Back for its third year, the Close to my Heart project will see maker of happy things, Sue-Ching Lascelles, rise and sew five one-off dresses. Collaborating with iconic brands Marimekko, Obus, Rachel Castle, Jericho Road Clothing and Dowk, the dress sales will support organisations working with youth who have experienced bullying and mental health challenges.
“Working with the fabrics of such beloved and iconic brands is a dream – I love collaborating and combining our strengths to create something bigger, brighter and that hopefully has wide-reaching impact.” Sue-Ching Lascelles
The Project will run from July - November 2023 with a new dress available to shop from the last Tuesday of each month.
Supporting charities: Stop Cyber Bullying, Dolly's Dream, Batyr, Minus18, Reach
A Voice For Change
The models that feature in this year’s Close to My Heart Project shoot are volunteers from Sue-Ching’s Instagram community, sewists and creatives themselves who have experienced bullying in the past. While these experiences have been greatly challenging, all the women have been brave enough to voice their experiences in the hope that it will create change and support others going through similar.
Interview with project model and visor maker Kirsty @kirsty_fate:
Can you tell us a bit about your experience of bullying as a young person?
I grew up in a small coastal town in NSW and bullying was part of my life until the time that I left. I didn’t fit into the stereotype of the young kid from that town. I was never that beachy surfer girl, although I love the beach. And it actually makes me sad to think about because in some ways I wasn’t able to feel like I belonged there, although I loved it.
When I went to high school I had to get on a school bus and travel half an hour away from where I lived. There was a mix of kids on that bus and the bullying became horrific. My whole time at high school was really bad.
What type of bullying and what kind of strategies did you use to cope?
There was a group of ten surfer guys from the area. They all knew my family as it was a small town. I barely knew their names when they started bullying me. They had a bit of a pack mentality, and would be mean just because I didn’t look like everybody else looked. Strategy-wise, my parents did what they could. But they had a bit of those old school ideas, like bullying is a part of life, boys will be boys, that sort of mentality. I can’t stand that now but at the time I think I just tried to stand up for myself, which is hard when it’s one girl against ten guys. For a little while I did try and fit in as well, but that wasn’t who I was either.
I think that experience is what shaped me into the person that I am now – I am who I am unapologetically. I wear all the colour because it makes me happy and I don’t really care what anyone else thinks about that. It was a really traumatic experience and I wish I hadn’t gone through it. But it has formed who I am now and it is part of my everyday now. It has made me stronger – I learnt to be who I am, be proud of that and be strong. But equally I don’t think anyone should have to go through that painful experience to have the self-realisation of who they are.
So if you could speak to your younger self now, what advice would you give?
I think about this all the time because I have two young kids. One is in year 1 at school, so it’s something that’s definitely crossing my mind a lot more before I was in a school environment. I think firstly, it’s never ok. When I was growing up I thought that I did just have to put up with bullying because I was that weird kid, or a little bit odd, or a little bit kooky – I used to call myself kooky because I felt like that was a nice way of saying “you’re a bit different”. And I don’t think bullying should be a part of life. I have zero tolerance for it now. I don’t think kids should have to put up with it either so I’d say “do something about it”. I’m not saying start fights or engage with the bully. But tell people – tell your teachers, tell your parents, tell your friends. And importantly, if you see friends going through similar issues or having experiences of bullying, I think you should stand up for them. It’s not ok… It’s also changed who I am as a parent. How I’m raising my two boys now is that it’s kindness first, difference is great, embrace who you are, embrace your weirdness – it’s not a bad word. It’s a good thing that we’re all different. And if I’m on the playground and I see a kid picking on another kid, I step in immediately. It’s never ok. (takes a deep breath and laughs as though she’s just got a heap off her chest!)
That’s really good to hear. So today coming and being involved in this photoshoot, what does this mean to you?
Well this is not my comfort zone at all – when Sue-Ching put the call out on Instagram stories, a friend sent it to me and said this has got your name all over it. And I thought “Ohhhh I don’t know”. I mean I love what Sue makes, all the colours, and I’m always reading her story and it connects to my heart as well. So being in front of the camera is not my comfort zone, but then I want to be that person that is comfortable doing that. And I want young girls to see that people look like me and are in front of that camera. So I guess in some ways I’m just trying to be that person that I wish I’d seen more of when I was younger.
Oh that’s great – really well said thank you!
This whole experience has made me a think a bit more about my experience. I usually just try and push it to the back of my mind, and try and forget about it and don’t think about it. It’s a good healing process to meet other people with a similar experience. I just don’t really bring it up now. It feels weird as an almost forty year old woman talking about something that happened in high school.
