I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m a wee bit star struck by our Meet the Maker guest today. Vibrant colours and unique designs are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her exquisite creations. I’ve had my eye on the work of Annie Zorzo for some time, so I was very excited when she agreed to this interview. I hope you find this as entertaining and inspiring as I have.
Please tell us a little more about yourself.
I guess most of us identify with who we are away from bag making….so in that respect, I’m married to a wonderful and talented musician husband and we have three beautiful children together. I grew up in Maitland, in the picturesque Hunter Valley, and was a crafty kid who loved playing hockey and couldn’t wait for textiles classes at school. Life took me away from all things tactile when I moved to Sydney in my early 20s to work in an office. It is here that I meet my husband in Corporate Finance, and in 2001, we went over to London. London was great for weekend trips around Europe, the music scene, the fashion and art galleries, and oh my goodness….the amazing food!!! Life as a young couple was pretty awesome!
In 2007 we welcomed our first daughter, and after all our adventures in Europe, she was the catalyst for us returning to Australia in 2008. Family is very important to both of us, so we felt we needed to be by family so our kids could know their grandparents and to grow up with their cousins. Since coming home, we have settled on the Far North Coast of NSW with my husband’s family close by, and as many trips as I can fit in back to the Hunter Valley.
I think it was inevitable, that at some stage in my life I would end up doing something with my hands – either as a hobby or in a job. My mum made our clothes, so I was introduced to that early on. While she didn’t let me touch her machine when I was little, she took me to craft classes every Saturday morning where I made all sorts of things with fabric and glue, and in high school I was finally let loose on a sewing machine. Eventually on my 15th birthday I got my first sewing machine and started making, altering and embellishing my clothes. So while my life after high-school turned away from sewing, when I eventually came back to it in my 30s, it felt like I’d come full circle and I was in the place I needed to be.
Oh and I still play hockey, and away from the sewing machine, still make things with lots of glue!
I see that you have actually studied Fashion (is there a jealousy font?) Can you tell us a bit more about this course? What was your favourite subject?
It was in the UK when I decided to go back to University. I was made redundant from my job in Corporate Human Resources in 2003 and rather than be re-deployed to another area of the company or update my Australian HR qualification to the UK equivalent, I decided to go back to Uni so I could change my career to something that would allow me to work from home once we had children. My mum was at home when we were little so I wanted to do the same when we eventually had kids.
I’d been travelling to and from work for a while with a sketchbook drawing handbags, so I thought I would explore that more to see if it was something I wanted to do. And while I had been living in the UK for a few years, at the time I was still considered as an overseas student making it very expensive to go to University. So rather than apply straight to uni, I went to art school first to immerse myself in all things art until I was considered a ‘home’ student.
At art school, I studied a mix of disciplines from fabric weaving to screen and lino printing, fashion drawing and pattern development through draping, dyeing fabrics and fabric manipulation. It was a great twelve months and meet some amazing people – my English friend Emily Mackey who is an awesome loom weaver; French artist Camille Walala who has gone on to conquer the world in her striking graphic design that started on fabrics and is now featured on walls all around the world; and talented Brazilian Ana Rachel who’s graphic designs are now featured in ad campaigns around Britain. I still refer back to one of my sketch books from this time at art school where every single day was exploring with different mediums and just letting the magic happen. It continues to be an amazing reference.
I was exposed to so much at Art School that when I finished I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was contemplating whether to go onto a loom weaving course at Middlesex University, a textiles course at Chelsea University or onto one of the leather handbag making courses offered at the London College of Fashion. I figured that since the loom weaving or the textiles design would ultimately be incorporated into my bag designs that I should learn how to design and make bags first. I enrolled at the London College of Fashion on the two year Foundation Degree that offered the right mix of practical hands–on making with some background fashion theory.
I think going back to university as a mature age student where you are there for a specific reason, you are more focused on the end goal and not as distracted by the social aspect of university life as you might be when your younger and straight out of high school. I loved being a student again and travelling all over London to the different campuses that made up the University. As a very tactile and hands-on person, my favourite campus was the Shoe and Handbag making campus at Golden Lane in East London (there was also a great soup place just around the corner!).
The accessories floor was the top floor with making/teaching classrooms off to the sides. In the middle was a big central open making room that students could use when they weren’t in lectures. My making classes were my favourite, as this is where I learnt how to take my designs from a sketch to a pattern and then finally into a 3-dimensional product. But it was in the ‘open access’ room that I absolutely loved. Here you had to access to the making technicians, a storeroom full of leather and almost every imaginable metal component, and you got to mix with all the other students across the different courses and at all year levels through their degrees. Just being around the other students you learnt so much. Everyone helped each other – even if your bag was completely different from theirs, just being around them, you learnt different techniques.
At the end of a Foundation Degree, students had the option to move onto the last year of Batchelor degree. I made up my mind that this is something I wanted to do, but even before finishing my Foundation Degree, I fell pregnant with our first daughter. All the accessories Batchelor degree courses I could move onto were only offered full-time, which was not something I could do with a new baby. Not one to give up, I talked my way onto a part-time clothing Fashion Studies Batchelor degree where I was the only accessories student.
