Rachel Burke, better known as @imakestagram, is making jackets out of tinsel today. It's one of the staple items the Brisbane designer offers in her colour explosion of a brand. She tells Refinery29 Australia that between working with metallic strands for an upcoming order, she's also prepping for what she calls "pla pla" — a monthly art session that encourages freedom and creative exploration.
"Oh, it's a bit of club on Instagram," she explains of her arts and craft offering, which encourages friends to grab some wine and snacks, sit down and make something together while catching up. This time, she'll be encouraging people to make pom poms, but last month, it was cereal box bags.
"There's really something in taking an old cardboard box, breaking it down and turning it into a little canvas," she says, sharing that she loves projects that use or re-envision materials you already have at home. "It really recontextualises your trash and turns it into treasure while lowering the stakes — you genuinely just have a play and see where it leads."
In her latest collection, Burke has created a range of custom and ready-to-wear headbands made of pom poms and beads, dresses made of ruffled tulle and tinsel, resin badges with personalised messages, and of course a tinsel jacket that comes in rainbow, gold or the vibrant hues of an iced vovo biscuit.
"I really love things that have a sense of volume, that take up space," Burke says. "I'm really drawn to bright colours and things that are tacky and finding the way it can all be cohesive and beautiful, I guess? I just gravitate towards the things that bring me joy and light me up."
Burke's passion for creating was fully realised after dropping out of musical theatre school in 2011, where she made her own costumes for each performance. She decided to make a blog to capture her creative projects while working at a bookstore and sewing in her parent's garage, before committing to making a dress a day for a year to raise money for charity.
"That established a sense of style that I hadn't really discovered before, and through that, people started inquiring about the designs that I was making," she says. Soon, she was swooped up by Princess Polly as an in-house designer and got approached by Universal Store to be the head of women's wear for five years.
But in the back of her mind, her side gig was always her priority, and five years ago she made the plunge to working on her namesake brand full time. "Now I just do everything I love," she says. "It's very full on because I make everything by myself, run my online store doing commission and art, and building a community around making stuff, and along the way I've been lucky that social media has connected me with so many people." Her work, she shares, is now a rebellion or countermovement to her time in commercial fashion — a middle finger to fitting in, trends, and streamlined conformity.
"My aim as I get older and older is to just get closer and closer to who I really am and self actualise without fear of judgement and ridicule."
In creating her brand from the ground up, Burke realised that there was immense pressure to monetise everything, which detracted from the joy of making art for art's sake, a lingering impact of the girlboss era.
Her advice to other creatives is that they don't have to make their side hustle or hobby into a career. "You can just do things for enjoyment. You can just learn a craft to make things for yourself and your friends — so try to take the pressure off yourself."
Aside from pla pla, Burke's Instagram presence — a bonanza of sparkle, frou frou and rainbow fuzz — has turned into an online community for craft connoisseurs that has ballooned to nearly 200,000 followers. "It's just been really lovely, and connecting with likeminded people has genuinely been so rewarding," she says.
Burke's online tutorials and events in 2020 and 2021 helped people release from the stress of lockdown, but she says the continued dabbling with arts and crafts she's observed in the years since has been equally fascinating. "I'm seeing huge booms in people who maybe dabbled in that time and realised that it's actually their true passion," she reflects. "We've learnt that life is short, nothing is assured, so we might as well play and explore and enjoy the process of life and making."
In sourcing her materials, Burke turns to recycling warehouses like Reverse Garbage, thrift stores, two-dollar stores and Spotlight chains in regional towns. "They always seem to have really old lace and tacky things they don't have in the city — and for me, the tackier the better. Because the things people think are ugly, there's usually something so good in them like bubblegum pink, pearl, rickrack, the button packets that look like they've been sitting there for eight years. All that stuff lights me up!"
And if you're wondering whether Burke leaves the house in her pieces on the regular, she shares that her everyday personal style is actually very different from when she goes out to an event. "Day-to-day, I dress pretty relaxed but it's still bright and colourful. I love oversized dresses, things that are comfortable and that I can spill paint on it and know they're not too precious," she says. But when she's out on the town, she leans in to her true form. "My aim as I get older is to just get closer to who I really am, and self actualise without fear of judgement and ridicule. And I have experienced those things, absolutely — people who laugh or stare. But I think it's fascinating because it all comes back to what people expect — clothing as uniform and safety."
Burke feels inspired by customers who share that her pieces make them feel the same way; who end up having a conversation with a stranger sparked by a glittery jacket, or who feel confident in their own skin. Her repertoire of happy clients include Beyoncé's children, Jan Fran, Alisha Gaddis (seen in a floral number at the 2023 Grammy Awards), and a birthday suit for Harry Styles — but not the kind that springs to mind. Burke was approached by Styles' team to dress the singer for his 29th birthday in February, which she describes as a dream come true. The three-piece set was made up of a "trash jacket" created from leftover party tinsel, with an upcycled thrifted jacket, a vest and pants that Burke pulled together in a fortnight. She threw in a couple of her custom "uggo" badges for Styles as well — one that read "Happy Birthday Harry Styles" and the other, "Birthday Person".
"There was some chatter that he could wear it on stage, even though I thought it was unlikely, but there was still a glimmer of hope," she shares. "But then I saw them post a photo of it in his dressing room and was like, 'Oh my god, we've made contact' and then a day later, was sent confirmation that he received it and loved it." Now that Styles is ticked off her list of achievements, Burke's next dream collaborations include Beyoncé herself, Lorde and Björk.
But at her heart, Burke says making for everyday people still brings her the most joy. "People always get very excited about celebrities — which is great — but it's also great to meet cool people and to make stuff for them, no matter who they are."