She’s the flame-haired fashion doyenne who has celebrated the highs and waded through the lows of the retail industry for an incredible 22 years, holding rank amongst the sector’s elite.
While exuding a sense of self- assuredness that is utterly enviable, the woman behind West Australian label Empire Rose certainly doesn’t take herself too seriously, giving her 12K-plus Instagram following front row seats as she models her collections. Moonwalking into the camera’s frame in hot pink heeled boots and shimmying to her audience in one of her divine sequined creations is not an uncommon occurrence for Kathryn Cizeika. And just like that, she feels like the uber- cool sister or bestie you didn’t realise you were missing.
But not only does she have the looks and the smarts, we’ve fast come to learn that Kathryn puts a whole lot of heart into every piece she designs.
Her distinctive style includes handwritten slogans across each collection that are famous for stirring up a bit of controversy – something that Kathryn admittedly doesn’t mind at all. Every piece is proudly designed, produced, and retailed in her North Fremantle studio and shop, marking it as one of the few labels in the West Australian fashion industry that continues to ethically produce 100 per cent of garments in house.
“I have always believed in slow, sustainable fashion, and I’m passionately committed to designing and producing my label ethically here in Australia to support and sustain the local fashion industry,” says Kathryn. “It’s an ethos that has paid dividends by endearing a loyal following both here and overseas.” And since we’re on the topic, it would be remiss to omit the fact that this following includes the likes of Beyonce, Roberta Flack, Yoko Ono, and Michelle Williams. Not that we’re name-dropping…
Yet it wasn’t an instant rise to the top of the fashion food chain for Kathryn as she got her start in the industry in retail – a position she insists was a fantastic training ground. It was here she learnt what it means to dress a woman – to really listen to her unique likes and dislikes. The birth of Empire Rose was simply a response to a niche that wasn’t being met at the time. To design pants that fit and made women of different shapes, sizes, ages, and aesthetics was, and still is, what makes the brand a cult favourite.
Never forgetting those early days in the industry, Kathryn has been providing jobs and rare on-site training and mentorship opportunities to fashion and design students for the best part of 20 years.
“There’s a young woman on our team at the moment who has been with us every year since doing work experience in Year 10, through to tertiary studies, and now as an employee,” says Kathryn.
“I’ve employed many of the students that have come through the system and I’m such a strong advocate for the introduction of apprenticeships that do not currently exist in this industry.”
Needless to say, the Empire Rose studio is a daily hive of activity, combining the expertise of artisan pattern makers and seamstresses with the fresh perspective and enthusiasm of students on the precipice of their fashion careers.
Inspired by other mediums, people watching, social media, travel, art, film, and music, Kathryn jumps at the opportunity to join forces with other creatives. Her most recent collaborator? A local graffiti artist who has been commissioned to do work in Berlin.
“We are in a moment in time where individuality is celebrated and sought after; the possibilities are endless, exciting, and the result is an explosion of creative forces around us,” she says. “For the past couple of years I’ve been noticing the move. People are more ready to take chances with their own looks, exploring their personalities through their wardrobe and in the way in which they present themselves.”
The latest collection to hit the Empire Rose racks is inspired by 18th century exoticism and Chinoiserie, with a heady 70’s glam-rock spin. “Most of my collections are inspired in some way by musicians and what they may have worn in their heydays,” says Kathryn.
Hero pieces include luxe linen in dusty pastel tartans shown in relaxed oversized suiting styles, while the label’s signature black-based floral is back with a custom-developed oriental print. “It suits everyone and I’m all for that.”
Lush velvet and sequins are seen in 70’s sportswear-inspired separates and vintage kimono shapes, while those much-loved handwritten slogans (previous collections included “Not your baby,” “What would J Bish do?” “Ghosting you,” and “Not here to fuck spiders.”) will continue to showcase Kathryn’s love for tapping into the cultural zeitgeist and keeping things fresh.
“Anything to get the conversation going is fine in my book!”