June 16, 2024

Fashion Design

Fashion Designs that Enlighten the Soul.

Wiradjuri designer Renee Henderson launches 12-piece collection at Australian Fashion Week

4 min read

For four years, fashion design student Renee Henderson commuted by train from Wollongong on the NSW south coast to Sydney for her studies.

“I’d have suitcases with me on the train full of garments and shoes and styling pieces or rolls of fabric,” the 24-year-old said.

“It was a struggle, but it was enjoyable.”

This week the graduate of the Fashion Design Studio will be driving herself to Sydney’s Carriageworks to participate in Australian Fashion Week.

It’s the young Australian designer’s third runway event.

“I am super excited to have my collection, and fellow classmates’ collections, on the runway,” said the Wiradjuri woman from Wollongong.

Ms Henderson’s fashion label is Lychee Alkira.

“I love lychees [the fruit] and alkira, an Aboriginal word, meaning bright and sunny, which describes my collection well,” she said.

Six images from Lychee Alkira's Instagram page.

Renee Henderson’s Lychee Alkira label has colourful, creative, and unique designs.(Instagram: lycheealkira)

Pops of colour

Ms Henderson was always interested in fashion, but never knew she could pursue it as a career until she applied to the Fashion Design Studio at TAFE NSW in Ultimo in inner Sydney and was accepted.

The degree requires each student to create an eight-look collection.

“The first two years of the degree you’re thinking about what you are going to do in third year because it’s a big deal, and you work on this project for the whole year, so it has to be something you love,” Ms Henderson said.

“We choose what inspires us as designers, what we want to put out in the world, then we go on to colour palettes, and it just goes on from there.”

A woman holds a roll of fabric in a sewing room

Renee Henderson collaborated with Victorian-based Gunditjmara artist Merindah-Gunya to create this fabric.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Lychee Alkira designs have pops of colour and the textures involve a technique Ms Henderson created using plant material.

“It’s eco-dyed using natural materials from eucalyptus, geranium, rose petals,” she said.

A woman wears a handmade item.

Ms Henderson creates stunning designs inspired by Aboriginal art and culture.(Supplied: Grace Evans-Craig, @kaliannaevans)

“But on top of that is an extra layer of screen printing.

“So it isn’t just the eco-printing with natural elements, there’s an eco-repeat in the silk screen.”

Instrumental to her success has been the industry exposure and connections she has made on her journey so far.

“Mob In Fashion, a creative agency, offered me a place on their runway for emerging designers at Melbourne Fashion Festival shortly after I invited them to see my collection at TAFE NSW’s graduate runway show in November 2023,” Ms Henderson said.

“It’s been an incredible experience and it’s amazing to now be showing at Australian Fashion Week.”

She collaborated with Indigenous artist Merindah-Gunya, based in Melbourne. 


“I sent her a canvas material, then she painted on it and sent it back to Wollongong where I created a screen from her print and then screen printed on top, so it was definitely a new process for both of us,” Ms Henderson said.

“We created a print together to showcase both our cultural identity and the connection we have.”

A glamourous coat and pant suit

Ms Henderson’s work will feature on the 2024 Australian Fashion Week runway.(Supplied: TAFE NSW Fashion Design Studio)

Lychee Alkira now a 12-piece collection

Ms Henderson’s collection includes swimwear, coats, pants, and party dresses. 

“We did sketches every day just experimenting and then slowly throughout the year you develop samples and new designs, and then you come up with the final product,” she said.

“When I graduated, I had eight pieces.

“Melbourne Fashion Festival needed 10 and now Sydney at Australian Fashion Week needs 12, so I have slowly extended my graduate collection.”

Renee is looking at the camera while steaming a colourful blue and orange dress.

Renee Henderson is new to the fashion scene and plans to start small before dreaming big.(ABC News: Darryl Torpy)

Ms Henderson is proud of her achievements.

“In the beginning I thought about what I wanted on the runway, not so much what would happen after the show,” she said.

“I want to enjoy it, knowing I made it this far, and I am proud of the work I have on the runway.”

Composite image of material and people designing fashion.

The process of creating new designs in fashion is often long and arduous.(Instagram: Lychee Alkira)

The Innovators

The Fashion Design Studio started in 1955 as a dressmaking school.

“Now we are one of Australia’s most acclaimed fashion design schools,” said the studio’s Laura Washington.

For 25 years it has collaborated on The Innovators, the longest-standing consecutive show with Australian Fashion Week, which celebrates the next guard of young designers launching their careers.

A woman pins fabric to a mannequin.

Laura Washington encourages her students to source second-hand clothes.(Supplied: Laura Washington)

Four women were selected this year, including Ms Henderson and alumni members Dion Lee, Zimmermann, and Akira on the runway.

“It’s a real celebration of the contribution the Fashion Design Studio has made to the Australian fashion industry,” Ms Washington said.

“Renee is a creative, intelligent young woman with dreams and ambitions, and I think she will be great”.

A young woman sits at a busy table.

Renee Henderson graduated in time to celebrate 25 years of Innovators on the runway at Australian Fashion Week.(Supplied: Melanie O’Connell)

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