We speak to Daisy Watt, professional weaver and founder of all-female co-working space Toast Workroom, about the importance of shitty jobs, girl hate, and why the education system can be poisonous to creatives.
Daisy Watt is exactly where many creatives in their early 20s strive to be, but few actually achieve.
Instead of waiting until after she paid her dues in the ol’ rat race, or waiting for things to happen to her—the languid path many 20-somethings take—Watt just fucking went ahead and did it all herself.
Did what (watt), exactly? After graduating from a textiles degree a couple of years ago, Watt singlehandedly opened all-female co-working space Toast Workroom less than six months after stepping out of her final class. That’s something to be extolled at any age, but just a few mere years out of her teens? *breathless*
The Brunswick space is home to half a dozen creative women—Watt among them—who work alongside each other on their respective creative practices, which include ceramics, jewellery-making and visual art. It’s a warm, collaborative space that’s a testament to Watt’s vision of creating the supportive community she lost when she left uni.
Watt’s contribution to the space—aside from, you know, creating the space itself—is her loom, a bulky wooden contraption she uses to manually handcraft her sumptuous woven textiles. At various points along her nascent yet prolific weaving career, Watt’s work has caught the attention of the likes of Maxwell and Williams, Country Road and the Age—even her alma mater RMIT, where she now occasionally teaches the craft she very recently was there learning herself.
Watt is a talented, powerful and confident young woman, and we’re excited to see how she continues to, um, weave her career into the future.
Hey Daisy! Can you tell us about your path so far?
I definitely didn’t really have any destination in mind, and I still kind of don’t. It was more about finding an area I liked that had enough room for me to muck around it.
Chronologically, I did all my high schooling up in the Northern Territory. I was actually born down here but moved up there to do all my high schooling, with my family. Then as soon as I graduated—about a week or two after, actually—I packed my bags and was like, ‘See ya, guys! Nice knowing you!’
There’s no creative community up there, really—at least, not then. And definitely in the area I was wanting to go down, there’s just no work. It’s also just really hot! It’s beautiful—the landscape is beautiful and there’s some really good local food, and obviously being close to my parents was awesome, but I had to tap out.
So I moved here when I was 17 and jumped into the diploma program at RMIT for textiles. I went in there thinking I would do the associate degree but there was a lot of TAFE restructuring when I started, so all the programs kind of morphed.
So I did a two-year program. I got to the end of the course and was just about to turn 19, and was like, ‘I do not feel done at all’. So I jumped into the bachelor program kind of halfway and finished up two years later.
Then I graduated, and about five months later I opened Toast Workroom.
That’s incredible! What prompted you to do that? And how did you do that?
I started preparing and planning: doing freelance work and picking up a heap of extra jobs, because you graduate uni with nothing to your name. So I got back from travelling after graduation and was like, ‘Right, it’s been a few months and I’ve got nothing really in the pipeline; I need to do something’.
So I was like, ‘What is it that I’m struggling with the most?’ And it was that immediate separation from your community. You leave uni; you’re spat out and you no longer have an incredible support network of other makers, or space—space to create, but also a place that’s entirely removed from your home life.
So I started planning. I picked up heaps of crappy jobs to make the money to set this place up. I think I’d had it for a month before we had everyone in. I did it all myself because I couldn’t afford to get anyone else in. It was just me and my friends painting the roof and drilling into stuff.
I set it up initially with no intent of it being a public thing. I was just wanting space for me and my mates to hang out and do our thing. But the more I was doing it, the more interest there was from people asking me about it. So I was like, ‘I guess we should give the studio a name, I guess we should probably do social media’. It sprouted a few extra legs and crawled up the internet!
I spent the majority of the first six months trying to nut everything out and continued to save up a little bit, and built up some more freelance work as well as my own weaving stuff. It’s almost been a year now since I’ve been entirely self-employed; of not having to rely on shitty jobs to help fund this. It’s nice to be able to be my own boss now!
So did you have any fears before opening Toast?
Because I didn’t think it was going to be a thing: nothing. My only concern was that I wanted to make sure we’d all be able to do our thing.
It was more so fear of not doing it. I didn’t want to not give it a go. I’ve always been really … I hate it when someone says no to me. When people push further and are like, ‘How are you going to do that?’, when I’m met with a wall or someone questions it, it gives me even more drive.
Leaving uni, I had this big shift in perspective. I thought, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ [The traditional thinking is that] you have to have done all these things to be able to do that; you can’t do this until this has happened. And it’s like, well, no—everything only happens if you literally do it yourself. Actually putting in the hard work, getting a bit of extra cash and being able to put in the effort.
And that was a really big thing: nobody is going to make my space for me, it’s not just going to appear. I was working out of my bedroom and I was like, ‘I’m not going to find a place, I literally need to make my space’. That was really important and super humbling to be able to do that, to make a space for myself within the community and industry, but also to be able to do that for my friends.
It comes back to our education structure, which is so narrow in forms of success and career paths. It’s expected that you have to apply for the job and then you get the job and you work and build it up and pay your dues. But it’s like, you can still create something for yourself if you just try it yourself. Australia’s really interesting in terms of industry in that there’s heaps of huge big fish and heaps of tiny fish, and there’s no middle ground. So if you want to do something, you’ve just got to do it yourself. That’s been the thing for me.
