Interview: Ali Mandalis and Tallow

21 Mar 2013 0

Big Sky Wire

By Michele Lockwood

Walking through the streets of Byron Bay on any given day and you’ll be sure to see Tallow designer, Ali Mandalis. It may not be her, but more her influential style that has had an undeniable affect on the way girls are dressed. By exploring her own desires of self-expression, Ali has created a look that has gone beyond just clothes. She has dictated an overall approach and attitude to accompany the visual that has proved infectious.

Out in the line-up, Tallow printed lycra is seen stretched across a majority of the floating female forms. As a surfer she knows what works in the water and her swimwear and wetsuits cater to that. The pieces are innovative in their ability to be flattering, beautiful and functional all at the same time.

But the success of this little label is not constricted to the green hills and point breaks of Byron, Tallow has also found its way to the US and Canada, Japan and New Zealand. Clothes are a way of communicating and the voice of Tallow is sounding loud and clear.

CW: You travelled the world quite a bit at a young age, finally settling in Kangaroo Valley on the South Coast, so firstly, what was life like growing up there? And secondly, do you think all that travel has influenced you as a creative person today?

AM: Life in the valley was amazing. We lived on 240 acres full of rainforest, waterfalls and spring waterholes. We grew what we ate, had a yard full of chickens and had horses to ride around bareback, no television and the beach was ten minutes away...it was utopia…to me.

Travel has defiantly influenced me as a creative person today. I am pretty lucky to have travelled extensively over the last ten or so years. There’s something so raw and inspiring about dropping yourself into another country and immersing yourself in a foreign culture, absorbing their world, their colours, their palettes, their food, their people, their art, their music and their expression and then seeing how you as an individual react to the place.

I have always been really drawn to colours and textures and patterns. That combined with an unfamiliar nature that is totally new to you is so inspiring


Did you grow up in a surfing family? How did you first start surfing? 
Can you remember your first surfboard?

Nope, no one in my family surfed but we were very immersed in the beach culture. Long days spent down the beach, playing, surfing and hanging in the dunes. Followed by night beach bonfires with all the local surfie grommets.

I was such a tomboy, my hair was short, I dressed like a boy and was obsessed with skating and fishing and anything outdoor and fun. I guess my skating kind of just transformed into surfing.

When I was about ten, I got hit by a car and after 6 months in hospital I finally got out and my parents said I could chose anything I wanted as a gift. I chose a surfboard and a wetsuit. I still remember being in the surf shop in Dee Why where I picked up an old second hand Hot Dot surfboard that still sits in my garage down the south coast.

Was design something you’ve always been drawn to? How did Tallow come about?

I really wanted to be a stuntwoman / cartoonist. I was obsessed with drawing and cartooning and obsessed with flipping and pushing the limits. Needless to say the stuntwoman dream kind of fizzled, but I still do occasionally dream where that other road would of taken me. I was never really into fashion, but I did dream of being an artist for Mambo. I remember being drawn to the surf industry from an early age, back in the day when it was really left of centre, bold prints with a strong art base. I ended up working at Insight for years then took off travelling again this time to South America for 3 months that ended up with me travelling for over a year! I came back to reality and tried to devise a plan for being able to travel and create a way to sustain myself doing something creative that I love.

I started my own swimwear line, Inikib that morphed into Tallow with the help of one of my best mates and now business partner, Shannon Clynes. I will always remember the first time I showed Shannon my drawings and concepts and we stayed up late chatting about it all then woke the next morning at sunrise and surfed Queenscliff together then she went into work and quit her job and made plans to move to Byron.

Ali smilin in the line-up.

Ali smilin in the line-up.


Tallow really fills a niche market in women’s surf wear. From what I can see you sparked a fire that has now spread to the more mainstream companies in terms of really catering to what young women in surfing really want to wear in and out of the ocean. But you ever feel it is an uphill battle to keep it going especially in the uncertain times with so many major surf companies on the brink of bankruptcy? Or do you find that more people are gravitating to the smaller rootsy brands over the homogenized conglomerates that have dominated for so long?

I think the authenticity that we created for Tallow has been one of the major factors of its success. Being a young player in the market there is also this element of discovery from our customers. Like music, it’s something to be said that when you hear a new song never heard before and you identify with it, and you get psyched... I feel it’s the same with fashion despite the financial problems companies encounter.

Where do you find inspiration? What are some things, people, sounds that catch your eye or your imagination and how do you translate them into your designs?

I get asked this question often and I always find it difficult to answer, I guess I never really know where inspiration comes from it just kind of hits me at the most random time. It can be from nature, travel, different cultures, art, and even just the day-to-day patterns I see in my day-to-day world. It usually arrives in a very subconscious way, which then unfolds during the creative process. It sounds vague but you've got to keep an open mind all the time.

I live in a pretty simple world at the moment living in a caravan on an amazing piece of land at Broken Head, Byron Bay. I feel blessed to be living in such a picturesque town with an amazing array of surf breaks everywhere. I find my designs flow so easily living in Byron as it has such a laid-back beach culture vibe that encompasses the style of Tallow designs.

Tallow team-rider Cloudy Rhodes.

Tallow team-rider Cloudy Rhodes.


Big Sky is the property on which Andrew Kidman and Michele Lockwood live with their two children in Northern New South Wales. Once a week they speak to writers, photographers, surfers, artists and musicians for Coastalwatch's Big Sky Wire.

To follow Andrew Kidman's film celebrating 40 years of Morning of The Earth, head to the Spirit of Akasha blog here.

To check out Michele Lockwood's blog click through here.

...and for more from Big Sky Wire click your link: Coastalwatch |Coastalwatch Plus

Tags: interview , big sky wire , ali mandalis , michele lockwood , byron bay , byron (create Alert from these tags)

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