Interview With Evie Willsteed, Founder of Genkstasy

Creative Director Evie Willsteed is an activist for change and a strong believer in equality as a means to create a better world for us all. Seeing the isolation many suffer from perceived “difference”, “otherness”, or “non-belonging” she was inspired to create a fashion label that focuses on bringing joy, colour and connectedness to the lives of others. From this and over a decade of sewing and design experience Genkstasy was born, moving Fresh-Dressed street style into a non-binary future.

Just weeks after launching their debut collection in 2017, Genkstasy was snapped up by Brisbane Fashion Month (BFM) for design showcase events at Brisbane International Airport and Wintergarden, and was one of the best selling labels exhibited in the BFM Pop-up shop. Since then Genkstasy has been featured in numerous fashion publications (including Peppermint, BBYDLL, Cocktail Revolution), and is currently selling both online and through bricks-and-mortar store The Happy Cabin, in Brisbane’s West End. Genkstasy’s second collection is set for release in March.
“Winter is a time for healing and reflection. This next collection, inspired by the Egyptian Goddess Sekhmet and Tanizaki’s ‘In Praise Of Shadows’, embodies this need for balance, giving us the opportunity to explore the deep and dark within us.”

Can you tell me a bit about how your fashion journey started?

I was homeschooled as a kid and my mum did a lot of practical learning with us which meant that subjects like math were incorporated with hobbies we actually enjoyed i.e cooking, sewing and making things. I started doing that a lot when I was young as well as doing the things most kids enjoy such as playing shop and dress-ups. In high school, we didn’t have a lot of money and I didn’t like dressing like everyone else so I’d make my own clothes. I liked reusing old clothes and upcycling it into kooky stuff. I went through a weird goth stage where I’d buy Victorian dresses and 80’s clothes from op shops and put old orange bags on the top of it…bit embarrassing now that I think about it!

What made you decide to come to QUT Creative Enterprise Australia?

I was actually looking for a mentor and had been searching for a while. I’d been wanting to start this label and had been researching for a long time but I knew there were a lot of gaps in not only my business knowledge but my ability to source good, ethical fabrics. I’d found some overseas but not a lot in Australia so I really needed help with those two things. My uncle works at QUT and through that, he introduced me to someone who suggested I should join the CEA Fashion Accelerator Program. They said I’d find exactly what I was looking for.

You spoke about ethical fashion – is this something you’re really passionate about?

Yes! When I was younger I just bought what was cheap. As I grew older I began to learn about the unethical practices that most brands employed and I decided that I couldn’t buy from them anymore. Eventually, it became deeply ingrained in my personality and a core part of who I am. From then on I realised that not only do I not want to support those things but I want to create something positive instead.

How would you describe Genkstasy?

Ungendered alt-luxe street wear with a staunch but sweet Japanese flavour. You know how Japanese fashion can be metal but cute? It’s kind of like that.

What made you appreciate Japanese fashion?

I visited a friend who moved there a few years ago when she married and had a child. Before that, I’d never been to Japan before and I had quite a few friends tell me to go there as they thought I’d love it. When I finally did I felt like I fitted in so well. Their attitude to life is very similar to mine and they really love dressing well. Couples dress the same and men get really into fashion – I just had that sort of spirit affiliation. I’ve now been learning Japanese and have visited five times since.

What’s it like being in an environment with other designers?

It’s been so good! They’re really great women. We’re all quite different so it’s been great to get different life perspectives and different opinions about things. At the same time, it’s nice to have people who are going through the same journey, the same struggle and who know exactly what you’re going through.

What would you say has been your biggest hurdle?

I think there’s two. The first one has been sourcing ethical fabric – it’s been really hard. There are not many places that actually have ethical and fair trade fabric. It’s always been that some will have organic certified or fair trade certified, but none will have both. Those that do hold these principles don’t have many options. There is usually a store that only sells linen material or another that sells Jersey, that sort of thing. You can’t buy everything from the same place either. Sometimes you’d get it and the quality wasn’t as good as you’d hoped for but you really wanted to get it anyway because it’s ethical. It’s all these kinds of things that make it really challenging and frustrating.

The other problem would be that I’m not a computer person. That has been a bit of a struggle for me as I like to be out in the trees, using hands and interacting with people. Having to be on the screen is not a fun time for me!

Who’s your go-to for inspiration?

It would be a combination of music, dance and my friends. I have a really inspiring and connected friendship group who I’m very lucky to have. A lot of them are artists and musicians and I get so inspired by what they’re doing. My friend, Tiarna (who I’ve made pants for) is a singer and her music really speaks to me. When I hear it I get so inspired to go and make something!

What have you got coming up?

A few things actually! I’ve got a line in the International Airport for Brisbane Fashion Month. I’m one of the fifteen designers picked for that. I’m also doing a pop-up shop in Wintergarden in October for a whole month so that’s an exciting place to have my first retail presence. I’m about to launch the Genkstasy website soon and in December I’ll be launching a summer range. Think short shorts!

Five-year plan?

I have a five-year plan and a dream plan! The short-term plan is to get retail stockists. I’d be absolutely stoked if I could get into Culture Kings (if they want to up their game in terms of ethics and alt-luxe stuff). Then boutiques, getting more brand ambassadors and releasing more lines in 2018. I’ve got a friend I’m talking to about somehow developing an ethical skate shoe as I’m obsessed with shoes! I love shoes and I’ve wanted to make shoes for ages but I haven’t known how to go about that. So, I’ve got a friend who can help me start that journey. That’s my dream!

Want to see more of Genkstasy? Check out the website here

Evie is a recent recipient of the Fashion360 accelerator, our six-month program designed to equip early-stage fashion entrepreneurs with all the essentials required to execute and sustain a growing business. It comprises of weekly workshops and masterclasses covering a wide range of topics with industry experts.

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