Wah-Wah is the Australian label creator of punk-rock knitwear

“Ultimately, I want to create beautiful, sustainable clothing.”

These days, the worlds of contemporary Australian fashion and music often converge. Artists like Montaigne and Mallrat can be seen wearing designers like Maroske PeechAll Is a Gentle Spring and Jarrod Reid, while Thelma Plum has just completed her run as the official ambassador for Melbourne Fashion Week 2022.

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With music as her first love, designer and musician Kaylene Milner created her brand Wah-Wah “out of necessity to combine everything [her] interests in a fun and sustainable business”. Kaylene works in collaboration with Australian artists and musicians creating loud and consciously made graphic knit pieces. In partnership with bands like Amyl and the Sniffers, King Gizzard and the Lizard Sorcerer and The Hard-Ons, Wah-Wah This is where Kaylene’s two great passions come together. Below, she tells the story of the brand so far.

Tell us about you. What is your background in fashion?

My name is Kaylene and I run Wa-Wah Australia, which is a knitwear brand created out of the need to combine all my interests into one fun and sustainable company. I’ve always been in the worlds of music and design, having studied musicology at the Sydney Conservatorium before dropping out to study fashion at TAFE NSW.

I’ve also played a lot of music from a young age, from classical trumpet in professional orchestras to drums in my current post-punk band. Loose, and a number of different genres in between! I understood quite early that I didn’t want to have a career in music, but I wanted it to always be present in everything I do, that’s why I decided to turn to fashion. In my mind, it felt like a cruising, creative and fulfilling career.

I loved studying fashion and then presented my graduation collection to Australian Fashion Week Afterpay, before traveling to New York for most of the year to work as an intern in the industry. I’m a hard worker, but I just couldn’t get excited about working for a fashion house. The reality of the industry was a far cry from why I went into design, so rather than changing lanes (again), I’ve since determined to carve out a niche for myself.

How did the label start? Tell us about the process and the challenges.

I launched my eponymous brand fresh out of fashion school, as many naïve graduates do with little or no funding. It soon became pretty obvious that trying to run a viable high-end fashion brand while producing seasonal collections on a shoestring budget without any other employees was a one-way ticket to being burned out and broke.

That said, it was a fantastic way to learn the ropes of running a business and a good way to understand what I didn’t want to do. I always had a strong desire to have a brand, and for a long time, the idea of ​​creating punk rock knitwear had been swirling around in the recesses of my busy brain. The idea was largely inspired by a picture by J Mascis wearing a hand-knit Deep Wound sweater his mother had made for him. Knitwear is tricky though because the setup required for sampling means production minimums are quite high.

I contacted a local knitwear manufacturer and, as fate would have it, he grew up in West Sydney going to punk gigs and seeing bands like The tough guys (who were the first group I contacted about the idea). I think the absurdity of what I wanted to do got him excited about my little brand, even though he knew I would only produce a small handful of sweaters to begin with.

What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has that evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now?

When I started, I literally wore my influences on my sleeve. Coming from a fashion design background with a love of high-end fibers and knits, [it] meant I wasn’t just designing band t-shirts – so instead I set about creating painstaking punk-rock knitwear. At first, there was a bit of a backlash from the bands’ fans, saying that paying over $200 for an item of clothing “wasn’t punk rock”.

Maybe not, but I stuck to my guns. Ultimately, I want to create beautiful, durable clothing. In the beginning, I also did some collaborations with illustrators. I felt that the spirit of their work was somehow in tune with the album cover and concert posters I was inspired by. Interestingly enough, no one questioned the award even though there was no band name on it. It has since evolved into a celebration and curation of the art and music that excited me at the time.

How would you describe Wah-Wah to someone who has never seen it before?

Luxury knits for those who don’t want to wear beige cashmere.

Where does the name come from?

I wanted something short and catchy with a nod to music. I have a page in my old sketchbook with a bunch of potential brand names scribbled on it. I just felt like Wah-Wah best captured the not-so-serious nature of what I was trying to do. I love that Wah-Wah is slowly becoming an interchangeable name for a knit sweater – the ultimate brand achievement!

What are you most proud of in your work on your label?

I’m really proud of the fact that I didn’t follow a typical approach in any aspect of the business. It allowed me to go at my own pace and do it with integrity. I’m also very proud that the clothes are a celebration of other artists and musicians. I also think it’s really cool to have been able to use fashion as a way to share information and raise funds for various causes.

What did you wish you had known when you started?

It is better to do one thing very well than to try to cover all product categories.

Who do you think is the most exciting in local fashion right now?

I’m really excited to see how Darwin House continue to grow. It’s a great streetwear brand that reinvests its profits into social programs in remote indigenous communities.

Dream local collaborators?

I actually released a new style with Amyl and the snifferswho have been on my list of dream collaborators for a while!

Must-read list for a dinner party?

Some relaxing vibrations at the entrance of Shintaro SakamotoFrancis Bebey while we eat, Selda Bağcan once the glasses really start to flow and Bryan Ferry to relax at the end of the evening.

Who’s in your closet right now?

Lots of Issey Miyake. I justified the purchase of a batch of Second-hand Issey when I was pregnant last year as I thought it would suit me up to 40 weeks and beyond. I recently bought a few pieces from the brand Myfawnwy, led by artist Maisie Broome. She creates very cool handmade marbled garments as an extension of her artistic practice. Other than that, it’s mostly a whole bunch of tees and wah-wahs.

How can we buy one of your parts?

I sell by my online store and some very selected art galleries.

Browse the Wah-Wah Collection here.

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