To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, TSAR co-founder Kerrie Sharpley reflects on her journey as a textiles artist, business partner and most importantly a mother.

Tell us your story. What path lead you to textiles and then to start your business?

Everyone had a hobby when I was growing up – knitting, cake decorating, wood work, china painting. It was the women mentors in my life that were the greatest influence.   Being shown the art of doiley embroidery at the age of 7 was the beginning of a long love affair with stitching and textiles.

I became a textiles teacher after studying the subject at university, then took a solo one-year backpacking trip through Asia. Indigenous textiles dictated my travel destinations – I worked with Batik Artists in Indonesia, embroidered with tribes in the Golden Triangle, wove on a backstrap loom with women in the Philippines, knotted rugs in Nepal, block printed and made felt in India and wove string bags in Papua New Guinea. The traditional textile creators were almost exclusively women. They were generous, fun-loving and caring.

Kerrie visiting textiles heaven – the Golden Triangle Hill Tribes, Chiang Mai in 1984.

My obsession with textiles took me in all sorts of directions – working as an artist-in-residence at schools and hospitals, exhibiting original works, designing costumes, teaching millinery and tailoring and dress-making for brides, before meeting David in 1987. This was when I began my 30-year career in custom designed and made rugs and carpets, drawing and colouring my designs by hand whilst David made the rugs himself – a very different time.

TSAR royalty – Kerrie and David Sharpley

We moved to Granada, Spain when my first son was two to set up and train in hand tufting in an 80 year old rug making business. I was extremely fortunate to work with Antonio Molyon, a designer of classical style hand-knotted rugs with 44 years of experience.  When we returned to Australia I found that I was one of a few who knew how to design European classical style rugs.  It was a bonanza.

Kerrie pioneering European classical style designs in Australia.
Kerrie as design lead for the Palazzo Versace Hotel Project in QLD – still there today.

TSAR expanded beyond Australian shores in 2014, a resurgence of the business that took us on another great adventure. We took our family to live in New York for two years simply because we could! Life in New York is an endless opportunity and an Aladdin’s cave for the creative spirit.

The NYC showroom opening in 2014.

What’s been your favourite aspect about TSAR and being part of the textiles industry?

I have always loved the next challenge.  It has not always been directly related to design or textiles but it has led to my ever-expanding skillset and developing interests in data, analytics and business management. I love finding ways to streamline work practises, to make the workplace a more productive but less stressful place to be.  We all spend a great proportion of our lives in a workplace, so my goal is to make it an enjoyable place to excel (literally, I love an excel sheet).

You’ve been in the industry for many years, do you think being a woman and a mother has impacted your career?

I’ve had the privilege of being able to tailor my work-life to fit around raising three wonderful children.  David and I decided early on that my responsibilities in the business would match my need to be a mother first and foremost. I was very lucky. I didn’t ever feel that gnawing guilt and frustration that many women who lack flexibility in their workplace experience. Whichever way a woman chooses – to work full-time, be a full-time mother, strike a balance between both or not have children, she will be faced with the challenges of people’s opinions, societal norms and pressures as well as staying true to themselves.

Kerrie and her son Aliahn colouring designs together.

How have you seen the role of women in the industry evolve over your career? What are the shifts you’ve noticed?

It seems to me that in the last 50 years there has been a total flip. There’s a much more sophisticated understanding of a woman’s many roles in life and the choices we make. There is more compassion, support and the path in business, motherhood, whatever it may be has less obstacles. A lot of very lucky women today have the choice to design their own lives – but of course, there is still a long way to go. Unsupported interrupted careers, glass ceilings, unequal pay are a blight in a woman’s life pursuit.

Beyond the workplace, I think we are seeing profound shifts in the paradigm of women’s rights. Women today are more united than ever! The result of truly unfortunate and deeply disturbing events in politics and the entertainment industry has led to the next uprise – we’re smashing and questioning the behaviours of the powerful, the rich and the system as a whole, this time with different tools that reach world wide. Women are coming together to support each other more than ever – it’s an exciting time.

Kerrie and the TSAR women from the Melbourne HQ.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt in your career?

If you can – love your work, always set a challenge, acknowledge your successes and don’t be afraid of not being perfect or the best.

You don’t have to go to war to speak out.

What are some of your rituals that keep you grounded, motivated, focused and continuously creative?

I have always had a studio or a corner at home. It’s the reverie of time in the creative zone that is addictive and clears the way to make the most of life. I weave creativity into our lives at all levels.

Apart from that, I think I was born creative so can’t help it.

Kerrie’s button and patterned fabric collection in her studio.

Who and what inspired/influenced you to be the creative you are today? Who do you admire?

Colour. My earliest memory was being mesmerised by the sun illuminating scarlet roses outside our kitchen window.  I was very young.  Then there were the flowers that my aunt grew. She taught me about gardening, a passion I still have.  Then there were the parrots my father kept, I collected the feathers for their brilliant colours.

Kerrie’s obsession with bold colours wherever she goes – in her studio and on the streets on NYC.

As for my biggest inspirations, I admire people who are able to be true to themselves – despite societal pressures, any imposed rules or consequences.  I meet these people every day, and they come from a myriad of backgrounds and professions. What truly inspires me is seeing a person following the beat of their own drum.

What’s next? Can you share some of your current projects/visions/goals?

I have just spent the summer revisiting a technique that I learned over 35 years ago.  Stay tuned on that one, I will be unveiling a very exciting project in the near future.

I also love hanging around young people, they are so inspiring and quite frankly much funnier than most people my age. I want to share my skills with those who yearn for a creative voice so am working on my dream of an open studio where people can come hang out, create and learn about textiles.

I’m also deeply concerned about the future of the planet. I know we have the capability to correct our behaviour, to practise more sustainably and focus on making daily improvements. I continue to create, recycle and mend my own clothes to avoid destructive fast fashion. I believe that nurturing creativity to develop inner strength and resilience will provide the tools to make choices for the good of all.

If you could sum up your view of the world in 5 words?

On the cusp of change.

(All images from Kerrie’s personal archive)