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Robby Tjia from Surabaya, Indonesia

Senior Womenswear Designer at Kenzo

Robby recalls learning that Michelle Obama, on a state visit to Japan, had worn a dress he’d designed for the label’s ready-to-wear collection. “I was like, whoa, you made it!"

Sewing skills help Robby fashion his future in design

Robby Tjia has ticked off one accomplishment after another while navigating his future in the competitive world of fashion.

From an internship with Alexander McQueen in London to award-winning designs, postgraduate study in Paris and a designer role with Kenzo.

“It’s been very exciting,” says the 33-year-old Indonesian national who has spent the past six years designing womenswear at Kenzo in Paris.

Robby recalls learning that Michelle Obama, on a state visit to Japan, had worn a dress he’d designed for the label’s ready-to-wear collection. “I was like, ‘whoa, you made it!’”

Yet he also humbly discusses his complete lack of sewing skills when he started out more than 10 years ago at UTS in Sydney.

“I almost cried by the end of the first sewing class. I went to the professor and said ‘look, I can’t sew to save my life’,” he says.

Robby was told to buy a sewing machine, practise at home and come to class an hour early. At the end of the year he scored the highest mark in the class. “It’s a good story for me to tell now, but at that time it was very stressful,” he says.

His first break came on a UTS Study Exchange to the University of Westminster in London when he secured an internship with British fashion designer Alexander McQueen. “It was very intense, very busy, and I wanted to learn everything. I was really excited about going to work,” he says.

He won a Lancôme competition, taking home the “Modern Femininity Award” for designs he was still sketching on the plane on his way back from London two days before the deadline.

Robby went on to study a Master’s degree in fashion at Institut Français de la Mode in Paris. There he won a competition against other Paris fashion school students with his collection, and came second in a Gucci challenge to design an environmentally friendly bag.

After final presentations, the French luxury brand Balenciaga offered him a job. Then just 18 months later he joined Kenzo, at a time when the company was being revamped.

Robby still has aspirations. He’d like a role as head designer or creative director someday, and one day may even start his own business.

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