KATE BEZAR: You started Skipping Girl pretty young didn’t you?
HEYLEY ALLEN: When I was 28 … I’m 38 now.
And you’ve got three kids?
Yeah, I’ve got two with my ex, we were together for 11 years, and I’ve got one with my [current] partner. He wants another one, but I’m like, “Oh I don’t know …”
I guess the best place to start is the beginning, which must be pre Skipping Girl.
Well, in a nutshell, I was born in Chile, South America.
To South Americans or to Australians?
My dad’s Chilean and my mum’s Argentinean, but of English and Danish and Brazilian … we’re a big mixed bag. We moved to Australia when I was seven and I grew up in Melbourne. They moved because of everything that was going on with the political side of things over there. It was all pretty tumultuous and full-on so they moved to Mexico first to get away. Then Mum’s parents and brothers and sisters moved to Whale Beach [NSW].
Nice place to land.
I know, so lucky. My mum and dad came for a holiday when I was five, fell in love with it, decided it was a better place to bring up children and so they moved. That was that. They still go back to South America all the time and I’ve been back a lot too. I spent from when I was eight to 16 in Melbourne, in the country. I was always interested in fashion growing up, but Mum was like, “No, you need a real career; you’ve got to go to university.”
When you say, ‘interested in fashion’, do you mean that you loved dressing up?
Loved dressing up! We didn’t have a uniform at our school so I always used to put on some wacky outfit. Some days I’d go to school in my pyjamas, just as a statement – a really, really bad statement – but I thought it was cool at the time. Then we moved because Dad was transferred up to Sydney when I was 16 and I took textiles and art at school … At the end of my HSC [Higher School Certificate], Mum and Dad were pushing me to go to university, but I just said, “No, I want to go to fashion school.” In Sydney at that time we had East Sydney Tech and UTS [University of Technology, Sydney]. They were the two schools and Mum basically said to me, “You won’t get in”, but I managed to get into East Sydney Tech. At that time it was quite a thing to get in, so that’s what I ended up doing. I did a diploma there for three years and I loved it, absolutely loved it. So that’s sort of the history of my studies. While I was at East Sydney, in my third year, we had to do work experience with someone. I’d been doing a little bit of modelling for Collette Dinnigan. She was no-one then; I think she was just launching her range of lingerie.
Very early days.
So early, no-one had heard of her, but she took me on to do work experience, so I did that with her for a year, which I loved. It was still very small; she just had one other girl, a lovely girl, working with her.
Why did you particularly want to work with her? Did you sense that she was destined for bigger things?
She was really down to earth, hard-working and she also was one of those designers who knew how to do everything, which I respected. She was a great seamstress and a great pattern-maker. She had a really good work ethic and was really approachable and lovely whereas a lot of the other designers I’d met around that time were all a bit kind of … Well, they all thought they were really fabulous. That’s not really my speed. So I enjoyed that and did that for a year and then I went on to work with a lady called Claire Dixon-Smith.
From [fashion label] Third Millenium?
Yeah. She really became like my mentor. I started with her while I was still at college and I worked in her shops. She had a shop in the Strand Arcade and one in Oxford Street (Sydney). Then, when I left college she gave me a job as her full-time assistant and then I became the production manager. I ended up working with her on and off for six or seven years. It was great because it was a small, growing business and I got to learn every aspect of it. Again, Claire was very approachable. She became a really good friend and didn’t have airs and graces. Eventually I left because I wanted to work for a bigger company to get an idea of how a big company functioned. I got a job as the head visual merchandiser for Surf, Dive ‘n’ Ski. It was great because I did quite a bit of buying as well and had a team of ten people underneath me. It was totally different to what I was used to and I loved it. I had a lot of responsibility. I wasn’t going and buying buttons from Greenfields; I was doing shop fit-outs and openings here, there and everywhere and it was still creative … I loved that, and then I got pregnant.