Olivia & Anna Nicholas from Actually Existing

Words: Manuela Millan
Photos: Caitlin Mills Photography

We had a lovely time with Melbourne based clothing and footwear label Actually Existing
Find more about them and what inspires their work.


Actually Existing - Melbourne fashion label
I have a love of the initial pattern making stage for the shoe uppers.
— OLIVIA Nicholas
Actually Existing - Melbourne fashion label

MM: Tell us how did you come up with Actually Existing?

O: I spent a period of time unemployed, after having worked as a commercial shoe designer. During that time I had the opportunity to learn to make shoes by hand; I think Actuallyexisting must have occured as a result of aquiring a range of material skills that were utterly different to the experience of design as I knew it. I made little samples and accessories for a year in my house. The whole time I was aware of the seeming impossibility of making shoes, or leather products generally, as a job. Yet it seemed to make perfect sense to try to produce the ideas I had in my head, with my own hands, with whatever tools and materials I had access to. I read some books. I watched YouTube vidoes, I travelled to meet other makers and to learn from them.

A: My journey was somewhat different to Olivia’s. A few years ago I began a blog to document interesting shoes that I would find people wearing in the streets. During that time I also experiemented with different materials to make shoe sculptures. I dscovered that paper was my favourite material, and that I enjoyed using my hands to make forms that weren’t particularly wearable, but were beautiful to look at. I then went on to think of ways to make the paper shoes durable enough to be worn. After a stint designing commercial clothing and footwear, I travelled to study shoe making and then joined forces with Olivia to begin Actuallyexisting.

MM: Where do you start to design and make? Tell us a bit more of your creative process.

O: Research and time away from our work space is definitley how we stimulate ourselves during the creation stage. Once we’re back in our practical space we talk and play with materials, and our best ideas evolve through this exercise. From there we will put our ideas down on paper either through a drawing or a description.

A: Once a decision is made on the rough design we mock up our ideas in scrap materials so we can start to visualise it. Changes are made to this drape until we are happy to start developing a pattern for the first protoype. It’s important that we make the first prototype using the materials we have envisaged for the design. From here on we will make as many protoypes as it takes to correct the fit and design until we are happy.

We work with leather and up-cycled materials, including heavy canvas and rubber. We believe in keeping our production local in order to support the various suppliers and associated manufacturers in Melbourne’s industry.
— Olivia & Anna Nicholas
Actually Existing - Melbourne fashion label
Actually Existing - Melbourne fashion label
Actually Existing - Melbourne fashion label

MM: What is your favourite character trait in others?

O: Compassion.
A: Honesty.

MM: How important is social media for your business?

O: Word of mouth is still our preferred kind of social media.
A: We find Instagram is a helpful tool. It enables us to document our work and share it with the rest of the world as we progress. Although this form of social media is flooded, it still allows people who are interested in the type of work we are doing to find us.

MM: What’s your favorite piece/process so far?

A: I have a love of the initial pattern making stage for the shoe uppers. It’s a real test for my brain. I also find that glassing the leather soles is a therapeutic process.
O: The concept and development stage, when new ideas are evolving. I couldn’t pick a favourite piece!

MM: Where do you get the best coffee in Melbourne? And where do you get the best meal? 

O: Our percolator coffee at home is the best, as far as we’re concerned. And for lunch, we go no further than the Moroccan Deli-cacy on Lygon Street.
A: Oh and for dessert, our family’s gelato shops Miinot Gelato & Poco.

MM: What are your plans for the future?

A: Keep making.
A: Keep it slow.
O: Keep it local.