Old Scholar Spotlight - Lorna Murray

Don’t lose heart when things don’t work out; it builds character, tenacity and resilience and sometimes leads you to where you could never have imagined!

Lorna Murray, member of the Class of 1991 and Challen House Captain ('91), wrote in the Endeavour that her aim was to live in eccentricity designing hats and shoes. She certainly did this when she graduated from St Mark's, throwing herself into creative pursuits and building an extensive career spanning more than twenty years as a Sydney-based fashion designer and textile artist. Her apparel business, Lorna Murray, prides itself on creating beautifully refined pieces that are sustainably made with 100% natural fibres and with minimal environmental impact. Lorna's designs have graced runways at fashion weeks, adorn the heads of celebrities and are available in Australia and in over 450 stockists worldwide.

When Lorna popped by her old school to provide an insight into the world of business for our Year 11 and 12 Business and Economic students recently, we took the opportunity to chat with her about life after St Mark's and her successful apparel business.

Short & Sweet:

  • Class of: 1991
  • Tertiary education: Curtin University of Technology: Post Grad Dip - Education 1995 and Curtin University of Technology: Bachelor of Arts - Visual Arts 1991-1994
  • Current role: Founder and Director, Lorna Murray & Lorna Murray Apparel
  • Music you are currently listening to: Musical taste from the 60s to now - Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse, Van Morrison, Cold Play, Harry Styles
  • Dream dinner guest: Ralph Lauren
  • Favourite subject at school: Visual Art
  • Your experience at St Mark’s in six words: Fun, inspiring, kind, disciplined, focused, creative.

A Little Longer:

Where has life after St Mark’s taken you?
Straight after school, I immersed myself in five years full-time at Curtin University, developing creative pursuits with other like-minded students from across Western Australia. Straight after university, I began teaching Visual Arts full-time at Methodist Ladies College in Perth. After seven years at MLC, I moved to Hale School, where I taught for five years. I then relocated to The Kings School in Sydney, where I taught for five years while lecturing in Fashion and Textiles at the University of Technology Sydney. Throughout my years as a teacher, I also undertook sabbaticals in India, where I would continue to develop my own visual arts practice, culminating in further exhibitions in Australia and internationally.

School holidays were regularly spent travelling and pursuing my artistic and creative passions. I registered as a sole trader in 2000 and began making small collections of apparel from time to time for retail stores in Perth during my spare time. I have been working on my brand full-time since 2017 and registered as a company in 2020.

How do you think St Mark’s prepared you for life after school?
St Marks encouraged a well-balanced life of family, friendships, community, personal integrity, physical health, emotional wellness, spirituality, respect for the environment, educational excellence, and tertiary occupational goals.

How did you get your start in business?
I had a passion for creating headwear and garments for hot sunny climates - I was inspired to create artisanal pieces from natural/sustainable materials which people would love to wear. I think being a secondary school teacher certainly taught me a lot of skills that I found to be very transferable across business.

What has been the most rewarding and challenging part of owning your own business?
Designing and creating a product that speaks to the design values I love – sun protection, innovative design, preserving artisanal skills, celebrating natural materials and showcasing them in a contemporary fashion context. Seeing photos of customers from all across the globe enjoying the brand and having so much fun wearing our hats.

Competing priorities, including sourcing our raw materials, logistics, budgeting and also government regulations in different countries.

Where do you take your inspiration from, and how do you continue to create amazing designs season after season?
Fortunately, being inspired comes naturally to me and is the joy in what I do. Often, I find inspiration in the most unpredictable places and situations. I really believe that travel helps to sustain curiosity and inspire creative individuals.

What do you think is the most challenging issue facing designers in Australia today?
Australia is a small market when it comes to fashion, and it can be difficult to scale up in Australia. With the growth and competition from fast fashion, we need to focus on innovation and items that are artisanal and perhaps away from the mainstream—thinking globally and being prepared for all the complexities that this involves – trademarking, IP, counterfeiting, shipping and logistics etc.

Ethics and sustainability are at the core of your business and your designs - why is this an important factor for your business, and what are the challenges in crafting designs that have a minimal environmental impact?
My background and passion for Visual Arts drove me to create and present pieces to customers that represent the brand and all we strive to achieve. The integrity and language of materials is formed while training as an artist or designer. We engage in slow textile practices for the discerning buyer, those who support the sustainable fashion movement and respect for the hand of the maker. Every handcrafted hat or piece carries the unique signature of the maker.
We work to a strict criteria and are always looking to improve our practices and sourcing the best raw materials possible with the least environmental impact.

What is it that sets your brand apart from others?
All our pieces are individually handmade by our collaborating artisans, who make pieces exclusively for our brand. We create our pieces in small batches, and our pieces are beautifully packaged for a wonderful customer experience.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Building a brand from scratch with my own ideas and hard work and providing employment for a talented team of approximately fifteen creatives in Sydney and a wonderful team of artisans in Indonesia who create exclusively for us.

What is your fondest memory of your time at St Mark’s?
Youthfulness, friendships, athletics, Human Biology classes with Mrs Booth and Art classes with Miss Cornford.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
It sounds so simple, but it’s been true for me; Mum and Dad always encouraged me to follow my dreams and to do what I loved and that which made me happy. Also, I learned to focus on being great at one thing in fashion instead of many things! Don’t assume you need to work everything out first before you start – be prepared to learn and adjust as you go.

What advice do you have for students wanting to start their own business?
Be patient; things take time! Focus on being the best you can be in the area you have a passion. Get lots of life and industry experience first. Focus on maintaining a balanced life as much as possible. Don’t lose heart when things don’t work out; it builds character, tenacity and resilience and sometimes leads you to where you could never have imagined!

You can explore Lorna's amazing designs here and follow her on Instagram and Facebook.