Zilpahtart2Photo by: Tina NikolovskiYumi Morrissey is the founder of Zilpah tart, a local fashion label using fabrics designed from photographs that Yumi has taken around Canberra.

“The idea to create my own fabric print came about as a necessity,” says Yumi.

“Finding fabric printed in Australia can be really difficult, so I thought how about I try and make my own.

“My first collection was inspired by the idea that women were these modern day warriors and I wanted to create a fabric print that looked like a modern woman’s environment.

“I did two prints for that collection; the first one was a Parliament House print, which is kind of obviously Canberra. When I told my husband I was going to do the Parliament House print, he didn’t tell me at the time, but he thought it was rather lame. I think he was probably envisioning a giant Parliament House across the front of the dress.

“The Parliament House print was really well received. People who live here are so proud to be Canberran and love their city. The prints provide a connection to their home and their environment and the places they love”.

Based on the success of her first collection, Yumi decided to pursue this further into new collections.

Yumi didn’t start off as a full-time fashion designer. She was working as a public servant while finishing a Bachelor of Design at CIT and only did it as a hobby until 2013.

“It was challenging to move from a safe secure environment to starting my own business,” says Yumi.

“Because of the job that I was in, where we were working with people in really difficult financial situations, I put it off because I was afraid of also being in that position.

“I think what made it an easier transition was that I went on maternity leave and went down to half pay. This was a gradual step and that made it a lot easier. I think it would have been harder if I had had to make the decision to go from full time to zero. It is really scary because you still have your mortgage and all these other expenses. However, sometimes you really need that fear to push you to do what you need to do”.

Zilpahtart1Photo by: Tina NikolovskiYumi says Fashfest helped her to expand the business and that is part of the reason she did her Warrior collection.

“It pushed me to be more creative because when the collection is on the runway it needs to be entertaining and I needed it to be visually inspiring for the audience as well”.

Yumi believes Canberra is a good place to start a business.

“There is only about two degrees of separation here and there’s not as much competition in comparison to other cities. In fashion, places like Melbourne are a lot harder to break into. Canberra has also become a lot more appreciative of creative businesses like art and fashion and it’s easier to find the people that you need to talk to who can help you out”.

Yumi believes that running a creative business can have its challenges.

“It can be challenging because you’ve got two sides to the business: the creative side and then the business side of the business. Usually the hardest part for the creative person is to work out how to run the business part of it.

“For me in particular, marketing and promotion were a challenge. It’s not necessarily the not knowing what to do, although that can be part of it, but it’s the fear of approaching people to sell your things.

Yumi found that PR helped her to get her name out there and that increased her sales and helped people to find her.

“Another challenge for anyone wanting to start a creative business is finding places to sell. There are not a lot of places for people to sell products like mine in Canberra, especially if you’re small and selling wholesale is not an option. That’s why raising awareness of your brand, so that you can bring people to you and sell online is so important”.


Yumi believes that the most important thing for anyone starting a creative business is to understand what your customer wants because without that you are not going to sell your product.

“One of the things I did to understand my customer was going to the markets because there you are face-to-face with your customers and you can get their direct feedback – what they like, what they don’t like, what they need and what they find practical.

“While the designs reflect Canberra, they are also practical. The fabric washes easily, dries easily and you can roll it up in a ball in your suitcase and pull it out at the other end and it stays unwrinkled. The designs are also very flattering. You’ve got to think about not only what it looks like but how it functions and what your customer wants to get out of it”.

Yumi has some ambitious plans for the future.

“I’m starting to reach out to Queensland because my designs are very colourful. There is that vibrant beach culture which is really suited to my colour prints. I’m also working on active wear which is coming up later in the year”.

For more information about Zilpah tart visit the website or listen to Yumi speak at the Festival of Ambitious Ideas on the 29th March.


About Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre
Lighthouse has a strong track record of supporting entrepreneurs, researchers and inventers on the path from concept to commercialisation. Since July 2008, Lighthouse has worked with over 990 distinct enterprises and provided group and peer based services to over 3400 enterprises and individuals. For over five years Lighthouse has successfully delivered business advice, education, mentorship and networking opportunities to help these businesses commercialise their ideas and grow their companies. Lighthouse also delivers programs such as the ACT Microcredit Program for the ACT Government. Visit www.lighthouseinnovation.com.au for more information.