The Lee Effect

Lee Mathews – The Label, The Artist

Lee Mathews is the brilliant mind behind her eponymous label – once an illustrator, once an art director and now, an internationally recognised fashion designer.

James St is home to Queensland’s one and only Lee Mathews boutique, and with the team just recently celebrating 20 years of success, we chatted with Lee about her fashion journey threaded with coffee, originality, sustainability and style.


Lee Mathews has been at the forefront of the Australian fashion scene for over 20 years, a remarkable achievement – what’s a day in the life of Lee like?

I am a creature of habit these days. Coffee at home, walk to work with my dog Ted, unless it’s raining which he hates. Then it’s the usual rounds at the office, production meetings, fittings, design meetings and calls with the girls in store. The week seems to fly by and I never seem to get everything done.


The label is renowned for the idea of a capsule wardrobe filled with timeless garments – how has the label and its capsule wardrobe evolved?  

Interestingly, it has pretty much stayed the same in terms of concept, if you like. There has been a move towards some more fashion-forward shapes in recent times, but not so forward that they don’t relate to something former. If anything, the use of more diverse fabrications, recycled fabrics, for instance, has been a nice change.  


What has been your best decision for the label?  

Sticking to the original idea, and staying small. Making clothing that felt like it fit with my life and that of my friends and those I work with. The people I’m surrounded by are the greatest influences on what gets made or what doesn’t, it’s truly a collaborative effort.  


A proud advocate for using every piece of fabric, and as someone who takes sustainability seriously, what tips can you share with people who want to become more sustainable in their business practice?

Size and scale are tricky, but contributors to this. By keeping things at a hands-on label, you really are able to manage a lot of bespoke practices, like cutting ends off rolls or making bags from scraps. Being able to see what you have to work with helps enormously. Suppliers who are engaged in helping with bespoke practice is also key.


What is a fashion principle you wish to re-write?

Seasonality. It’s crippling and has been forced into stark relief through Covid. Everyone missed a season, almost 2, and the way it threw the business cycle into disarray has truly altered how you work and survive. Whether it has long term effects is yet to be seen.


What’s next for Lee Mathews, the label?

Dare I say survival? It has been an enormous achievement getting through such loss through covid and to remain stable and optimistic is my principal aim for the future.


Where are you most inspired?

Everywhere really. Walking, talking to friends and sometimes strangers. Looking at amazing design and art in whatever form – and of course, in the kitchen.


What is your first memory of becoming aware of fashion and style?

My mother had great personal style. Classic and a bit restrained. She looked amazing in a tweed shirt and sweater with her short black hair. I thought she was so modern for her time, which she probably was.


What was the last garment you sewed?

A dress for Tilly when she was about 5 – a little a-line linen thing with embroidered and applied animals on it. She’s 23 now, so that’s a long time ago!


You are given the week off, and there are no travel restrictions – where do you travel to?

New Zealand, to see my sister and have a moment with family. I hardly ever see her and find myself wishing I was doing that more and more.

Posted on

February 3, 2021