Painting, drawing and creativity has always come naturally to me. As a kid you (and like most kids!) could find me on the floor with 100’s of pencils making little funny works of art, and sticking them up on my walls. I have always gravitated towards the creative tasks - I get so much energy out of it!
I’ve studied a few things, public relations, photo-journalism, and finally I found the course for me with a communications degree, majoring in design. I have always had a big interest in the fashion industry, but never wanted to be a fashion designer. I soon found that fashion houses need graphic designers to do all sorts of jobs, such as print design, web design, and textile design. So I spent about 7 years in a handful of fashion and interior brands (such as FAT Stores, búl, Modern Times and Lucy Folk).
In early 2020 after leaving my job, my partner said to me that I should take some time to rest and paint. So I did that and between April and June I painted every day. I found it therapeutic and still do. I had a few people enquire about my work, then commission after commission came and I just decided then, that “this is what I love, I want to paint”, and I’ve not stopped since then. I think that down time actually led to the headspace to also create Food For Everyone, my social enterprise poster shop, which I own and operate.
How was Food for Everyone born?
In July 2020 when a number of Melbourne social housing towers were placed into lockdown, I was alarmed that the people were provided decent, culturally appropriate food quickly. Food banks, such as FareShare (we now support OzHarvest, Secondbite, and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) too) jumped in by preparing and delivering meals to residents at the towers. At the time, we couldn’t volunteer due to restrictions, and that sparked an idea to raise funds for food banks as a way of showing our support for people who needed it most. I was painting at the time and thought I could partner with some friends who are local cooks and design posters with their recipes to raise funds.
Anyway, I painted and designed the posters of some amazing recipes, and a good friend photographed them beautifully in her home. I put them out there and ended up raising $33,000 for Melbourne based food bank FareShare in just 14 days.
Eating a healthy meal each day should be a right, not a privilege. Knowing that there are thousands of people who don’t have access to food (let alone healthy food) breaks my heart. It makes me want to help and there are a range of food banks out there doing incredible work to support people and families who really need it.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Getting to do what I love - painting, It makes me feel energised! And of course giving back to my community.
We know food is your biggest inspiration but where are your favourite places to visit that spark new ideas?
I love visiting the gallery, big or small - I love them so much! I also love visiting local food markets.
How have you found juggling work life with a little mini in tow?
There are some balanced moments and some unbalanced. I always put Francis (my son) first. I soon realised that motherhood requires a village - so we asked for help from Mike’s family and found a nanny to help a day or two a week. On the days where I have help, I paint - it’s what I love and it makes me a better mum. It’s kind of like fitting your own oxygen mask first. And as for cooking, I try to make something new and really delicious each fortnight, and the rest of the recipes are old faithful’s that always are always delicious and mostly nutritious. I am lucky that Mike cooks a lot as a way to relax, so between us, we have a decent repertoire of recipes that make for delicious meals day in day out.
And lastly, what are your favourite pieces from our latest April collection and why?
I’m a really relaxed person, I love wearing loose shirts and am a big fan of a great pant that has been designed well. So saying that, the Green Stripe Organic Cotton Twill Pants, Shorts and Shirt are my favourite pieces. The fabric is extremely beautiful, and it's GOTS certified which is really important to me.
Discover Gemma Leslie's first solo exhibition "Time Up North" at
The Design Files
April 30 - May 5
14 Little Oxford St, Collingwood VIC 3066
Shop Gem's favourite Zulu & Zephyr looks here.