Inside Karen Fulton’s Travelling Sewing Workroom
Karen Fulton mapped out her path – buy a van, furnish it for sewing and sleeping and then travel around Australia. Here, she shares the ups and downs of taking her fashion label on the road.
By Janai Velez
A sewing space spilling out from the back a van and into the great outdoors comes with its challenges – storage, weather, electricity. But all that can’t compete with the scenery, freedom and adventure offered at every turn.
Creator of the Zipporra fashion label, Karen Fulton, is behind the wheel of this wonderful, nomadic lifestyle that sees her designing and stitching from the confines of a vehicle.
“I grew up in Sydney, and that’s where all my friends and family are, and I love them all so much, but I get really anxious in the city. It’s not where I want to live my life. I want to learn, grow, heal and explore in Mother Nature.”
So, Karen bought her van, and then learnt how to drive manual transmission before setting out to follow her dream of designing and sewing while visiting the places that inspire the Zipporra collections.
She started the fashion label five years ago. During junior high school, she was altering op shop clothes and moved on to making garments from scratch. “I had always loved the art form of fashion design. It’s such a beautiful way to express oneself, share a story and, I guess, go crazy using your body as a canvas to layer art!”
Quick and Easy projects are perfect while crafting on the go!
And it took over a year to come up with the name. “It is such an important moment, like naming your new-born child! I was flicking through a magazine, and one model’s name was Zipporra, spelt slightly differently to how I spell it. I fell in love with the name straightaway. It’s fun, strong, and independent – everything I want to represent through our designs, garments and story.”
Zipporra’s main purpose is to shed light on social and environmental issues. “Fashion design is a great way to share stories, awareness and knowledge in a non-judgmental way. I want to present information in a positive way so it gets people thinking and wanting to dig a little deeper into issues and to do something about them.”
Collections include ‘Poison Arrow’, which aims to bring awareness to the impacts deforestation and industrialisation has on Poison Arrow frog and other animals who call the Amazon home. ‘Love Our Coral Sea’ is about protecting our oceans and sea life, and ‘Frack Off’ is geared to stopping the gassing of land. Launching this month is the current ‘Happiness Project’ collection, ‘Namaste Nepal’.
“The project involves going to different communities and getting people to draw what they believe happiness is and then turning these images into digital print, ready to transfer to fabric,” she says. The collections feature active wear, swimwear and evening wear.
Karen is involved in every aspect of the label; designing, pattern-making, manufacturing and marketing. When a focus issue has been decided, she works on the prints and detailing. She designs the collection, starts patternmaking and sampling. “Then we are sweet to go,” she says.
“Once the collection is launched, I make each piece to order within one week of purchasing, depending on what the product is,” she says. “I am extremely grateful and blessed to be surrounded by really supportive and talented souls who are always helping me in their respected fields.”
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Friends and family are passionate about Karen’s adventure and even contributed ideas, skills and muscle power when it came to converting the Toyota Commuter into a home and workspace. A single bed was fitted high off the floor. Under the bed are three tubs; two store materials, and the other clothes. “I really have reduced what I own, and it feels great, but you may see me in the same clothes all the time!”
A large table has been fixed at the end of the bed towards the boot, so that Karen can use the bed as a seat while she sews at the table. Tucked under the table is a compressed ‘kitchen’ and another tub of sewing notions. “I also have a box filled with letters and photos of my friends and family, which warms my heart when I look at them, so I never really feel alone.”
Karen has thrived in these confined conditions, but her chosen lifestyle comes with some problems. The heat can be uncomfortable (“I thought I was going to melt one day when I was sewing in Brisbane”) and the wet season inconvenient (“it gets a bit squishy trying to cut garments in the van when it’s raining”), so Karen takes full advantage of the milder climates, unloading the outdoor table to work in the fresh air.
Our Short and Sweet Dachshund quilt is perfect for the outdoors!
So far, she’s travelled from Melbourne along the coast of Victoria and then all the way up to Brisbane. For now, she’s temporarily settled half way along the New South Wales coast to save money for solar panels for the van (her ultimate goal is to become completely self-sufficient) and to start her teaching degree, majoring in textiles, which she’ll study via distance education.
“I cannot wait to visit the desert, to have my feet touch the red earth. I’m really looking forward to exploring the Kimberley and the Northern Territory; it’s a dream to visit both of these destinations. I also cannot wait to get to Western Australia and go diving with the whale sharks!” she says.
Other alterations to van she’d like are security screens for the windows and to have the exterior painted in light blues. “My artist friend, Mitch Revs, is going to help paint the van. He is a man of the sea with a vivid imagination, so I am sure he’ll do a beautiful job!”
Karen’s free-spirited nature and unique capabilities shine through in her label. “I want Zipporra to be completely sustainable and ethical and for it to be a well-respected and admired label and lifestyle that breathes love.” She’s steering towards love in her personal life, too. “My 10-year plan is to fall in love, buy a bigger vehicle and start a family on the road,” she says, fixing her vision on the horizon.
To find out more about Karen Fulton, of Zipporra, and to buy her garments, visit www.zipporra.com. Or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.