The Sydney-based label reinventing vintage towels through fashion design



“The word ‘fashion’ implies something that comes and goes, and there’s something inherently flawed about that.”

While towels can be beautiful and thoughtfully made, they’re not often a textile that thrills. Towels are given as gifts to distant family members, laid across dog-trodden car seats or neatly stashed in the back of household linen cupboards to slowly collect dust (with the exception of those hooded towels that give you animal ears, now they are thrilling).

With the intention of making her good friend Dani a heartfelt gift, Sydney designer Whim Wilson turned her mind to rescuing those back-of-the-cupboard towels. After a trip to her local op shop, Whim came back with a stack of thrifted towels and a surge of fresh design inspiration.

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Dani’s present was such a hit, Whim’s upcycled towel project turned into her very own fashion label. Towelie is where unwanted towels come to be reinvented, in the form of colourful bucket hats, soft cardigans and contrasting co-ord sets.

Tell us about you. What’s your fashion background?

I’m Whim, the founder of Towelie. My first word was “shoe” according to my parents. I was totally obsessed with shoes as a child. I always had fashion design in the back of my mind as a path I might take, but I ended up studying architecture and later going into fine art.

My year 10 textiles project was a corset with upside-down teacups fastened to the bra cups. I think it will always be one of my favourite creations.

How did the label get started? Talk us through the process and the challenges.

In 2019 I was living in a really creative and inspiring household with two friends from art school, Eliza and Dani. It was Dani’s birthday and I wanted to make her something that was unique, quirky and just a pure embodiment of my affection for her.

I thrifted a few towels from Vinnies in Newtown and started sewing. At the end of the day, I ended up with a jumper that had a v-neck collar, big long ceremonial sleeves and ‘Dani’ embroidered on the front. It sort of snowballed from there, but I never expected that three years on I would have this business.

It’s a challenge to work with vintage towels because every piece is unique. It can be hard to get into a rhythm when making, and it slows down the process of sales. But these are also the things that make Towelie so special.

What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has this evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now?

In the beginning, my Towelies were fun gestures of love that you could also wear to the beach. The pieces I made were bright, lively and unapologetically goofy. More recently I’ve realised I can take Towelie in whatever direction I want… I’ve started to let myself be inspired and to experiment more.

Someone told me at the start that “wearing a Towelie makes you feel loved. It’s like someone is hugging you”. Even though I think Towelie has evolved, that feeling is something I want to strive for, in all the pieces I make

Through the whole process, I’ve definitely become more passionate about slow and circular fashion. I think Towelie will end up morphing into something else eventually, but I intend to stick to using what we already have in the world to make new pieces.

How would you describe Towelie designs to someone who’s never seen them before?

I would describe Towelie as vibrant, crafty, loving clothing; made from vintage towels.

What are you most proud of in your work on your label?

I’m kind of proud that I didn’t mean to start a label. I’m also proud of the way Towelie turns textiles that might’ve been ignored at the back of a cupboard into something precious.

Who do you think is most exciting in Australian fashion right now?

Clover Cutler just released an amazing debut collection. Par Moi is a really inspiring brand to me, and I love the artfulness of Threadgate and Gravy.

What about the Australian fashion industry needs to change?

The word ‘fashion’ implies something that comes and goes, and there’s something inherently flawed about that. You shouldn’t have to buy new pieces every season to be relevant. We need to stop saying phrases like “that piece is so in right now”. We should start saying “this piece is so me, forever”. There also needs to be way more accountability in the industry, which can only truly happen with government regulation.

I think there’s huge excitement around slow and circular fashion processes right now, and I hope the Australian fashion industry keeps riding that wave.

Who is in your wardrobe right now?

My most recent purchase was from Baserange. My favourite pieces are ’90s hand-me-downs from my very cool aunt, including a silk cherry print Yaso maxi dress with spaghetti straps and a cowl neck.

How can we buy one of your pieces?

I drop selections of the most recently-made pieces on my website. I also do made-to-order custom pieces. You can contact me directly at [email protected] to order.

Anything else to add?

There’s enough fabric in the world. Upcycling and circular fashion are the future!

For more Towelie, head here.

Nigarai M Grusio

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