Style Profile: Emma Williamson

Emma Williamson
Words by Diana Paolucci. Photography by Tülay Dinçel.

We had the pleasure of visiting Emma Williamson to discuss her passion for sustainable design practices and the various creative and community projects that occupy her time. In line with her involvement in the realm of circular fashion, Emma is photographed in her beautiful home wearing pre-loved garments that will be available for purchase in our annual second-hand designer market, The Dilettante Circle, held on the 11th and 12th of June.


Could you tell us a little about the Fulcrum Agency and what you do. 

When we started The Fulcrum Agency 5 years ago we decided to really narrow the breadth of what we do and focus on ways to get the best outcomes for the most marginalized sectors of our community. I have worked with my husband, Kieran, for more than 25 years. In our old practice, CODA, we designed projects at every scale from large scale masterplans to schools and community facilities. Now we work mainly with indigenous communities and it’s really shifted the way we do things. We do a lot of community consultation, and a focus on working together to establish what communities want and need. Sometimes our work can be big picture and at the scale of a masterplan and other times we are dealing with specific infrastructure challenges. I guess you could say we work much more invisibly these days.

Lutz, Uma Wang, Jaga
Pre-loved gold Lutz jacket. Taupe Angie skirt by Jaga. Olive leather ballet shoes by Uma Wang.

How does your work with the community inform the design process of a project?

Over the past few years, we have developed a series of tools to help us work together with communities and make sure that there is true engagement. Learning to listen and really collaborate might sound obvious and easy but we have actually found that it has required us to “unlearn” ways of working that are ingrained. This new way of working requires more time at the beginning of the project to get the groundwork right but results in projects that everyone feels connected to as projects are formed through genuine contribution.

Paul Harndem dress, Uma Wang olive ballet shoes and Rhombus socks.
Pre-loved Paul Harnden dress. Olive leather ballet shoes and Rhombus socks by Uma Wang.

Can you recall one of the most rewarding projects you have worked on?

When I started studying architecture I thought I was doing it to design nice houses for people. Our family home was designed by Brian Klopper and the house and the man made a big impression on me. At 17 architecture seemed like a pretty good way to have a profession and be creative at the same time so went straight into study from school. It didn’t take long for me to realise that there was a lot more to architecture than beautiful houses and purposefully shifting our practice to tackle bigger and more complex projects has been a big driver for Kieran and me. The most rewarding project for me has been developing our business to align with our values at the same time as meeting the constantly shifting circumstances of the economy and environment. We have gone from small to medium, large and now back to small, to respond to these forces. I’ve loved creating a practice that has been clear about its intent. With the exception of Andrew in our Sydney office, the rest of our team have worked together for more than 10 years. Testing the ways that the business can be impactful has been extremely rewarding and would not have been possible without these amazing people.

Issey Miyake Dolman knit cardigan
Beige Dolman knit cardigan by Issey Miyake. Dark green Palmer pants by Uma Wang.

How does your design thinking influence areas of your life outside of work? Do you ever switch it off?

I have always been terrified of just rolling with things and accepting the status quo when there is the opportunity to use our skills, empathy, generosity and intelligence to leave things better than when you found them. At its core design thinking asks that you take a broad view of the challenge or problem that is posed and think laterally about ways that this can be addressed. Design thinking influences all my thinking in every part of my life – I can’t help it! One of the defining (and often terrifying) aspects of architecture school is “the crit” which demands that you present your ideas to your tutors and get feedback and criticism. In the beginning, this felt like a personal attack rather than the testing of an idea. Over time I began to understand that the crit is a way of testing and developing design thinking, it's not personal and through the process you test ideas for failure and coming up with better solutions through collaboration.


Did you design your home? Do you have a favourite nook you gravitate towards?

We did design our home but not in the way that most other people might approach this sort of opportunity! In our typical style (somewhat rushed and chaotic), our house has evolved as our family has and we now have quite a rambling compound. We built in 2015 and did a second stage addition in 2020, designed by Sally Weerts of ROAM Studio, once we realised we were going to stay here long term. When we first put pen to paper we were clear that we did not want one big, open-plan kitchen, living, and dining space. Rather we wanted a series of interconnected but separate spaces that catered for different modes of living. The connection of these spaces includes the garden and our family tends to move across and through the garden as an extension of the house, which I love. For me the garden is the thing that binds it all together and I have taken a lot of pleasure working on this and watching it evolve.

Vintage Issey Miyake top, Christian Wijnants floral long sleeve, Rick Owens pants.
Pre-loved pleated top by Issey Miyake. Pre-loved floral long sleeve top by Christian Wijnants. Drawstring Geth Belas pants by Rick Owens. 

You do more than simply manage your business, Fulcrum, with your husband. Can you tell us a bit about all the other pots you dip into?

Over the past 5 years I have moved gears and instead of having small side-hustles I have ended up with a few new businesses that I divide my time between. Although they look vastly different they all share the common thread of being community focused. On the architecture front I spend quite a bit of time on Design Review Panels for state and local government, which I really enjoy. On top of this we have a warehouse in Fremantle called Stackwood ( Stackwood has a number of studios that are leased out to artists and creatives as well as a café and indoor plant and gift shop. We also run workshops over the weekends for those interested in ceramics, silk screening, weaving and print making. And finally, we have a campground (NewFarm) ( in Denmark that we rather impulsively bought with friends a couple of years ago. It's been the most fantastic adventure and the biggest renovation project you can imagine. It has brought together so many people who have come to stay as families or booked out the whole place for retreats and events.


