The woman behind the Gorman empire

by Amber Bonney
Edison Founder & Head of Strategy

Australia undervalues Lisa Gorman and I’ll tell you why. For over 20 years Lisa slowly built an empire that changed the face of accessible fashion for good. Her bold, vibrant colour-drenched work created a fashion haven for consumers like me, who were desperately seeking a high quality local alternative to the sea of vanilla fast fashion alternatives (I won’t name names). While the Country Road brand stood steadfast in its position as the classic understated expression of relaxed but refined Australian style, Lisa Gorman sewed and patched her way into a new definition of Australian style. Her creative stewardship, ingenuity and tenacity saw her grew this vision from custom short run collections to an empire that now spans over 50 bricks and mortar stores across Australia.

I recently met Lisa for the first time at a CWC event in Melbourne and I wasn’t disappointed, to the contrary I left with a full cup and brimming with new ideas. She spoke about her upbringing in Warrnambool in regional Victoria, her early influences including a house filled with women, her three sisters, and multiple generations of grandmothers who were skilled and passionate sewers. While not a family member, Lisa spoke of an eccentric neighbour in her family home who gifted her bags of fabric offcuts exchanged over their back fence, like an 80’s fashion drug deal where no money exchanges hands! She described the sensory joy of fabrics she’d never been exposed to; glow mesh, neoprene and patterns that would make Barbie feel right at home!

Lisa’s a trained Registered Nurse, we heard about how she balanced her life and death ICU nursing career with her newly burgeoning side hustle at the bridal powerhouse boutique Mariana Hardwick. And, in her spare time Lisa managed to design, produce and sell short run collections through small independent Melbourne stockists until at one point, it became obvious that she had to choose between her commitment to community care, and her innate drive to design.

Australia should be so lucky that Lisa chose the latter path. Having recently sold her stage in the business she’s now a free agent - able to freely explore her practice beyond fashion and experiment with alternative mediums, her current collection “Illuminate” is a great example of her creative curiosity and newfound freedom, unshackled from the day-to-day of running Gorman the business.

In a statement about her exit after 22 years at the creative helm of the brand that bears her name, Lisa says “The Gorman label has achieved a level of recognition within the Australian fashion landscape that I could not have imagined. I thank those that made it happen. My incredible design team, all my staff, partners and the 114 artists I have had the pleasure of collaborating with over two decades. Most of all I thank my loyal customers who have supported the label from its ‘fishing pants’ beginnings in 1999.”

As a creative leader in an adjacent business, one of my passions is getting under the skin of remarkable Australian brands, uncovering their origin stories, and the ebbs and flows of brand ownership as they change hands over decades and centuries. I could get lost for hours, days and weeks researching a brand to unearth the nuggets - the little gems, the sticky bits that have imprinted themselves into the fabric of our culture. I believe brands like Gorman have shifted the dial in Australian design. Lisa’s vision marked a new chapter in Australian design that liberated women from the banality of the cliched Australian images - surf culture, or understated coastal chic with the odd bold marine stripe.

To the contrary, what Lisa imagined for Australian woman was something fresh, a bit quirky and creatively free. Known for her vibrant graphic shaped prints, artist collaborations and playful oversized cuts, Lisa’s womenswear label has built up a cult following in Australia. While not always within budget as a younger version of myself, Gorman offered me something different, something a little bit akin to the energy of Stella McCartney but at a more accessible price and with an essence of attitude and non-conformity that I identified with, and still do. I’ve worn Lisa’s work to weddings, in boardrooms, to Hen’s nights, baby showers, kids birthday parties, the footy and my local cafe.

Hearing Lisa talk amongst this intimate crowd of eclectic creative woman was delicious. I smiled, I nodded, I resonated. We are of the same vintage Lisa and I and in her short time her drive and passion for design has seen her grown beyond a business that sustained an independent lifestyle and allowed her to fully support herself – she grew Gorman into a commercially robust and highly relevant fashion and lifestyle brand that was exactly what Australian women needed.

Last year, Lisa reaped the fruits of her labour of love in what was no doubt one of the largest acquisitions of an independent fashion brand in my generation. I thank you Lisa Gorman, I raise you to the pedestal of creative aspiration that you so deserve - agnostic to medium. I do this as both a design practitioner, business owner and brand advocate. You have left a wonderful legacy in the Gorman brand and I can’t wait to see what your next chapter contributes to Australian design community.

With grattitude. 



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