VAMFF NEWS

The Business: Helen O’Connor

Helen O’Connor is the woman behind Thurley, one of Australia’s most coveted labels. Helen’s relationship with VAMFF has lasted over a decade. Her first collection was launched at the Festival in 2006 to an overwhelmingly positive response then in 2008, Thurley was selected as a National Designer Award finalist. We’re thrilled to catch up with Helen in this installment of The Business to find out; how far her business has come, what it takes to achieve long term success in the fashion industry and which city she loves travelling to for design inspiration.

Helen O'Connor, Thurley

Please introduce yourself.
My name is Helen Thurley O'Connor and I started Thurley a little over a decade ago. Thurley is like a child to me. I have put so much love and work into growing it over the years. I’m so lucky to have been able to build a career out of my passion and am blessed to be able to share my vision and work with my customers every season.

Share one piece of advice that has been a game changer for you in life or business?
‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.’ Such a poignant phrase to remember in such a notoriously harsh industry. It costs nothing to be kind and people will remember you for it. That’s very important in such a small industry. I will never forget the people that showed me generosity and kindness when I started out. It made all the difference in moulding me and Thurley.

If you could travel to one destination for inspiration, where would it be, and why?
Rome in Italy (pictured). I always look to Italian culture when designing. I think it their innate ability to combine classic historical architecture with the modern way of life is synonymous with my approach to design. A trip to Rome always provides an endless source of inspiration. You never know what breathtaking historic relic is waiting to be discovered just around the corner, it might just be the cornerstone to my next collection. 

What is your inflight travel essential?
Every time I fly I raid the newsagent at the airport and indulge in all the latest fashion and gossip magazines. Flying provides a rare opportunity for uninterrupted reading time.

Fashion is always evolving, how do you stay on top of trends in your industry?
The way I stay on top of trends is to ignore them completely! I have noticed that trends are turning over faster and faster with the influence of social media and the insatiable appetite for newness, therefore my ethos is to curate a classic wardrobe of special timeless pieces that will last a decade or even a generation. I always try to approach my design with a timeless take. I want Thurley garments to be relevant in the years to come and not a part of the passe fast fashion landfill.

Share something exciting on the horizon?
I’m really excited about our international expansion into four of the major global fashion markets Europe, China, USA and the Middle East. I was really taken aback by the positive reaction from the USA. It’s really heartening to see them embrace small Australian designers and that our perspective provides their customer with something fresh and unique.  

What personal traits do you think are essential to ‘change the game’?
Resilience, confidence, self belief and strength. Although the industry looks glamorous from the outside, it takes someone with guts, passion and determination to survive in the tough world of fashion. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!

Find Thurley on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.


The Business presented by Virgin Australia is an interview series capturing the spirit of entrepreneurship. We talk fashion, business, travel and lifestyle with industry insiders who are leading the way in their field during VAMFF 2017. Read more interviews from The Business series here.

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