After graduating university with a strong vision, Australian designer Rochelle Gregory jumped headfirst into a creative career that allowed her to pursue her own fearless design style. Today, Rochelle’s fashion label Rocky Rafaela stands for something much greater than just a brand. Rather, it’s a culmination of her experiences, passion and inspiration. We caught up with the young designer to find out why, when you wear Rocky Rafaela, you’re putting your best foot forward.
Where are you from?
I am Australian with Greek blood.
How did you get into the fashion industry?
I think a few things shaped my career in fashion. Travelling with my mother on buying trips to France when I was young. Being highly creative throughout school and only paying attention in classes that had some form of art or creativity. I think also having a natural eye and love for fashion. I remember when I was younger, I loved getting ready for parties and putting things together and ripping up clothes to create my outfit for the night.
What inspired you to start your label?
After graduating university, I had such a strong vision. I had my own flair and style, and I was too stubborn to share my designs with anyone else. I wasn’t afraid to go for what I wanted, so yeah. I had drive and a vision, so I just went for it.
Many of your pieces are so detailed and intricate. Where are they made, and how long does it take to create, say, a single jacket?
I produce all my garments out of Indonesia. After travelling around south-east Asia, I was highly inspired by local artisans and craftsmanship. I saw talent in these people and quickly built great relationships working together. As they are highly detailed and all handmade and carved, a custom order can take anywhere between two to four weeks to land at your door. However, due to high demand, I try to keep as much stock in my studio as possible.
What are some of the hurdles that you’ve had to overcome (in creating your brand)?
Finding the right suppliers and manufacturers for your product. Someone who you can teach and is willing to learn to provide you with the quality you are happy with. The language barrier has definitely been a hurdle I have had to overcome, due to miscommunication and not understanding one another. However, over time, this has become easier, especially now that I am learning the language.
What are three personal traits that have got you to where you are today?
Fearlessness, experimentation and passion.
Finish this sentence: I wish fashion …
Had stronger copyright laws and it wasn’t so easy to rip someone off. I wish you couldn’t just re-arrange a couple of simple stitches or very small changes in a garment to call it your own. I am super-paranoid about copycats. Copy all you want, but I believe you will always be one step behind.
What has been a pivotal moment in your career?
I think when Ruby Rose wore the Balancai biker jacket on a Maybelline ad in New York. I think seeing that gave me a taste of what it felt like to see empowered women in my clothing, and I wanted more.
What do you wish you knew early on in the Rocky Rafaela journey?
To not get so stressed, upset and angry at myself when something goes wrong because mistakes are the best way to learn and improve. I have now learnt stress and anger just attracts negative energy, which will make everything even worse. Now when something goes wrong, I have to say to myself, this is out of my control. Ok, how do we resolve this? It’s just part of the journey and that’s life.
Describe your creative process?
It’s always a thought, firstly. A vision. A lot of the time, when I’m lying in bed, I will have to jump out and quickly scribble down a design or idea that’s popped into my head. Then I will make up some patterns and toile it up on cheap fabric. Next, I look at the fit and design from sketch to 3D, and usually I will make changes until I am happy. Once I have approved my design, it is then created on the final material.
And what do you do when you get stuck?
Listen to Oprah. She’s got all the answers. No, but seriously, I am very much two people. I’m either in my feminine energy which is calm, collected and puts things into perspective, or I am in my masculine energy, which is go, go, go, quite frantic and very reactive. Funnily enough, this is the core of the brand and my constant battle of emotions. So to answer your question, it really depends on which shoes I’m in. I do try to be positive and not be in my head so much and try to remember everything is momentary, and it too shall pass.
Tell us more about your ethically sourced leather and why is this so important to you?
Our leather is used instead of going to waste. It is made of cowhide, a byproduct of farms and the meat industry. We love leather due to its elegance, luxury and durability.
Which places, cultures or music inspires you?
Anything and everything. Hard question to answer. Whatever is going on with my mind at the time. I guess as an artist and creative soul, I view the world from a different perspective, so anything can jump out at me visually and it can turn into a whole story of things. I have just recently been in India and that was incredibly inspiring. The colours, the shapes of buildings, and the high detail on everything that was visible. I was like a little girl in a candy store, walking around the markets of India and searching for new, amazing materials and inspiration.