When I went back to uni, my daughter was 4 months old and it was hugely challenging. I remember waving goodbye to my husband and my 7 month old little girl as they returned to Australia for my brother’s wedding, while I remained in the UK by myself to finish a verbal presentation assessment and follow them a week later. At 18 months old, my daughter also got the Chickenpox. This was just one week out from my final degree show and I only had one of four bags completely finished. My husband was able to work from home to look after our daughter, freeing me to be in the open access making room from the minute it opened to the minute it closed to get the other bags done. Still….one bag didn’t get finished for the catwalk show and ended up going down the catwalk glued together!!!
It is my final degree bags, plus the bag I made for my husband for his 30th birthday, that I am most proud of from my university days. How they came together after all the design challenges, even when one of my lecturers said ‘stay away from that, make it simpler’, gives me the greatest sense of accomplishment. Even today, I wish I had more time to dedicate to developing new designs…..I have sketch books full of them!!!
How long have you been making bags? What made you decide to follow the bag path as opposed to clothing?
I’ve been making bags since Art School where my final collection was a trio of bags. At university they became more more adventurous and complex in their design….and then it all came to a stop. I graduated with my Batchelor Degree in 2008 and later that year we returned home to Australia. Once home in Australia we had two more children and my life become that of an all encompassing mum with play dates, playgroups, nap time and WASHING!!!!
When my youngest was born in 2011, I was starting to get antsy and really wanted to make something. Living at the beach, I designed a large family beach bag for my own family to use and offered some for sale. It went a little nuts for a while making beach bags and then in 2013 I put the industrial machines back in action making leather and fabric combination bags. I love leather and I love fabric, and I think incorporating fabric into the design offers more of the users personality to shine through.
Haha…. I often get asked why I don’t make clothes, and after a few attempts with bought patterns, I don’t even make clothes for my kids!!! The reason is pretty simple – I found it difficult to accurately illustrate clothing on a drawn person. Their head, their hands or their feet were always out of proportion – which in fashion design is essential to be able to ’sell’ your design. Plus, and this is the main reason, I absolutely hate grading patterns for sizing. I like the fact that I can design a bag and then make it up to a particular size and then that’s it. I might resize a pattern up or down on request, but generally if I have a client that is after a smaller or larger bag, I have another bag design in my range that I can offer them.
You make some amazing bags. Are they your own designs or do you source patterns from other designers? Where do you get your inspiration?
Aww, thank you! There is only one fabric bag that I make and sell where I’ve used a pattern by another designer, but all the rest are my own design. For me, I think the designs that I make at the moment are very commercial and have a wide appeal. I would love to step back into some old sketch books and develop some of my more adventurous designs, but with a young family time is the issue. Plus I hope to start releasing my own patterns shortly too…..so it’s just working out what I can realistically do with the time that I have available.
I’m inspired by everything! I love architecture and feel that a bag carries you home when you are away from home. I think there is a connection there, where like a building has a place for everything in different rooms, a bag needs different ‘rooms’ (or pockets) to organise your ‘house’ away from home. I love the work by architects Frank Gehry and the late Zaha Hadid. They have produced some amazingly iconic buildings and I love the asymmetrical aspect of them.
I’m also in love with the patterns of nature and and how they can be reproduced with fabric manipulation, so much so that I have a Pinterest board totally dedicated to fabric manipulation. There are also man-made patterns in nature that have an indescribable beauty to them. Yann Arthus-Bertrang is a French Photographer that photographed the earth from the air. The photographs are stunning – whether the subject is nature in all its wonder or man and his organised or chaotic influence on the earth – it’s difficult to look away without seeing beauty. Another artist I find amazing is Andy Goldsworthy and one of my briefs in art school was based on the sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy.
My brain never stops and I can never keep up. Even chopping up red cabbage for dinner I see patterns!!!
What advice would you give to someone just starting in the bag making world?
For starting out, find a few pattern designers you like and follow their patterns. There are lots of bag making groups on Facebook and most bag pattern designers also have their own group, popping in and out to offer help and give tutorials. If you ever get stuck, post in these groups and ask for help. There are so many people willing to share their experiences and offer assistance. Early days will be trial and error and you will learn loads, so if something doesn’t go right, put it down to experience and don’t be disheartened. Also really get a handle on interfacings and interlinings, as it’s these unseen things in bag making that takes your bag to the next level.
If you are going to sell your work, do your research about who your target market is and be realistic in your costings so you don’t undersell yourself. There is a perception by some people, that are NOT in the handmade industry, that handmade is cheap. While that may have been true years ago, it’s definitely not the case any more with the rise of cheap fast fashion. For small home industries, the discounts of buying in bulk aren’t always available, so to undersell your work is only hurting you and fellow hand makers around you.
And give it time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you won’t conquer all there is to know about bag making overnight. Most of all have fun.
Thank you, Annie, for taking the time to share your amazing adventure with us. I am in awe of your work (and a little jealous. That ‘open access room’ sounds like heaven). You can see more of Annie’s work at:
Didn’t I tell you it was an inspiring read? Who else wants to get their hands on the leather and hardware in that open access room???