Graduating uni is rough. You go from that huge high to crickets; back to the bedroom studio where there’s no one but you and you’re like, ‘What am I doing?’ I tried to do the ‘get the job’ thing briefly and realised I don’t want to work nine to five. I don’t want to work for a company that I’m not really that interested in. So why are we all thinking there’s only one form of getting a career; one form of choosing your life?
Do you have any fears around your career or business now?
I worry about what I would be doing if I didn’t have Toast. I’m so privileged to be able to do this, and be in a country and a place and an environment where this is respected to a degree.
Don’t get me wrong: creative work is still not treated with the same mentality as any other career. But in saying that, we are so fortunate to be able to live in this country and do what we do. That weighs heavily on me: people who haven’t been as fortunate as I have to be able to go to uni and to have time and lean on family and friends and live here.
And what about self-doubt?
I feel like that goes hand-in-hand with everything. I think everyone would experience it and it’s a common thing within the industry. Everyone always talks about how social media influences that and how we’re constantly comparing ourselves.
On one hand I think it’s important to be checking in with yourself, being like, ‘How can I be doing better? Why am I doing this?’ and asking the right questions about you and your practice and what it is you’re doing, instead of it just being pure ego.
I think everybody has self-doubt and it’s important. It’s also bad for productivity, but I think it’s important to ask yourself some questions. Being able to make stuff and put stuff out there is super cool, but there’s already so much shit everywhere, so it’s like, ‘Why are you making this? What is this doing?’
It comes back to that thing where we struggle with people who copy or whatever, but you’re mad because there’s already so much of this shit that it’s a waste. Like if you’re making something that’s already there, it’s pure waste. There’s no reason for that. You should be exploring something you want to be exploring; making something you want to make for a reason.
I mean, there’s something awesome in making stuff for the sake of making stuff. But if you’re making something that’s already someone else’s idea and it’s already there, there’s no place for it. Aside from the negative that it’s copying, which sucks, because this community is already on the back foot, so why try to take everyone’s leg to stand on?
Do you ever worry about where you fit in the landscape of weaving; about where you fit in among the amazing talent out there?
That’s totally a thing everyone thinks about, I think. For me, it’s not so much, ‘Am I allowed a seat at this table?’—it’s more so, ‘What is it that I’m bringing?’ Thinking further and pushing slightly further than what it is and asking why. It’s tricky, but I think it’s a good thing to have that worry.
Do you ever experience creative jealousy?
When you’re in a creative industry and you’re already kind of trying to do your own thing and you’re already on the back foot, I think it comes back to this gross idea of ‘girl hate’ and jealousy in terms of trying to pull that person down so you can get up. I’m really lucky that I’ve had some amazing female role models in my life, and that’s not really been a thing I’ve ever gotten to. I’m fortunate enough to recognise that.
As soon as we all start shifting our perspectives of, ‘Damn, I wish I did that’ to being, ‘Oh my god, that’s sick, I’m so stoked for that person’, then it’s a positive for them, and in a weird knock-on way that’s a positive for you. If someone else in my industry is kicking a huge goal, it’s recognition for them and it’s recognition for the industry, and I’m stoked that they’re able to do a cool thing.
Have you ever struggled to share your work?
Totally. Instagram is even more of an issue with that stuff. Like posting anxiety—I’ll be like, ‘Oh god, I don’t want to put this up’. What I try to think about is that I’m literally making this for myself, so I try to treat it as documentation as opposed to reassurance.
I think any time you have to think about what you’re doing is a really positive thing. It makes you ask questions. And if I was happy with everything, I wouldn’t want to keep making. I feel like the reason we all in some way want to keep making shit is because you flesh out an idea to the point where you’re like, ‘That’s cool, I’ll explore that for a bit’. And then it’s like, ‘Right—what am I trying to figure out next?’
What has been the biggest challenge or failure of your career so far?
I try to look at everything as a learning experience. I’ve been fortunate enough where I don’t think I’ve had a situation in my creative career that I’ve regretted, because everything informs your next step. I’m still so early in my career, too!
But Toast was a huge challenge, and it still kind of is. This was just a little brain egg that hatched and turned into a nice little place, and everyone liked it, too, which was cool. It was a big challenge; I picked up two extra part-time jobs to make it happen.
And I’ll happily say this on tape: I had probably $40 to my name when I signed the lease on this place. So you don’t have to have big financial backing. If you want to do it, you just gotta pull your socks up. But I also say that from a huge place of privilege.
What are your future hopes for your career, and for Toast Workroom?
I haven’t really thought about it long term, and I like that because it doesn’t restrict me. I think that’s something that’s so wrong with the current education system: ‘Where’s your destination? You can only go there and this is the only way to do it’.
And it’s like, well, actually, there are a billion, gazillion, trillion ways to find your feet wherever you land, and it’s going to change anyway. It’s such a changing time socially and politically—everything is changing. So there’s no point setting yourself up for not being able to get there.
Ultimately, I’d just like to do what I’m doing! I guess I’d love to just be weaving whatever I like and have that be enough, and be able to do that. Which I am at the moment, and that’s pretty cool. And if things come up, awesome. I’d love to be able to do whatever it is that comes up.
Virtual pep talk
Make sure you’re asking yourself all the right questions. If you’re not sure what you should be asking yourself, ask everyone around you.
Do what you want to do. Make your own space, make your own place, but make it for the right reasons.
Your community is your biggest asset, and a win for someone else is definitely a win for you. Someone else’s success does not ever detract from your own—it enhances it.