Objecthood: Clumsy

Born from boredom yet reared with passion, Clumsy by Monique Chiari is the cuddle-oriented, minimal waste brand we never knew we needed.

Nick Mahady and Morgan Cooper model Clumsy face cushions with PEI YI jewellery. Photo: Trudi Treble. Courtesy: Clumsy.

Where did your interest in design come from? 

I’ve always loved drawing and creating things as I go about my life so I guess design was a natural progression for me. I moved to Melbourne from Perth when I turned 18, the first second I was allowed, and went to art school to study Fine Arts at RMIT. I actually found that the whole art school conceptual studio practice thing kind of sucked the joy from my practice and over-intellectualised the satisfaction of making art, so I started to find other creative outlets. 

Can you tell us about how your brand Clumsy began? 

It was pretty much born out of an intense boredom with feelings of being stagnant in my share house and a desire to get some sort of joy from making things for my friends who were having a similar experience.

It started in the second Melbourne lockdown when I wasn’t working and was watching too much Drag Race. I started cutting up my old band t-shirts and making them into cushions. I also got obsessively into Facebook Marketplace and saw a rough trade post advertising an old sewing machine. I offered to trade my big devil’s ivy plant for it and it all kind of went from there. I learnt how to sew all the basic stuff from YouTube tutorials, like most things I’ve learnt how to do in life. 

Clumsy has a minimal waste method, can explain this further? 

Clumsy has always operated as a minimal waste/upcycled practice. Over time I’ve just refined it to be as minimal waste and conscious as possible. I began Clumsy as limited edition runs of deadstock fabrics so that each cushion was unable to be sourced by any other makers and was also used instead of making its way to the bin. At the moment every cushion is stuffed with a combination of fibers, mostly recycled water bottle fibers and offcuts from local designers blended together. I’ve spent a lot of time refining Clumsy packaging too so that there isn’t any unusable waste created from it. Every Clumsy product is packed 100% plastic free, using compostable postage bags and comes in its own custom laundry bag that you’re able to wash your pillow in when it gets a little too much love. Recently I’ve began partnering with local makers in an offcut program where I collect unusable scraps and repurpose them into cushion stuffing. Small offcuts are unavoidable for all makers, no matter how conscious or waste-free orientated they are and it’s something that most businesses don’t tend to discuss. Having a conscious local business that is able to rescue most of your waste and give it another life alleviates heaps of the guilt suppressed by a lot of makers who care about how much they’re putting in the bin at the end of every day. 

Your designs are often organic forms featuring cut outs. How did this design staple come about? 

Initially the classic squiggle-like shape originated because it is actually a super low-waste pattern. Essentially the pattern is a rectangle with some small slits on the edges, so it intentionally covers a really large amount of the piece of fabric and doesn’t require large cut outs of fabrics. I didn’t have a lot of money for fabric at the beginning, so I wanted to be as economical as I could with my fabric use to save on costs as well as wastage. Secondly, the design was very much based on the fact that they are very cuddle-oriented. There are ridges and corners that are perfect for sliding your body against and getting a fulfilling hug out of. It started as a bit of a partner alternative in lockdown because they work great as body pillows to spoon at night. Although they have evolved a lot over the last year or so as I’ve been making them, I think they’ve continued to stay true to their original design.

Do you make every piece, or do you have a team of people?

It’s just me at the moment! I hand draw, cut, sew, stuff and sell every cushion on my own at this point. 

What has been the most rewarding project you have worked on to date?

My recent collaboration with incredible local natural dye intimates brand Hara The Label has been a real proud spot. Allie who runs Hara The Label is a very inspiring young business owner who has built a hugely successful company based on conscious, sustainable and ethical practices that she actually lives by, not just says she does. Working with another maker who has been able to find success in an industry that doesn’t usually reward ethical work has been a really enjoyable experience for me. 

Do you have a collection of art/design products in your home? 

Almost all of my good friends are practicing creatives in one way or another so our house is mostly just a collection of works from them, whether it be very intricate birthday cards from years past or fake foam hotdog sculptures, I’ve found a place for them here. We have a pretty large collection of paintings from our good friend and Canberra-based painter Xavier Jones, as well as a couple of great paintings from friend Matthew Asling, an Australian-Assyrian artist who works in painting, sculpture and installation. 

Do you have any exciting projects/collaborations on the horizon? 

Heaps! Lots that I’m not at liberty to discuss just yet, but safe to say Clumsy isn’t slowing down any time soon. This year I’m really looking forward to expanding my practice beyond homewares and getting back into more editorial projects — continuing the production side of the business, while collaborating more with other creatives on shoots, side projects and mixed media. Music has always been one my most constant interests and I’ve slowly been incorporating this side of myself into Clumsy. Last year I kicked off a collaborative monthly mix series curated with sounds from Clumsy friends and paintings from Nick Mahady. This will be expanding into something much larger this year, beginning with an exclusive cassette from ever-moving synth/ambient artist B.C. Slumber. 

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Born from boredom yet reared with passion, Clumsy by Monique Chiari is the cuddle-oriented, minimal waste brand we never knew we needed.