Yeah I can understand that. But it’s always going to be relevant, because it is a character shaper and the experiences that you’ve gone through, like you said, are changing how you now parent your boys.
Yep, and when I go home to my small town now, I still these guys around and that’s hard. I’ve been so close so many times wanting to go up to them, especially one guy because he has a little girl similar age to my kids, and I just want to go up to him and say “I just hope no one ever treats your daughter the way you treated me”. I want him to recognise that. I mean no one’s ever apologised… but I guess I just really want to have the balls to say that to him! Can I send him this article? (laughs heartily)
Interview with project founder & model Sue-Ching @suechinglascelles:
Can you tell us about your bullying experience as a young person and how it affected you?
My earliest memory must be from when I was about 7 or 8 years old. We lived in a small rural town and there wasn't a lot of cultural diversity growing up there so it became obvious from an early age that I was different. Looking back, it's such a complex experience because my bullying stemmed mostly from being Asian. I would be singled out, picked on, threatened and physically harmed. It came from the kids at school, the kids in my street, people at the shops, and once, from a teacher at school. In tandem to that, I also had my Asian mum basically raising us to be as white and normal as possible. It was a strategy to shield us, but at the same time, such a confusing message.
What kind of strategies did you use or what did you do to cope and manage at the time?
Ahh yes, well the main strategy was to try and assimilate as much as possible. Don't eat rice, eat meat pies. Don't speak any other language other than english. Be cool, blend in, don't be different. But of course you can't change the way you look! I also learned another strategy really early on which was to identify the bully kids and if I saw them coming I would throw compliments, so many compliments at them so they didn't feel like picking on me. "Hey, I like your bike" "Wow, cool shoes! Where did you get them". Kind of like a person who might try and befriend their kidnapper - haha. But honestly, you can't always be one step ahead. So I would also find safe spaces to go to, like the art room at school.
How do you think the culture was different back then and how do you think/hope it's changed?
I mean, you only have to watch a movie from the 90's/early 2000's to see that casual racism was considered funny and I think that mainstream culture kept perpetuating hateful stereotypes. It was really difficult because you would have to laugh along with it. Even within some of my closest friendship groups it was there, and I would sometimes laugh too but inside I was crushed. People would take what they knew about Asia and immediately put me into that box. Sometimes they were fairly benign and sometimes they were really awful and hurtful assumptions. I think generally bullying was something that you were expected to go through in a way but I hope now we are more tolerant and we realise how damaging it is. There is so much awareness around it now and kids are taught acceptance and diversity way more than we were growing up, which is a good start.
Do you think your becoming an artist / creative sewist / etc relates to your past experience? And if so, how?
I really do. Being different and accepting that about myself allowed me to experiment with my identity and the way I dressed, coloured my hair or expressed myself physically. I was really interested in subcultures growing up because I was inspired by the freaks and weirdos who embraced their individuality and had the confidence to be whatever they wanted to. I also spent a lot of time in the art room at school and subsequently went on to study art because being able to express myself without judgement through art was probably something that kept me from losing it. Creating has always been that place for me.
If you could speak to your younger self now, what would you say - what advice would you give?
I would say that this time is going to pass. Keep going, keep holding on and love yourself. This is only such a small slice in your life pie and although it doesn't feel like it now, the best is truly yet to come.
Interview with project model Lizzy:
Can you tell us about your experience of bullying?
High school’s a very hard time for a lot of kids. I was in year 8 and had first started high school, so it’s quite a vulnerable time when everyone’s growing up a lot, but still quite infantile in their thinking. I had very pointy ears, crooked teeth…I didn’t fit in with a lot of groups and drifted between them instead. But there was one girl in one group who focused on making my time quite miserable. It escalated until it made me feel overwhelmed and as though I couldn’t go to school anymore, or didn’t want to go to school anymore, so I stopped. Luckily, I had this really great teacher who encouraged me back into school, and helped me settle with a different group of friends. The experience had a big impact on me. It’s amazing how words can affect someone’s social-emotional wellbeing.
What did you do at the time to work through the experience?
My parents were very helpful in supporting me. I did seek psychological help too at that time because I was very, very distressed. I didn’t see any point to keep going to school. I didn’t see any point to being here. So I did need psychological support. But I think when the teachers encouraged me to come back and let me know that they’d look out for me, I found a group that fit me a bit better. I also started playing a bit more sports so was able to withdraw from that situation comfortably and go in a more supported direction.
As a result of moving through that experience and surviving, now looking back what kind of advice would you give to your younger self if you had that opportunity?