I feel one of the only ways to be able to get ahead in life, is by having a side hustle or two. Is that something you have always done? And if so, what has been the most rewarding side hustle/project to date?

I have to admit I have always had something on the go. I really like collaboration and have loved applying my design thinking to other projects. Over the years I have worked with a couple of fashion designers on products as well as a children’s wear range that I developed with a good friend of mine when our kids were small. I don’t know if I have a favourite. Each one has been perfectly suited to the particular stage of my life and created an opportunity to test and extend my design skills by collaborating with others.

Vintage Issey Miyake top, Christian Wijnants floral long sleeve, Rick Owens pants.
Pre-loved pleated top by Issey Miyake. Pre-loved floral long sleeve top by Christian Wijnants. Drawstring Geth Belas pants by Rick Owens. 

Did you see a shift in your career once you became a mother? And what has been the biggest challenge in being a parent?

My career has continuously evolved and having a family has definitely been a huge part of that. Having children helped me to focus on what was important and how I wanted to spend my time- which suddenly felt very limited! I have found that the greatest currency for me is flexibility and I have consciously and sub-consciously made all my work decisions with this as a key criteria. To me being flexible means that I can be agile to shifting demands in the quest for life balance. Sometimes it will allow me to spend more time on work but importantly it allows me to shift the focus toward my family when I need to without letting people down. I think it took me a while to accept that my logistical superpowers could not get me through some of the demands of parenting. My logistical skills were honed during the first decade of parenting but have been much less relevant in the second and I found I needed to be around a lot more. This shift, in the teenage years, has challenged the predictability of my routine (that I valued highly) and I had to learn to be even more flexible in my approach. Having said that, I have really enjoyed this next phase of parenting and watching my children become interesting and loving young adults. My favourite thing is to travel as a family. It feels so good to enjoy the company of all three of them as individuals.

Comme des Garçons Voluminous dress.
Pre-loved oversized dress with collar by Comme des Garçons.

I love that you have a sewing room in your house! Please share with us your fashion project and how that evolved.

Oh – I think you might be referring to what is mockingly called “The Centre for Excellence” by my family! I absolutely love sewing and pattern-making- it’s so technical. I love that you have to construct something in reverse (and inside out), creating forms in 3 dimensions from flat but fluid materials. To me, it's very architectural, very mathematical but also extremely creative. I am self-taught and have learned a lot through my collaborations and from unpicking garments and looking at the flat shapes that make volumes. My most recent side project has been with my friend Sarah Watanabe. Sarah studied architecture and fashion design and is extremely talented and great with detail. I managed to convince her to collaborate with me on a part sustainability, part feminist project creating garments for women from men's business shirts. I came up with the idea for the shirts during a year when I made a rule for myself that I wouldn’t buy anything new. I found myself spending more and more time in op-shops with my kids and noticed that the quality fabrics and finishes were almost never found amongst the women’s wear and were always in the men's shirts. It has been such a great project sourcing shirts, creating one-off pieces and really striking out in the miss matching of patterns and colours. Sarah has been so skilled at making sure the approach was repeatable and beautifully finished. Once we started selling them I changed my clothes purchasing rules and allowed myself to by new clothes with the money earned from the project. I have a couple of lovely garments from Dilettante from this period!

Up-cycled shirts designed and made my Emma Williamson and Sarah Watanabe. 

I understand that you enjoy op-shopping. How often do you find time to do so and what is your most treasured find?

I am a seasoned op-shopper and love the rush of a good find. The most hilarious was an Aarne Jacobsen Cylinder Line cocktail shaker that I bought in Boulder near Kalgoorlie more than 20 years ago. It was in its original box. It was $10 but they were having a 20% off sale that day. At a larger scale, I confess I am also a dab hand at salvage yards, gumtree and Facebook marketplace. In fact, I have such a love of second-hand furniture finds that we had to buy a container to store it all.

33 Poets painted jacket and skirt, Uma Wang black square shoes.
Pre-loved painted jacket and skirt by 33 Poets. Square shoes by Uma Wang. 

Do you tend to hold onto everything in your wardrobe? And how often do you spend time reassessing what’s in it?

I am very slow to get rid of clothes from my wardrobe. I just feel so guilty getting rid of things and often wear garments for well in excess of 5 years before even considering moving them on. I have some things that I have been wearing for 30 years! I have recently developed a staged approach to letting go of garments, first removing them from my wardrobe and storing them in another room, and then going through this 12 months later to see if I really am ready to say goodbye. Thankfully my daughter Jemima is often keen to be the recipient of my clothes (sometimes before I am ready to say goodbye) so they get some good wear.

Comme des Garçons jacket and skirt, Uma Wang ruffle shirt, Maison Margiela boots
Pre-loved jacket and skirt by Comme des Garçons. Dark red Taya top by Uma Wang. Emma's own leather boots by Maison Margiela.

Will you be joining us for the annual Dilettante Circle? If so, will you be on the hunt for something in particular and do you have anything of note that you will be selling?

I will definitely be joining you for the Dilettante Circle – the clothes are spectacular and it’s such a fantastic initiative. Giving clothes another opportunity to be worn and loved makes so much sense on every level – every time we consume something that has had a prior life the planet thanks us.



Learn more about The Dilettante Circle here.
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