Autark designer Sophia McMahon on sustainability, personal style and feminine strength
Jessica Eva for Public Figure
Meet Sophia McMahon, designer, director and creator of Adelaide based label Autark. After a career pivot Sophia entered the fashion industry with the intention of championing local production and celebrating natural fibres. Now her collections feature structural garments that have an inherent femininity, as she says- best described as ‘minimal maximalism’. Her clothes stand to be pieces that you will have in your wardrobe for many years to come, read on to find out how she came to create the collections and her take on style.
How did Autark come to be?
I was studying here in South Australia and learning a lot more about the industry and the impact it has on the planet. At first it started with wanting to create a brand that focused on local production and the use of natural fibres and that’s kind of developed focusing on the sustainable and ethical side of the business. I’m learning more about alternatives that are kinder on the environment and starting to encompass those and use them as much as possible in my current production processes.
What sparked your passion for sustainable living?
I’ve always had a real affection for animals, plants and the environment. I guess that was part of my personality before coming into the fashion sphere but then the more that I learnt that most production even at the most basic level is now happening offshore from Australia I started to ask questions like ‘why is that, and is it possible to do it a different way and what would it look like if that was done differently?’.
I wanted to bring it back to the way my nanna used to sew and the way that my mum had clothes made for her. There was such a process going into choosing the fabric to have something made for you or make it yourself. It would be a piece that would be in your wardrobe and worn so much on rotation. My nanna would have one special occasion dress and she would wear it so many times and that wasn’t a bad thing. There’s such a social stigma around that, but I don’t really agree that you have to have something new or you can’t wear what you want - if you have something that you love why not wear it all the time!
Describe your personal style.
With the brand I wear many different hats and some of the work can be quite physical so I tend to have quite a pared back everyday style. I like my outfits to be comfortable but minimal and classic. What I’m going for is a bit of an effortless vibe.
Another idea that really intrigues me around style is a masculine take on feminine. I’ve been told a lot that the Autark aesthetic is very feminine which I definitely agree with but I also like to put a lot of masculine elements in there. I’m really fascinated with the idea of the contrast between masculine and feminine like what makes a piece of clothing one as opposed to the other.
This idea that women can be so strong and that their strength is stereotypically a quiet type of strength. There’s all kinds of strength in femininity but for me I like to focus on that feeling of quiet power and that a woman can be dressed in a certain way and it can be quite soft but it can still be reflective of that inner strength that that woman has.
What does a typical day look like to you?
I’d love to say I have a routine, because it changes all the time and depends on where I’m sitting in the whole collection process. At the moment it will now shift to focus on the production side of things so getting things ready for the new production and ironing out how that will work. I do little pieces of everything –the cutting, the fabric and trim sourcing, a lot of the marketing, social media, working with customers... It really varies a lot every day. I outsource all of the machine work and production, and that’s all done here in Adelaide there with some people in the team that are super talented with their work.
I love doing the shoots as well. One of my favourite things to do is styling that and coordinating everything for that. Just getting to see it all come together in the end is always really exciting.
What is your favourite piece from the Autark x Public Figure collection?
It’s a bit like choosing a favourite child because I adore all of them in different ways. A dress is always amazing because you can just throw it on and you don’t have to think about the elements of an outfit so I really do love the Wrap Dress in Cream. It’s a favourite of mine because it embodies what I’m aiming for when I design which is an effortless vibe but it’s really polished at the same time.
It’s one of those things where it looks really effortless but it had a lot of revisions of the pattern to get it just right so I am quite proud of it in that respect. Then the little details in it like the box pleats, the drop shoulder and the linen silk blend fabric. It’s got these little imperfections in it which I really love. The feel of it is unlike any other material that I’ve come across.