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July 21, 2016

Fashion design career path: Stephanie Chehade

From dry cleaning to dry-clean only.

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  • Words: Sharmonie Cockayne
  • Pictures: Samantha Herbut
  • Pictures 2 and 3: Joshua Fanning

Stephanie Chehade grew up in a family business that was all about respecting and caring for clothing –  SA’s dry cleaning icon, Karl Chehade Dry Cleaners.

It was there that Stephanie’s appreciation for good design and good fabric grew, fostering her own desire to pursue a career in fashion design.

Fashion actually lies deep in the roots of the Chehade family history, beginning with her grandfather’s tailoring business and formalwear company, The Chehade Brothers, and her grandmother’s talent for dressmaking. Stephanie recalls years spent sitting by her grandmother’s side whilst she made outfits and wedding dresses for the Chehade family and friends, telling tales of her education in dressmaking, which began with being taught by a French lady in Lebanon.


Now, Stephanie’s grandmother, who no longer has her full vision, sits beside her as she constructs made-to-order garments for the likes of Logie Award winners and Brownlow attendees under the label of her eponymous brand, Stephanie Chehade.

Stephanie spent much of her adult life working in the Dry Cleaners, learning how to manage and grow a retail business, which has given her the experience and confidence to build her own business.

“I want to manufacture as well… I think I could stay in Adelaide for that.”

Despite that, her entry into the professional design world was not a deliberate one. Stephanie’s break came when her cousin asked her to design a skirt for her engagement.

“I made her that, and she has a lot of Instagram followers, and everyone wanted this skirt. I started making the skirts to order,” Stephanie says. “It was just from my Instagram page, and some people who wanted them weren’t even from Adelaide, so I would just grab their measurements and make it and just send it to them.”

“It got to the point where I had some designs that they could choose from – the fabric and they could choose the colour.

“It then got to the point where I didn’t love what they were choosing and I didn’t really want to put my name to it – I wanted to have a bit more control.”

From there, she designed a small collection of skirts, which she sold on her website and made-to-order from her home studio.


Made to measure: Detail of Stephanie’s Audrey Gown

“It was hard because it was all me, and I was working full time, so it was just me after hours sewing until 2 in the morning,” says Stephanie.

It is for this reason that she is now making huge changes to her business model: she’s breaking into the business of ready-to-wear, which is a huge step for a one woman business.

“For my Summer 2017/18 collection, I’m outsourcing everything. I still want everything made in Australia though – I’m very keen on having everything Australian made. I have done all of the designs, but I’m having everyone do the stuff for me,” she says.

The collection that she is currently working on, which is titled ‘Calm After The Storm’, will be available following her New York debut at Fashion Palette New York Fashion Week (FPNYFW) this September – an event that elevates and celebrates Australian fashion.

The Fashion Palette platform functions as a springboard for independent Australian labels in the US market by offering designers opportunities, tools, and contacts otherwise unavailable at Australian-based fashion weeks and events. In the past, the event has showcased other South Australian designers such as, Simmone Standing and Paolo Sebastian.

It is with a mix of trepidation and determination that Stephanie admits that she has never even showcased at the Adelaide Fashion Festival before: “I’m going straight to New York. But I just thought go big or go home – there is no reason why I can’t.”

And when she returns later this year, she will be a part of the Adelaide Fashion Festival. She will also begin building her new Kensington-based studio, which she explains will host two rooms: one a designated cutting room, and the other a lounge area and showing space.

Beyond that, she has even bigger goals for herself.

“I want to manufacture as well. I want to have my own manufacturing. Not huge, because I don’t want to be this big mass producer label. That’s not where I see myself anyway. I want to be in control of everything, that’s my end goal… I think I could stay in Adelaide for that,” she says.

With Stephanie’s plans for her label, we can see the Chehade family name remaining a South Australian stalwart for many generations to come.

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