Making her debut last year at the Adelaide Fashion Festival and one of the happiest and kindest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around (with patience one of her more well-known suits), Sophia is set to make the fashion industry great again with her ethos of slow fashion as a minimal maximalist.

feat.// Autark
Styling and model // Sophia Mcmahon
shot and edited by yours truly

Nicole Fang (NF): A little background introduction of yourself and we can start on the questions! (pushes voice recorder closer to Sophia) Don’t look at it (the voice recorder) and you’ll be fine.

Sophia MacMahon (SM): (glances at the phone with slight fear and confusion) Haha! Okay. I was a speech pathologist, had a completely different career, then decided and went away overseas for a while. I liked my job, but I felt like I could have done better at it if I was more passionate so that’s why I decided to have a really good think about what I wanted to do. I knew I probably wanted to be in fashion but I wasn’t a hundred percent sure which route to take because there were so many options to choose from. Then I decided to do the TAFE course her in South Australia.

I think I always wanted to be a designer even though I had a limited understanding of how the industry worked. I thought designers (I was very naive) sewed their own clothes –

NF: –  I know me too!

SM: Yeah! And I knew that my skills in sewing were not the strongest in the world. (chuckles) But I still decided to do the TAFE course so I could learn about as many different areas as I could, which was fantastic and exactly what I did and improved my sewing skills tenfold. That’s when I decided that I really loved designing. When I discovered that I won’t be relying on myself to do every single aspect of the process, I realised that it was something I could feasibly do. And I loved the different aspects involved in that, like the styling side of it. Creating something and then being able to put those pieces together in different and interesting ways. I loved that. I loved seeing how people interpreted what I came up with too. So yeah! TAFE course, tried everything like internships among other things to get as much experience as I could and finished in 2015, started the label and have been working on that every since.

NF: From our previous conversations, we spoke about that idea of a minimalistic maximalist. Is that how you would still want to describe Autark?

SM: Absolutely that was what I was aiming for, that is exactly what appeals to me the most. I think it was the idea of contrast, something I really loved. Something that is quite paired back in some areas but very detailed in others. The volume vs something quite sleek and minimal, I absolutely loved that whole concept and also the contrast between textures..those kinds of things as well.

NF: I’ve always thought of how you’ve described this to be like a quiet shout.


SM: Mmmmhmm! I think it has been really interesting to see people’s reactions to different designs and how they styled different things. Because I want to provide something that people could interpret in their own way but still shows, like, a point of difference to everything else that’s around?

NF: I think you’ve answered my next two intended questions on what it mean to be a minimal maximalist. Haha! Do you think this is for everyone? And your opinions about the latest trend on statement earrings. Do you think those two concepts are similar in any way?

SM: Well I think the earring  trend is something that really appeals to me, I love the idea that earrings can be a statement on it’s own. And I particularly love those that are really minimal in style but that are quite loud at the same time (editor’s note, check out her earrings) if that makes any sense?

NF: Yeah!

SM: I think wearing them asymmetrically is great too because it’s an extra statement on top of that. And they compliment my designs very well. Being a minimal maximalist, its like being an exhibitionist but in a sleek kind of way? Does that make sense?

NF: Like turning up to a gala dinner in a nice dress but something designed to be exposed for aesthetic and the value of a double-take. Like underpants!

SM: Yes! For me it’s about making a statement but not in a completely covert way. Don’t get me wrong I love shiny things but I won’t cover myself head to toe in shiny things. Or even if you were I mean, I would get it fitted and nothing voluminous, not necessarily going for the obvious way to make a statement. (pauses and laughs) I can’t remember the first part of the question!

NF: Do you think it’s for everyone?

SM: No. (laughs) I mean It’s definitely very polarising, I find. However I am trying to design pieces that compliment each other well, in the way which that some things will be more of a statement, but I loved pairing them back with something dressed down or much more sleek and refined so that the statement piece in question will stand out a lot more? That’s why I love layering so much in that sense. Taking something that looks a lot more dressy and putting it back or layered over the top of something else or back down with sneakers because I think the reason why I love the idea of that is due to the underpinning ethos of my brand – slow fashion. I want people to get as much use out of each piece as they possibly can. It’s got to be something that is in a way, unexpected that can be dressed down, but still be able to give it a go when you experiment, wear it, layer and play around with things so that you can get the most wear out of it. People have wardrobes filled to the brim with things they might not even wear and it’s sad, it’s a waste!

