An artist dedicated to creating clothing that makes women feel the happiest, most confident version of themselves.
Andrea Tonkin, the creative director behind international fashion brand ‘andAndrea’, usually begins her day with a sunrise walk, listening to podcasts or her favorite music. Behind the fun and sparkles is an artist dedicated to creating clothing that makes women feel the happiest, most confident version of themselves. And no-one is more surprised than Andrea at her brand’s success.
“I found so much of the joy I was seeking by helping women put aside self-doubts about themselves and their own bodies”
Andrea at age nineteen wearing a skirt and ruffly shirt that she designed and made herself.
Andrea was born in Western Australia, one of the most isolated cities in the World. Her father was a bank manager, her mother, a home carer. Although Andrea was a relatively late and surprise arrival in their lives, her beloved parents instantly named her their “little bundle of joy”. ‘Joy’ became Andrea’s middle name and the underlying theme for her life.
Andrea on school holidays with her beloved dog Duke.
With an innate love of fabrics and creating, Andrea taught herself to sew and began bringing her imaginings to life. It wasn’t unusual for Andrea to have an idea in the morning, buy the fabric in the afternoon and manifest a creation to wear out that evening.
After leaving high school, a New York trip to visit a friend, opened her mind to exciting and different fashion possibilities. Although Andrea did not return to New York for many years, the initial impressions of vibrancy and vitality, infused her outlook. She developed a love of colorful, daring, street style fashion and musicals, which have never left her.
Family and Connecting Experiences
Andrea’s innate passion for fashion developed into an after-hours interest for many years while she pursued (with her typical dedication), a primary school teaching career and raised her three sons with her husband. Although fashion was “only a hobby” initially, it enabled Andrea to feed her creative desires by regularly reworking vintage shop finds into outfits for work and leisure.
“I’m in my happy place wandering around vintage shops searching for unique clothing treasures. For me, it’s meditative and peaceful, a time for me to recharge”.
Andrea’s own designs and her vintage recreations often drew admiration and comments from her students, colleagues, friends and strangers on the street. From the age of eighteen, it was obvious to many people… Andrea had a gift.
Andrea's early motherhood phase. Heading off to the beach at Rottnest Island with her first two boys.
Listening to her Inner Voice
Although Andrea’s love for fashion remained a ‘sideline’ during her early years of commitment to mothering and teaching, an upcoming pivotal event (her youngest son finishing high school in 2011), awakened her inner voice. It was shouting! "What are you going to do in two years after Riley leaves school? How are you going to fulfil your true passion? How are you going to maximize your ‘Joy’ throughout the rest of your life?" At this point, Andrea had no idea what was ahead.
Summer 2020 - Vintage style, Moroccan inspired jumpsuit.
Observing and Learning from the ‘Ahaaa Moments’
With a searching heart and open mind, Andrea began paying greater attention to her intuition. Her first 'Ahaaa Moment' came one day by chance. While prepping dinner with the television on in the background, Andrea overheard Oprah chatting with Joan Anderson, the author of A Year by the Sea. Joan was describing how she’d devoted her life to her husband and two sons. In doing so, she felt like she’d lost her sense of identity and was committed to making positive changes for her future years. This resonated with and inspired Andrea. She didn’t want to get to seventy or eighty years of age and say… “I wish I had”.
Although Andrea was grateful for all of her career and parenting experiences to this point, after an extended period of motherhood, she felt she had lost a significant measure of self-confidence. Now that her three sons were turning into independent men, she was totally committed to discovering her next source of joy.
After reading ‘A Year by the Sea’ three times, it was still not clear to Andrea how her dreams would be realized, however she knew it was time to pivot and begin a new journey to find fulfilment.
Doing the 'AA Twirl' baby!
“I took my own version of a year by the sea. For eighteen months I walked along the oceanfront on West Coast Highway every day. With my headphones on and music on high, the day-to-day chatter in my head was calmed. I loved that I’d created a space to work with my inner voice and be guided.”
“I also sought mentorship from inspirational women who had changed their lives and found more joy. I attended Business Chicks events and Women's Lunchbox luncheons at every opportunity. I always found them inspiring. I would leave those forums thinking… “if she can do it, I can too!” and “I want to be that inspirational speaker up there one day”.
The life stories of these successful women speakers pushed Andrea forward and sewed the seeds of possibility. All she needed to do was follow the thread.
Andrea exploring her inner Hippie soul for a Myer themed dress day.
Putting it all into Action
While chatting with her husband one day, the pieces began to come together. Andrea decided to jump into the fashion world. She knew she had to take a giant step back in order to take a step forward but felt it would all be worth it.
“I didn’t have any formal fashion training, so I knew I had to start at the bottom. I determined two fashion retailers I would be happy to work for as a sales assistant (Witchery and Country Road) and with a huge deep breath, fighting self-doubt and absolutely petrified, I walked in their front doors, no appointment. I couldn’t believe it when I was offered both jobs.”
“From my first day at Witchery, I helped customers in a way I imagined a ‘real’ stylist would. I was on Cloud 9. It was so much fun! I would have happily done it for free.”
“It wasn’t common at that time for people, other than celebrities, to have a stylist. I wanted to style people from all walks of life. I found so much of the joy I was seeking by helping women put aside self-doubts about themselves and their body. I loved hearing my customers’ stories and seeing them do what others now call ‘The AA Twirl’ as they walked out the door. I began to truly understand the transformative power of clothing.”
Andrea hosting an in-store styling workshop.
As a result of Andrea’s authenticity and creativity, her popularity as Witchery’s unofficial stylist grew. Customers began booking in for their own ‘personal styling sessions’. Before long, other Witchery team members followed Andrea’s lead and sales quickly grew.
It was obvious to Witchery’s management and others that something very special was happening.
“Out of the blue, just six months after starting my new career, one of my favorite customers offered me my dream job... to be the Western Australian resident stylist for Myer, the largest department store chain in Australia. A whole new world was opening up for me.”
Myer provided Andrea with her own “Office”, a private fitting room for clients where she was free to provide a boutique experience within the department store. She was in her element! With sparkles flying, she would flit between floors grabbing garments from different designers and pulling together outfits that would best suit her customers.
Andrea’s styling sessions were less about ‘this goes with that’ and more about the life changing effect that clothing has on confidence, state of mind and joy.
Andrea demonstrating how to create a layered look for individuality and flair during a Sass and Bide workshop.
Light hearted and charismatic, Andrea’s message to her customers was irreverently delivered with her mantras: “There are no rules in fashion” and “Dare to wear and smile if they stare“.
As well as styling women face to face, Andrea became an early adopter of social media. Using an online blog and Instagram, she began offering virtual styling tips based on her own fashion experiences and inspiration from the streets.
“For me, fashion is about fun. It has to make you smile. You can be immaculately styled but if you don’t feel fabulous, you won’t experience the joy”
Ooh la la... Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Sydney.