The Designer Interview: Holly Chandler and Rebecca McKenzie from Foemina
Australian womenswear label, Passenger, released its first collection under the newly debuted name ‘Foemina’–Latin for ‘woman.’ The range is accompanied by an artfully executed campaign shot by a group of creatives who interpreted and presented the new vision for the label.
Cotton poplin dresses from the Spring/Summer collection were shot with blurred, flourished movements, purposefully suggestive of the confident new attitude through which the label would operate with its new name. In essence, it was clear that the birth, or rather re-birth, of Foemina signified a new chapter to the partnership for co-creative directors Holly Chandler and Rebecca McKenzie.
Still relatively young for a contemporary fashion label, Foemina was founded in 2017 by the duo with a goal to fulfill gaps in the everyday wardrobe of the modern woman. Themes of feminine strength, utilitarian design, and modern minimalism, coupled with a sustainable approach to production encapsulates the driving force behind McKenzie and Chandler’s innovative vision.
Uninterested by trends, Foemina focuses on longevity and integrity of materials and craft, choosing to render their designs almost entirely using cotton poplin. It’s an approach rarely seen in a fast fashion-centric industry that champions quantity over quality. Foemina strips back the noise to deliver purposeful capsule collections of truly versatile, refined styles. A high-octane blend of masculine and feminine aesthetics intentionally juxtaposes a powerful femininity, with the clean-lined, minimal silhouettes seen in traditional menswear designs.
Below, in conversation with The Forme, Chandler and McKenzie discuss how they started in fashion, their focus on sustainability adopted by the label, and their design process each season.
We are excited about getting to know you both and learn where the inspiration for creating Foemina originated. Where did you start in the fashion industry and how did your growth in understanding the trade translate into starting your own label?
Bec: Foemina was born out of our desire to create something that is a celebration of our love for beautiful clothing, something to serve the women we are inspired by on a daily basis. I have been through a major career change from dentist to designer as I had no job satisfaction and a strong desire to make a change. It was an incredibly hard decision to make, but I wanted to put happiness first and be an empowering example for my two daughters and other women.
Holly: Growing up in a small country town, I was not overly exposed to the fashion industry, but have always had a desire to be a part of it and create a career that would inspire my three daughters. When I was 19 I moved to Sydney to attend fashion business school, and gained a lot of experience working alongside numerous stylists such as Lesley Crawford and for brands including Easton Pearson and Jac + Jack. After seven years I moved back to the country, and started dreaming with Bec who I had known since boarding school. Together we created Foemina, the realisation of our combined passions.
Your label is designed with the contemporary minimalist in mind. Has minimalism always been an attractive guiding design perspective for you?
Yes. Our woman is purposeful and a little understated so minimalist pieces suit her and will stand the test of time in her wardrobe, our styles need to be applicable to the varied life she lives, her Foemina clothes need to amplify her confidence. Our designs are utilitarian but with an interesting detail, pleat, lapel, cuff or collar.
How do you approach the design process each season?
We find inspiration in so many ways, at the beginning of the design process we sit down together and discuss what we have been reading, listening to, art we have seen or places we have been. From there the ideas just flow. We think about fabrications we want to work with and would work for our woman, then curate a palette that feels right for the mood of the collection and season. Our goal is to produce empathetic design to a woman’s body and lifestyle, utilitarian and pragmatic but stylish, a perfect addition to her wardrobe.
Foemina is committed to sustainable fashion. Who do you look to for information and inspiration on ecologically and socially responsible fashion? What are some of the sustainability goals you have for the label?
We are inspired by the initiatives and action plans we see coming out of Copenhagen Fashion Week. There is so much to learn and embrace in this space and it is important to us to see where we can implement more ethical and sustainable strategies into our business.
In our commitment to sustainability we send all orders in 100% compostable carrier satchels from Hero Packaging and are conscious of all packaging and recycling decisions through the company. More recently we have made changes to reduce the use of aviation to minimise our carbon footprint by freighting our production via sea rather than air.
For our Pre Fall 22 collection we have sourced GOTS Certified Organic Cotton dyed in OEKO-TEX® 100 STANDARD certified dye-houses.
Future goals include importing all of our garments in 100% compostable plant-based satchels and carbon offsetting all international orders through the DHL GoGreen Climate Neutral shipping service.
It is admirable how well-edited your collections are–is this an intrinsically simple process or is it difficult to minimise the size of the collections?
To be honest it can be difficult to rein in the collections. The key for us is to think about who our Foemina woman is and how our clothes are an extension of her rich and varied lifestyle. We scrutinise each piece in the collection and make sure that they are Foemina in essence and true to the feminine uniform we are creating for this woman.
All of your garments are made using 100% cotton–was this always the intention or is this becoming more important as the collections continue to evolve?
When we started Foemina we were having a love affair with cotton poplin and we are confident it will always feature in our future collections. We love the way it feels and the way it lends itself to our designs so well.
We also wanted to consider the environment by minimising the number of textiles, trims and raw materials we used in each collection to eliminate dead stock waste.
As we have grown we have started working with more texture, and our Pre-Fall 22 collection will feature new mediums for us, as we introduce tropical wool and seersucker to sit beside and compliment our organic cotton poplin. We will always source material that is derived from natural compositions and therefore planet-friendly.
Your recent campaign, shot by Hannah Scott-Stevenson is stunning. How important is imagery in representing your creative vision for Foemina, and what are some of the ideas for this particular collection that you were exploring through this visual medium?
Imagery is an essential component in telling the story of Foemina. We changed our name from PASSENGER to Foemina during 2021 and with this change we felt it was important to express our new intentions and creative vision through this campaign.
Hannah Scott-Stevenson and stylist Sara Smith worked with our idea of being “re-born” with the use of light and shadow and combining movement with stillness. We could not be more in love with our creative team who really know how to bring our vision to life.
Is there a particular piece from your latest collection that you consider to be a personal favourite?
Holly: I have been living in my Harper playsuit. It's the perfect Foemina uniform for my life at the moment.
Bec: I have always loved the Sylvie dress, feminine and cool, the best kind of summer dress.
What does your dream summer capsule wardrobe look like?
Holly: My Foemina Trinny Dress paired with Marni fussbett sandals a beautiful big sunhat from Helen Kaminski.
Bec: It would have to be my classic white Foemina Lola Shirt with denim cut offs, and cord leather sandals by Co.