projects challenged her to make dresses from scratch and auction the pieces online. Between the two projects, she raised close to $10,000 for children’s charities.
Through her various projects, Rachel admits she is on a personal quest. “I guess I want to prove myself and to achieve and produce good work. I always want to reach the next level and make great clothes. Also, on the other side of the spectrum, I think I’ve got such a privileged life that I should use the tools I’ve been given to push it as far as I can go. I would feel like I was wasting my time if I didn’t.”
Rachel feels blessed to have found her niche in life. She stumbled for a few years after finishing high school in 2005, dabbling in degrees in education, musical theatre and creative writing. In 2008, she moved to Melbourne to take up a coveted place in the theatre program at the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts. She followed her passion for musical theatre, which encompassed her love of storytelling and exploring magical worlds. But after one year of study, Rachel realised theatre wasn’t the right fit either. “That was a really tough decision, because musical theatre was something I was so passionate about and loved and, at the time, I couldn’t really think of anything that could replace that passion.”
After returning to Brisbane, Rachel did some soul searching. She recalls her childhood dream was to be a scientist, which no longer resonated, and to own a dachshund. “That’s about to come true,” she notes with glee. She also loved to sew, a skill handed down from her mother and grandmother.
She then enrolled in a creative writing degree at QUT, which taught her about blogs. “I thought, what could I do that merged these things – telling a story, making things, and bringing in performance in terms of the way I present it? What if I made a dress a day, to make a difference and to get noticed?”
Rather than throwing herself into the gruelling challenge of making one dress daily for 12 months, Rachel started small by making one new dress every Saturday for 20 consecutive weeks. She christened her 20-week challenge i make, you wear it and launched a blog in August 2010 to share the journey.
“I would make the pieces on a friend. We’d have a little party while doing it and film it and put it online,” Rachel explains of the project, which raised a total of $5,000 for the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.
The success of her blog inspired Rachel to launch her first clothing label, Yellowcake, where she sold her handmade creations online. Her Yellowcake garments drew upon some of the whimsical and feminine designs she was experimenting with for i make, you wear it.
In April 2011, Rachel felt ready to take on the challenge of making a new dress every day for 12 months. She launched her i make my day blog and started sewing. Rachel saw the clock strike midnight many times over the project’s life, but her efforts were worthwhile. Again, she raised close to $5,000 for the Starlight Children’s Foundation.
“Making a dress a day was really challenging and I don’t know if I’d recommend it to anyone,” she laughs. “It was also quite expensive, but great in terms of providing me with heaps of samples for what has now become The Hiding Tree, my new label. Even though it was a year ago, I still look to those designs.”
The pressure of having to make a dress a day forced Rachel to think ingeniously. Materials she used ranged from silks and cottons to coffee cups, paper napkins and postcards. Her fascination with wearable art in her high school years came in handy. “It was all about using different textures and materials and looking at what constitutes a dress and how I could push those parameters.”
Her Yellowcake designs caught the eye of Brisbane-born fashion boutique Princess Polly, which then began stocking her garments. Rachel credits Princess Polly for helping her take her business to the next level with her second label, The Hiding Tree. Born in early 2012, The Hiding Tree has since become one of Princess Polly’s in-house labels and is stocked nationally.
The Hiding Tree’s party frocks, daywear and standout pieces are pretty, playful and feminine, and channel a world of whimsy and adventure. Using plenty of frills and froufrou, sparkles and sequins, Rachel likes to think outside the box in terms of shapes, silhouettes and ways to give her pieces the handmade, adventurous aesthetic she is known for.
For inspiration, Rachel buries her nose in books and loses herself in blogs, most recently reading Grace Coddington’s memoir and following Ebony Bizys’ crafty and creative Hello Sandwich blog about life in Tokyo and making art. Closer to home, Rachel is inspired by the creative folk she shares her office space with at Lightspace.
Rachel admits the pressure of financing her self-driven ventures is a constant challenge, however the creative rewards motivate her. She counts the final day of her i make my day project as one of her greatest achievements.
“I really felt elated. I’d completed something I’d begun and it had such a great response,” she recalls. Another high point was spending a fun day making pompoms with sick children through the Starlight Children’s Foundation. “I wasn’t doing anything huge, but it was something that, five years ago, I hadn’t thought I’d be doing.”
When Rachel faces challenges with her label, she tries to heed her own wise words. “I tell myself that everything is going to be okay. I try to look forward and, even if I worry about whether I can afford a venture, I always feel it’s going to work out in the end. Even if I feel overwhelmed, I never feel finished.”