Gawd, every one of your pieces is so damn good! Which is your fave?
Tricky question! I love everything I design. However, pulling out a couple of my staple pieces, I would have to say the 2Tone Biker and The Caged Skirt. These are also our best sellers. The caged skirt is probably my most meaningful and proudest garment. The design goes deep into my past and tells its own story. The skirt uses three different-sized leather panels which are woven into each other. This expresses all the different paths I have taken in life, good and bad. It all comes together at the end, meaning I had to go through all these different experiences and paths to be who I am today and live the life of my dreams.
The weaves also represent a cage which expresses my feelings of feeling trapped for so many years. I used to call it mental torture, because I didn’t know how to escape my own head.
The studs represent bolts and being bolted in a cage. Quite an intense representation to express the extreme emotions at the time. It’s definitely an expressive piece from my personal life, so it’s quite special to me.
What is your vision for Rocky Rafaela five years from now?
I am currently selling online worldwide, however would love to be stocked in boutiques around the world. My own Rocky Rafaela store will be on the cards somewhere along the way. I would also love more empowered women rocking Rocky Rafaela around the globe.
Best piece of advice for someone wanting to launch their own fashion label?
If you got the vision, the passion and the mental strength for it, what are you waiting for? People will try to put you down for whatever you try to do, however people will also support you. If your heart is in it and you don’t give up, I believe you will succeed.
I love that your pieces are hard and soft at the same time. What type of person is a Rocky Rafaela woman?
Rocky Rafaela is for the woman inside of you. The one who wants to be noticed. She dresses to impress. She’s done with making excuses and acting small. She’s learned to ignore anyone who says she can’t, because they’re wrong. Scratch her surface, and you’ll discover she’s got more than you ever thought possible.
She’s fierce but soft at the same time, hiding nothing to face the world with courage earned through making mistakes and coming back stronger.
The Rocky girl is you, the real you. She has doubts and fears like anyone else, but she acts in spite of them, creating her own style with no regrets.
Rocky Rafaela is about honoring your wild, brave authentic self. The adventurous one. The lover. The fighter. The princess. The one who changes the mold.
This is Rocky Rafaela. This is you.
When you’re having a rough day, how do you deal with it?
A good boxing class! If I don’t have that opportunity, I try to take a minute, breathe and put everything into perspective. Turn every negative thought into a positive. I switch it to try to attract some positivity because we get everything we put out. I definitely start the day with gratitude lists, exercise and a nice healthy meal. This always heaps me prepare for whatever the universe will bring me that day.
Whose style do you admire and why?
Geriatric starlet, Iris Apfel. I love how she puts everything together and her motto is “more is more”. She’s bold, bright and owns it. I wouldn’t say we have the same style, however we definitely have the same attitude towards fashion and self-expression. I relate to her in many ways. She’s a fashion and style icon and she’s fantastic. Watch her movie. It’s amazing!
Stuck in traffic, where does your mind wander?
Honestly, wherever my mind takes me. It’s incredible, some of the places it goes. Or if some good tunes are on, I’m singing my lungs out along with some outrageous dance moves.
What’s the most influential piece of clothing that you own?
Most definitely my Alexander McQueen blazer. It is so special to me because he is and was my favourite designer, always has been. Since I knew what fashion was, he was my idol. I remember being young in Milan, covered head-to-toe in his jewellery and a head scarf wrapped around my head, jumping in the air because I was so excited to walk into one of his amazing stores. I still have the photo. I could also relate to his dark taste, over-the-top attitude and highly detailed garments.
Finish this sentence: When you wear Rocky Rafaela …
You put your best foot forward and act like there’s not a care in the world. You’re confident, fearless and feel good about yourself. You are ready to take over the world and overcome hurdles big or small, because at the end of the day, we shape our future by the choices we make and how we react to every situation. We are the architect of our future, so if we create it, let’s make our dreams come true.
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