NF: Completely relate to what you pointed out about having as much wear as possible out of each item of clothing. I mean the last time I shot for your last collection, I wore your dress with boyfriend jeans and then switched out of it to only white fishnet tights and heels. I had so many more ideas after that session. With your first collection that you did last year, how do you justify your clothes to your customers commercially?

SM: It is a really tricky one, justifying it commercially. I think that it’s continuing to look for people that identify with what I’m making. It’s not necessarily for everything. It can sometimes be a little bit polarising, but I think that with the people who do identify with it make it look incredible. Those people are people that dress for themselves, they don’t dress for other people and they want to feel comfortable and feel fantastic, have something a little different and I think that’s my aim with them. With my clothes. I’ve been able to link up with customers like that who have made multiple purchases and it’s really lovely because I’ve been able to form quite a close relationship with them and to get their feedback on the fits, where they’ve been wearing it to, what and how have they been wearing it with is probably one of the most enjoyable things that when I think about what I’ve been doing which is great.

NF: It’s great to bounce ideas off each other isn’t it? Different people, different walks of life who probably have different opinions and a different point of view on things. They know what works for them and what they prefer. And it’s really looking at the big picture on the traditional conventions of how women should look versus how they want to look. So if you had the chance to come up with an entire new wardrobe all over again, what will you look at to include in your closet? What would you invest in? Let’s talk about opportunity costs as a minimal maximalist.

SM: I would invest in lots of natural fibres. I love the feel of natural fibres against the skin. I’m really a big fan of natural textures. Whenever I go into a store, I just want to touch everything! I want to touch all the clothes, I even love touching the lining to see how that feels against the skin. So I think that – natural fibres – for me is really important.  I love the idea of a contrasting statement with paired back pieces. My dream wardrobe would consist of a set of really classic pieces like a silk pant and camisole, a beautiful classic blazer, a slip dress (vigorous nod from the editor), and other pieces that provide more of a statement that I can kind of layer back with them but are still quite classic. Like some of the tie pieces that I’ve done which have been really great because you can wear them in different ways. Dressy lower heeled shoes and classic pumps would be amazing..little shoe boots. Sneakers! Little Stan Smiths. Nice knits too now that we are in winter.

NF: What about accessories and other smaller things? I read about this thing called the lipstick theory. When it comes to socio-political conflicts etc. women don’t really invest in clothes. They don’t invest in jewellery, they don’t invest in diamonds. But lipstick’s a different world on it’s own! Most likely due to price point differences and that social perception of luxury I assumed. I am generalising all of this but I feel that most women do like to take care of ourselves. Because it’s something that we do for ourselves. It makes us happy when you feel good about yourself! How would you want to replicate that effect if you wanted all of this on a budget?

SM: Accessories are fantastic to play around with, and I am very much subscribed to lipstick. It’s only a small thing but it feels like a completely new outfit sometimes. For the most part, I’m often dressing on a budget too.  The thing that helps me in that area is having more classic pieces that I can play around to mix and match different pieces in different combinations to create that complete feel on a subtle level.

NF: What do you think with the ethos you are trying to teach with your label, what impact (if any) is there with mass consumerism? Especially with this preferred method of dressing?

SM: The best thing that I enjoy the most with what I do is creating that connection with people on a personal level. In this environment, people can’t realistically afford to be buying high price pointed things on a regular basis. Or have a new wardrobe for every season! It’s not sustainable. For me to explain what my pieces are about and how they could work, the best way is honestly through on a more personal level so that I can connect with them really well essentially. I like to think of myself as a people person, I really relish the ability to speak to customers, show them how things works, style them, explain how they could style them with other pieces back at home so they could feel that what they are actually investing in is something that they won’t purchase on a regular basis, but that they can have in their wardrobe and could go back to in a number of different ways so that even when they are buying just one piece, they are perhaps buying a whole new set of outfits essentially.

shot with Leica M9 Summilux-M 50mm
Collection pieces from Autark can be found here.
Autark’s Instagram can be found here.