Godwin Hili is living proof that you can be a fashion designer sans fashion degree. In partnership with Hostplus, we find out how he made it happen.
“When I finished school I was confused about what to do,” Godwin Hili says. “At one point I even considered becoming a professional basketballer. So I ended up studying a business degree because it was kind of generalist.”
After completing his studies at RMIT, Hili started working in accounting at PwC. It’s not where you’d expect to realise your love for fashion, but Hili says his co-workers were constantly asking him for sartorial advice.
“I had a bit of an eye for fashion, which people picked up on. It came from my parents – my mum was a dressmaker. When I was growing up I used to get her to amend all my clothes, because I was skinnier than most.”
It was at PwC that Hili met Peter Toumbourou, whose family owned a tailoring business in Collingwood. Through this connection, Hili realised his love for design. “I used to go down to his tailoring workshop and have garments made … and one day I thought, ‘Why can’t I do something more creative in my career?’”
Hili decided to change tracks in pursuit of a more “creative business” path, and returned to RMIT to study marketing. During this time, he landed a director’s assistant role at the 2004 L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival.
“I had a friend who was working in PR and she came across an ad for the director’s assistant role, so I applied and got the gig after one interview,” Hili says.
The festival served as “a massive eye opener to the industry”, he says, and gave him a tangible connection to the world of fashion. He also pursued the L’Oreal Marketing Awards in his final years of study, which gave him further exposure to the advertising industry.
“Those two things encouraged me to pursue a fashion career,” Hili says. “Although advertising wasn’t my final landing spot, it was one of those next steps in enabling me to trust my instinct.”
Hili’s new sense of trust in his creativity served as a catalyst to the planning stages of his label, Godwin Charli, in 2005. With Toumbourou and his brother-in-law in tow as consultants, Hili spent 18 months developing the idea, and learning everything there was to know about the Australian fashion industry.
It was this period – and Hili’s experience in business, marketing and advertising – that culminated in the opening of Godwin Charli on Little Collins Street in 2007.
Recognised for his impeccable tailoring and attention to detail, Hili was soon dressing celebrities such as Liam Hemsworth and Kate Ritchie.
“I enjoyed styling people – that sense of being able to historically influence someone’s overall aesthetic for their own benefit,” Hili says.
Godwin Charli eventually came full circle in 2014 when it officially featured in Melbourne Spring Fashion Week.
“My heart was pumping, it was out of control. [The runway] gave me a sense that I belonged, that my vision and creations had found their place within the market,” he says.
Hili’s advice to those looking to get into fashion is to understand the commercial side of the business – something he learnt at a much earlier stage than most.
“Make sure you have some sound business knowledge. No matter how creative you may think you are, everything costs money.”
This article is presented in partnership with Hostplus, which has your super covered no matter your role and how it changes throughout your career.