THE FASHION industries of New York and Los Angeles are just a couple of the settings in which Sunshine Coast designer Salita Matthews has found herself during her creative journey that spans continents.

Bangkok is another — originally in her grandmother’s silk factories where she heard the endless click-clacking of the giant looms as they produced luxurious Thai silks.

Salita is the founder of Salita Matthews, a brand specialising in handcrafted, contemporary, pearl and semi-precious stone jewellery designs, which hint at the faraway places that provide their creator’s inspiration.

Born and raised on the Sunshine Coast, Salita hails from a family of silk and leather artisans with creativity literally in her blood. Her mother, Nu, who originally comes from Thailand, is a retired chef.

“Not only is she brilliant at making amazing and inspired food, but her creative skills extend to so many other areas,” says Salita.

“Growing up with Mum, she taught me to cut and sew, and we were always surrounded by beautiful arrays of flowers that Mum enjoyed arranging.

“Mum’s uncle was a leather craftsman and my uncle in Australia is a leather craftsman and wood carver.”

Salita speaks Thai fluently and travels to Thailand twice a year to source the pearls and stones that feature in her designs, as well as to visit her silversmith in Chiang Mai.

“Even though I was born in Queensland, it’s like going home whenever I go back to Bangkok as I just slip in so comfortably,” she says.

“Bangkok strongly inspires my designs, and I just love trawling through the gemstone suppliers that are scattered throughout the city, rummaging through buckets of turquoise and pearls and everything else.

“It’s always like a bit of a treasure hunt visiting these places, and I enjoy coming home with my finds and piecing them together to form my designs. I like to think of it as a dynamic jigsaw puzzle.”

Given her creative roots, Salita’s direction of choice after finishing school is not surprising. She studied fashion at the Nambour campus of TAFE Queensland.

It was a decision that would launch her design career, landing her a job in fashion on the Coast and leading her eventually to the world design capitals of New York and
Los Angeles.

In one job there, she worked as a stylist for a freelance photographer and was charged with sourcing pieces for shoots from places such as the Universal Studios costume department.

“I remember that I had a hire car at the time and was armed with a five-dollar, fold-out street map of LA from the servo and managed to make my way around town by reading that map. This was way before the era of smartphones,” she tells salt.

Back in Australia, she joined a fledgling Noosa clothing designer who was having all their manufacturing done in Bali; Salita accompanied them as a fit model (a person employed by a designer to check the fitting of garments) and worked in quality assurance, all the while adding to her burgeoning creative skill set.

Soon, she felt she had enough experience and knowledge under her belt to start her own label. She could not only design, but she could make patterns and sew.

She launched Salita Matthews in 2007, originally as a clothing label, with the idea of having a platform to travel
to Thailand regularly with her mother to indulge their shared love of fashion and to utilise the expertise of the skilled
Thai artisans. It was her accessories, however, that became the real stars of the show.

“My label evolved from being a clothing label to a jewellery label after discovering a huge demand for my accessories,” Salita says.

“I found jewellery to be easier to work with as it didn’t discriminate — you can be short or tall, size doesn’t matter, and you don’t need to try it on to make sure it fits.

“You can buy it for someone else, and you don’t have to worry about getting them the right size.

“It was more sustainable than making fashion where I’d end up with leftover clothes at the end of the season that I couldn’t do anything with.

“Working with jewellery, I can break pieces down and remake and reuse the components. Plus, pearls are a great sustainable material to work with.

“I love the organic nature of pearls and how perfectly imperfect they are and how they are as individual as we are.

“The natural luminosity of pearls is so complementary to the complexion when worn, and each pearl has its own quirks and irregularities, so each piece of mine has its own personality, making it unique to the individual wearer.”

For Salita, travelling the world provides an endless source of inspiration for her to create her unique designs that are in demand both throughout Queensland and internationally.

She also supplies a chain of Gold-Coast based bridal boutiques, Grace Loves Lace, that has numerous international stores, including 20 boutiques across the United States.

“I love beautiful things,” Salita says.

“I am drawn to the beauty in architecture, in flowers, in food, nature and most obviously in fashion.

“My experiences from my travels influence and inspire me to create and design. Without travel, I feel so uninspired.”

While her creative inspiration may come from her extensive travels, she is proud to call herself a Sunshine Coast “original resident”, and works from her “humble little studio in Moffat Beach”. (Salita is quick to acknowledge, however, that she is “not as original” as someone from the Gubbi Gubbi people, the traditional custodians of the region).

“I am so grateful to live in this very special part of the world and always look forward to coming home to this place,” she says.

“We have an excellent quality of life here, and going overseas makes me truly appreciate how good we have it here.

“My philosophy is to create beautiful pieces that make the wearer feel good in their own skin.”