Dec 01, 2011 12:00AM

Zimmermann Interviews Dion Lee

My personal tastes change and mature, as does the type of woman that I would like to dress.

Bright young design thing Dion Lee won last year's esteemed Qantas Spirit of Youth Award, and along with a hefty sum of $10,000, he also received a money-can't-buy mentorship with Sydney-based but intentionally-renowned label Zimmermann. With other previous recipients including Romance Was Born, Antipodium, Oh Mercy and My Disco, SOYA 2011/12 has been expanded to eleven different fields including fashion, visual design and communications, film and video, photography, interactive content and gaming, architecture and interior design, written word and animation. What's more, the awards are now open all year round, with a category closing each month (hence the new name - 'SOYA365'). Nicky and Simone Zimmermann, who have been mentoring since 2009, are back one more for this year's SOYA. Oyster had Lee quiz his mentors about the future of Australian fashion; this time the tables have turned the sisters interview Lee. Check out the dialogue between the designers below:

Simone Zimmermann: In what ways has SOYA 365 helped your career?
Dion: SOYA has been a really amazing platform to support the growth of my brand and has helped to establish my perspective for the future. The most valuable part of SOYA is the mentorship and the ability to draw from someone's experience, which is so relevant to a designer starting out in this industry, like myself when I finished college. I was thrown in the deep end, having to learn quickly and I often made decisions based on the very little that I knew. I was working without a business plan, responding to opportunities around me and trusting my instincts. Having the support of you guys through SOYA has made a significant difference. It's been such a valuable resource to have you to call upon because you're objective, you've seen it all before and you can give me a fresh outlook on my decisions and their impacts.

Nicky: What has been the biggest thing you've taken away from the mentorship?
I now really trust myself. I do what is best for me personally, and allow that to govern the outlook for my business.

S: As you continue to produce larger collections and expand the Dion Lee label, do you feel like your goals as a designer are changing since when we first met?
I don't think my goals as a designer will ever change. My collections will always begin with idealism and then slowly evolve. However, I think the way my product engages a customer has changed and will continue to do so. I'd like what I design to be increasingly relevant to my customer. My personal tastes change and mature, as does the type of woman that I would like to dress.

N: Having won SOYA last year, can you describe what you did to prepare for the event?
I don't think I had any preparation. Maybe a few drinks! I remember we met as part of the judging process and it was really important. You asked me about where I saw my brand and what was important to me, and this is what we keep going back to every time we meet now.

N: Would you ever consider doing a collaboration with one of the winners from SOYA 365?
I'd be open to this, but I'd be more interested in helping future winners with the formative stages of their business. Romance Was Born won the competition the year before me, and it's really lovely that there's a sense of supporting your peers and working towards a similar goal. The industry is changing and it's great to have positive support at all levels.

S: Where do you see yourself in another five years?
It's hard to say. I'm looking to broaden my horizons and continue to experience new things and grow. I'm excited about working with people who inspire and motivate me, and I guess I'll follow that wherever it takes me. I love having my brand based in Australia, and being part of the local industry is really important to me but I like to keep an open mind.

The fashion category of SOYA365 closes on December 9, so if you're in the field and under 30, hop to it!