Interview: WAH-WAH’s Kaylene Milner

Sydney-based brand, WAH-WAH reimagines iconic music designs as wearable art. Kaylene Milner’s collaborative spirit allows her to work with bands and artists both local and international.

With one foot in the design world and one foot in the music world, Kaylene’s work and education led her to create the niche brand in truly DIY style. “I loved studying but once I started working in the fashion industry I found it pretty disillusioning, so I never had any doubt I’d either have to work for myself or forget the whole fashion thing.”

We caught up with Kaylene to find out more about WAH-WAH.

Please tell us a brief history of WAH-WAH and it’s beginnings.

I have J Mascis to thank for the concept of WAH-WAH, or at least the inspiration behind its origins. When I was in high school I read Michael Azerrad’s “Our Band Could Be Your Life”, and in it was a photo of J Mascis wearing a “Deep Wound” sweater that his mum had knitted for him. I thought it was the best thing ever, knowing she would have so lovingly created this intricate knit of his high school hardcore band, with uneven lettering and a blood splatter shape behind it.

What’s been the main challenges in starting your own brand?

Most knitwear manufacturers usually have pretty high minimum orders, and it is costly to develop, so it’s a big investment. I have to feel a collaboration is going to really resonate with an audience, not to mention an audience who appreciates knitwear, before I go ahead with a design.

Another main challenge is gently educating customers on why a garment costs what it does. Wool is expensive! Sure, there might be other brands out there making acrylic sweaters at a quarter of the price, but I’m really conscious of quality and sustainability, and I’m not willing to make shitty unethically produced garments just to sell a few more of them.

How did you arrive at the idea of collaborating with bands on knitwear?

Like I said, J Mascis was a major influence. I had some fashion design and production know-how, plus I knew quite a lot of bands from having played in bands myself since I was a teenager. I feel like a lot of 80s and early 90s punk bands, always seemed to have a band member or a close friend of the band who was a really great illustrator, who would do album art or gig posters. I just happened to know Ray Ahn from The Hard Ons, and Link Meanie from The Meanies, so I figured that was a good place to start!

Is there a brand in particular you’d like to collaborate with?

I’ve got a couple of projects in the works with some brands, which is something that’s totally new for me. Until now I’ve only collaborated with bands and visual artists, but I’m enjoying teaming up with other small brands with similar values, but totally different knowledge and skill sets to me. That said, if I had to choose a more mainstream brand, perhaps Tyler the Creator’s clothing brand, GOLF would be a fun collaboration.

Can you walk us through the Wah Wah creative process.

It usual consists of me thinking “ooh….wouldn’t a *insert/band artist name here* design be cool”, followed by a very impulsive email to track them down and propose the idea. From that point on the design process differs wildly, depending on how the artist wants to work. Sometimes there is a lot of back and forth on design ideas, and then at other times it’s more a case of the artist saying, “I trust you…do what you want with my work”. Then comes the limitations of designing for knitwear, and the laborious process of programming the graphics stitch by stitch.

Who are some of your favourite new bands?

Some of my favourite newer Australian bands would have to be Exek (although they’re pretty established now), Optic Nerve, Setwun, The Green Child, Imperial Leather and Genesis Owusu. The UK has some great newish bands at the moment. I really love Squid. I hope my band Loose Fit can play a gig with them one day if we ever get to leave the country!

What kind of thing is on the moodboard for your next project/collection?

Accessories! I’m branching out. It’s more research than mood. Lot’s of construction details and yarns, which is probably boring to anyone who isn’t a knitwear designer.

What can we expect to see from you in the near future?

I’m releasing a bunch of new styles next month. As always, a few artist and band collaborations, (including a collaboration with my absolute teen idols, one of the original Rough Trade bands….I’ll leave it at that…). I’m also moving into hand knits, so I can explore the idea of one-off band knits, a la Deep Wound. This will be the first season I’ve designed knit pants, so you can do a head to toe WAH-WAH look. Superfine merino pants are like wearing a cloud. I worry jeans are a thing of the past for me.

Favourite album of all time?

This question could make me spiral, so I’m just going to run with, “Naughty Boys” by Yellow Magic Orchestra.

We are currently running a giveaway with WAH-WAH, head to our Instagram to find out more!

Shop WAH-WAH now. 

Amy Taylor photos by Jamie Wdziekonski

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