Inside Fashion Designer Fatuma Ndenzako’s Mid-Century Melbourne Home
Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we’re celebrating innovators, artisans and crafters of all types, taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we head to Melbourne, where one half of Collective Closets, Fatuma Ndenzako, lives with her husband and son.
You can thank Fatuma Ndenzako’s little boy for their current home. The co-founder and designer of the Melbourne-based Collective Closets conscious fashion brand had spent months looking for a new house with her husband, but nothing was right. Then, one afternoon, they “accidentally arrived at the open house,” she recalls. As the family did a circuit through the building, their son yelled, “This is perfect, I love this mum,” Ndenzako says. “With an endorsement like that, we knew we had found our home,” she adds.
That was a year and a half ago now, and the family of three are well-settled into their new space. Renovations were fairly minimal when they first moved: a lick of white paint on the walls – “I couldn’t live with cream walls,” she jokes – and new light fittings in the kitchen and living areas.
Colourful and eye-catching yet still relaxed, Ndenzako’s home is full of pieces that she and her husband have owned for years, such as their wooden dining table, first purchased 11 years ago. Over time, Ndenzako has added key pieces of decor to their home too, like the day bed, which they are going to reupholster in green velvet, that Ndenzako admits has long been a “dream” of hers to own.
Ndenzako will be the first to admit she doesn’t really have a process when it comes to styling her space. “I just buy what I love,” she explains, “and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I am still learning on the perfect balance.” But it’s true: there’s a lot of love in Ndenzako’s home, from the living areas full of many collected treasures to the warm tones of her peaceful bedroom. “I believe your bedroom is where your soul rests,” she advises, “so you don’t want to fill it up with too much clutter.”
Throughout Ndenzako's home are bright, patterned works that nod to the statement-making styles she creates for her fashion brand, Collective Closets. Co-founded with her sister Laurinda, the pair produce apparel that pays homage to their African roots while also referencing the trends on the streets of Melbourne. It's this unique style that has found them a community of followers both online and at their store near Melbourne's iconic Queen Victoria Market.
Hi Fatuma! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?
Our clothing label Collective Closets is a harmonious marriage between our two cultures; the chic deconstructed but restrained silhouettes of Melbourne and the wild, untamed, and deregulated aesthetics of modern African fashion – drawing inspiration from the city of Nairobi.
It may sound like an unlikely pairing, but the monochromatic tones and hues that form the fundamental foundation of the subtle sophistication of Melbourne style provide the perfect backbone and appropriate restraint for the traditional tribal weaving, batik prints, and loud and bold earthy colours of the African continent. We are passionate about designing and creating forever pieces, with longevity in mind. Collective Closets garments are made in Melbourne.
How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
I remember from a very young age my mother Stella teaching me the beauty of creating. Stella imbued everyday life with creative energy. Under her instruction I started sewing outfits at home and found a part of myself in the freedom of creative expression, making and remaking identity with every new idea.
Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?
No. I think it’s easy to look back and see the threads that have led to this point, especially since Collective Closets feels so naturally my home as a career, but in truth I have followed a winding path in my career.
One thing has stayed constant: I’ve always given my all to my work. I got my first job when I was 14 and I’ve worked ever since. I have been extremely lucky to have been able to work for some great businesses who always supported me on my Collective Closets’ journey. Every role has taught me and helped me develop the skills that I’m using now. My philosophy is to go deep into what you do but when you lose the happiness or the challenge, keep moving.
Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?
Each collection starts with a defining theme. [My sister and co-founder] Laurinda and I sit down and begin by imagining the story our collection will tell. Next we mix the influences in my life, looking back over what I’ve found and loved. Styles, patterns, fabrics, textures and feel. We think about our customer and the women who will wear our pieces. It’s very important to us that what we create makes women feel strong and beautiful.
What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to further your career?
Starting with our customers in mind. Apart from building collections that complement and enhance the natural beauty of real women, we’ve tried hard to build a community. We’re motivated by having a tribe that follows us on our journey and that we can interact with, share and grow together. To be honest, we have the most incredible customers. Time and again, we’re shown how generous, talented and engaged our community is.
Collective Conversations has been one way that we’ve been able to step beyond our clothes and into the amazing community of women that inspire us. We’ve found that our customer community really responded to the opening up of conversation to consider the wide world in which we all make our lives.
What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt so far in your career?
Finding the value in oneself. I think I spent a lot of time in previous roles doubting my skills or second guessing myself or trying to conform. Now, as my own boss, I realise it’s okay not to know everything, as long as I am willing to learn and that making mistakes are a crucial part of growth.
The other lesson has been not to compare myself to others! Staying in my own lane and being happy. I am a true believer that things happen when they’re supposed to. When you are ready for that lesson and success.
What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your career?
Building strong relationships with amazing mentors and women in business. Our business wouldn’t be where it’s at without the most remarkable support network. It’s amazing how generous people are with their time and knowledge. It’s so nice to know that others believe in you even when you are not always sure. I am excited to pay it forward and support other women in business.
Shop Laurinda's look with the Petrol bath and hand towel.
Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self or someone looking to pursue a similar line of work?
Always be nice! No matter what you do, no matter how big or small. Always be nice.
Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?
We have lived here for almost a year and half. We needed a little more space for our growing family.
Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?
We’ve only made a few adjustments so far. We painted the main living areas white and changed light fittings in the living room and kitchen.
What are your favourite pieces in the home?
I love our dining room table. It was the first piece of furniture Ryan and I bought together 11 years ago. It’s travelled with us this whole time and shares beautiful memories and friends and family.
Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?
Yes! We bought a daybed during lockdown that we’re excited to reupholster in a British racing green or orange velvet. It’s been a dream of mine to own a velvet daybed.
Shop Fatuma's look with Petrol, Ruby, and Fog in our Build Your Own Bundle.
Which is your favourite room in the house?
My favourite room in my house is my bedroom. This is where I do all my dreaming and thinking. I also love watching my son and husband asleep – yes, our son still sleeps in our bed.
What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?
No clutter or TV are my tips. I think it’s nice to have a plant too.
Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?
We are excited to launch a small menswear line and a few more home items.
For more from Fatuma, follow her at @collectiveclosets