UNEMPIRE is the home for the sickest threads. Zoe Lea, the UNEMPRESS, kindly invited us into her home to take some pics, get drunk and have a YouTube party. Zoe and Phoebe had a chat about running a business, supporting local, and the trials & tribulations of a home office. 

Photos by total honey Hannah Roche.


Unempire has been my favourite place for socks and pins for bloody ages. They're funny, the illustrations are sick, and they're SO COMFY I DIE. How long have you been running your baby for now?

Z: Awwwww thanks m8. You’re far tooooo kind. But yeh - Unempire is ma baby..It's 3 and a half odd years old now.

How do you think you've changed since Unempire began? Your style keeps evolving with each collection, I love how broad the themes are in all of the illustrations you've done. 

Yeh I’ve got no idea what’s going on TBH. Basically Unempire is whatever I’m personally into at the time. As I expand and try to do more ‘ranges’ I’ll try and rein it into themes or colour palettes… But for now whatever, man. You can eat what I serve. Or don’t.

It's so impressive that you're able to run this beast by yourself. I love not having to put on pants before midday sometimes but it can get a bit stressful when it's just you running the show. What do you reckon is the best/worst thing about being your own boss?

HA “beast”…man you’ve been to my ‘office’ which is also my ‘warehouse’ which is also my bedroom (note no inverted commas on that last one)…but yeh i feel u on that stress tip… the best and worst things are often the same - when things are good, you make a good decision - you get to bask in your own glory. When you fuck up, there’s no one else to blame but yourself…not wearing pants is a plus no matter what the situation tho.

Admission to readers: When I was starting out the label I sent Zoe an extremely long and embarrassing email basically gushing about UNEMPIRE, asking for help & advice on logistics, running a business and getting some kind of DIRECTION. Instead of ignoring me, which would have been totally understandable, you were so generous with your time and supportive of a complete stranger. Do you think it’s important to support other designers when they’re starting out?

OMG shuttuppppp. Look at you now, man. I’m still hustlin away in struggletown and you’re like a LEGIT AF / SICK AF label… I look up to YOU. *gush gush gussssh*….but to answer your actual question - YES. It is of highest importance to support your peers. It’s not a competition. We all deserve a piece o dat pie and a chance to get our shit out there into the world. We all have something to offer each other too. Everyone has a skill or a bit of knowledge that can sling out there - that may be common knowledge/ instinct for them, but could be a lifeline for someone else…Furthermore - if all us lil dudes band together, we can proverbially fuck the shitty corporate fat-cat / fast fashion cunts that have made the garment industry one of the worst industries of all industries. SMALL + INDEPENDENT REIGNS.

What are you working on next for the label? The collab with Mama Millions was fuckin gorg. That photoshoot looked amazing. I can't wait to see what you're doing next.

AW thanxx again m8. Yeh Emma from Mama Millions is a ledge- and through that collab - now one of my dear homies….And the photoshoot was also the product of some amazing people whom I’d been instagram stalking for ages but got to meet IRL pretty much thanks to Emma… I can’t wait to see what I’m doing next either... Things are designed & coming soon. Hopefully some people out there are into it.

You are a Brisbane defector. I'm not mad, just disappointed (lol)

Do you think it's important to hit bigger cities like Melbourne or Sydney for young designers in Australia? 

Yehhhhhh left BNE about 8 years ago…Coz I didn’t know YOU EXISTED…And TBH I feel Brisbane is really coming up. A lot of lil cities are really coming up. Maybe there was cool shit happening the whole time and this is just me being an oblivious dickhead - but in the last few years the internet has really reached ubiquity (in the western world) - so people and ideas are just connected now without lag. Back in my day - there was still a noticeable disjoint between shit - so the ‘bigger’, ‘more cultured' or whatever cities were still the places creative ‘had to go’ to be creative… man i’ve used a lot of inverted commas in this interview… lucky we didn’t do this IRL or i’d have Carpel Tunnel from air-quoting. 

LUV U ONE MILLION. Thanks for inviting us to your beautiful pad. 

Yeh anytiiiiiiiiime boo. Was a goddamned pleasure. I will get home to the motherland rerrrl soon and hang witchoo. xoxox

Zoe wears the Lockout Tee, Insuture Choker in Black, and the Home Tee.