I used to wear a headband everyday after someone called me Elf ears, so I wore a headband for a year straight at school. So I would say “take that damn headband off!” I’d also say “It’s ok, you won’t get along with everybody in that school environment, but life doesn’t stop at school.” I’ve come such a long way since then, and now I’m working with kids who are experiencing that same bullying cycle. I often remind them, “It’s not you, it’s those around you that have ill-thinking”. You just want to hug them and say “it’s gonna be ok – I was there too, and you’re gonna get through this”.
So you work supporting kids now?
Yes, I work as a Speech Pathologist in child and youth mental health, which is a niche area in my field. I do work with a lot of kids who are experiencing friendship breakdowns and a lot of bullying, especially given the rise of social media and being able to access a lot of the world at the press of a button. So we’re navigating how to stop bullying in that new age as well. It’s almost like you have to teach empathy skills really early on because some kids just don’t get it.
It's good to hear that you’ve gone into an area where you’re supporting young people.
Yeah, I really enjoy it!
What has it meant to you being part of the Close to my Heart photoshoot today?
I thought it was a really good opportunity to meet some likeminded people, and to meet Sue-Ching as well. I’ve followed her work for quite a while and then when she put the call out for models who have experienced similar bullying scenarios, it really resonated. It’s given me an opportunity to get that off my chest. Even though it’s in the past, and you’ve buried it, it’s also something that you probably won’t forget. So I think to dress up – like that dopamine dressing – to wear something so colourful and beautifully made in the hope to raise money for those organisations to support the young people, is an amazing opportunity.
Interview with project model Meg @meghandmade :
Can you tell us a bit about your experience of bullying as a young person?
I went to my local state high school and the girls were very mean. I was physically assaulted, verbally assaulted, and eventually I left. I moved to another school because of it. And it really impacted me for many, many years. It still does today. Even as I’m talking about it I can feel anxiety rising in my body. It’s pretty terrible what kids can do.
Going through that kind of thing is challenging, so what kind of strategies did you use or what did you do to cope and manage it at the time?
Not a lot. My parents didn’t realise how bad it was. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I told them how much it had affected my mental health. In terms of coping with it, I would cry a lot. Eventually I had to leave the school because the bullying was just so severe that I couldn’t function – I didn’t have many friends. Unfortunately my parents didn’t really understand until I was much older.
Do you think that was a sign of the culture back then – it was a bit more of a “toughen up” vibe?
Yeah I think so. My dad was in the army so he was very much just “toughen up”. And also I never really had a relationship with my parents where I felt comfortable to just go and talk to them openly about my feelings and the things that I was going through in my teenage years. That was 20 years ago. Whereas I think now relationships with parents are (hopefully) closer and more open. I’m a schoolteacher so I’m aware that it seems as though teenagers have more open relationships with their parents now, which is great. I wish I had that open relationship as a child because I definitely think that being able to talk to my parents would have helped me cope and understand my feelings better, and to know that what I was going through was not a reflection of me as a person. It was all about the bully and them and power, and unfortunately I was just the victim.
That’s so nice to hear that you’re a teacher! Do you think your becoming a teacher in some way relates to your past experience?
Yeah probably. I talk to my students about my particular story and it’s definitely shaped who I am today. I do use my story to help kids understand that words can actually really hurt people. Today kids have access to each other 24-7 on their devices. Back when I was experiencing it was the time of MSN and dial-up internet, so when I was at home I could escape it. But when I was at school it was always there. So I think that my experience probably helped me go into teaching. And I definitely use it today to help kids to try not to be bullies, or to understand that if they are being bullied that they can get help, and it’s not forever. It doesn’t have to shape who they are when they become an adult.
If you could speak to your younger self now, what would you say – what advice would you give?
I probably would tell her that what’s happening doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. I feel like looking back on my life I definitely do things to please people because I want people to accept me for who I am. So many of the choices I made once I left school and in my early twenties, I made because I wanted people to like me, because when I was a teenager a lot of people didn’t like me. And I was picked on and I was bullied, and I had to leave my school. So I think I would tell my younger self that it’s ok to be who you are, to stand up for myself, to find someone that I could talk to about it, and I’d tell her that she’s beautiful and an amazing person and that everything will be ok.
Beautiful. So your dress looks fantastic – which is this one?
This is the Jericho Road fabric – really bright colours, my colours - the magenta and the green and the sea animals. It’s lovely and bright and it makes me feel really happy.
So what else has being part of today’s photoshoot meant for you?
I really wanted to be a part of it because I know that when I was younger I didn’t have the support that I needed. So if my sharing my story can help a younger person – or anyone experiencing bulling in any way, shape or form – if it helps them feel like they can reach out and talk about it and try to get help, then I want to support that cause because I didn’t have it when I was younger and I wish I did.
Interview compiled by Jo Hoban
All images by Danielle O'Brien