Katherine follows her passion.

Outstanding Graduate prize winner Katherine has here eyes on a sustainable future.
Outstanding Graduate prize winner Katherine has here eyes on a sustainable future.

Katherine Lambos can’t quite recall what she was doing when she discovered she’d won the UTS College Outstanding Graduate award for Diploma of Design & Architecture. It wasn’t till over dinner, when she mentioned the win to her husband, that she realised it was a significant achievement. “He’s in the middle of doing his Master’s,” she says, “and he said to me, ‘That’s a big deal.’ It sounds silly when I say it, but I didn’t know. I never thought of myself as someone who would enjoy or excel in academics, and it boggled my mind a bit.”

A busy career and a life-changing decision
Katherine brings considerable experience to her design studies. “When I left school back in 2007, a long time ago, I did a one-year traineeship at TAFE, part of a four-year an apprenticeship in pre-press, print, and packaging,” she says. “I really loved it. After that I started in a print house, moved to a boutique agency, furthered my studies in commercial art and design at a private college, and began working as an in-house designer.” After design roles in retail and fashion, Katherine became creative lead and manager of a visual communications creative team (part of a larger marketing team). She says, “Over the years, I saw environmental and ethical issues. I believed that if I kept moving up, I might find myself in a position to make better choices. But it became apparent that it was all about the bottom line. I was finding it harder to ethically stand by and be part of that kind of system.”
When COVID hit, Katherine made a life-changing decision. She was working 12-hour days, seven days a week as more and more staff were stood down in her workplace. “It was the last straw,” she says, “I decided, ‘I’m done. I just can’t.’”

Setting a new goal
It was time to reflect on what she really wanted. She says, “I tend to always follow my gut and do things I'm genuinely passionate about. I thought, ‘If things can be made more ethically and more sustainably, we can improve other parts of the system. What better way to than to start learning about the fashion system specifically, because that’s where things get made?’ So, I set a new goal, and with ethical practice and morality being so important, Bachelor of Design in Fashion and Textiles at UTS seemed to fit the bill for me.”

A pathway to UTS
When her first application was unsuccessful, Katherine chose to start with a Diploma of Design at UTS College. She says, “I’m glad it worked out that way because the tools and learnings from UTS College have definitely helped me in my studies this year. I don’t think I would have grasped nearly as much going straight into UTS. It was an invaluable experience. I can’t get over how friendly everyone was, the teachers and the students. Everybody had such drive and just wanted to learn and prove to themselves that they could do it.”

She also appreciated the high level of support she experienced at UTS College. “The teachers and the faculty, in my view, could sense that drive in the students and worked hard to make sure we were supported. There was a real duty of care,” she says.

Another thing Katherine discovered while studying for her diploma was how much she enjoys communicating and leading a team. “I love seeing that light-bulb moment,” she says, “Also, setting boundaries, so we can be accountable for ourselves while supporting each other. Keeping people on board, keeping them excited, that’s the biggest thing.”

Returning to campus
After studying online for most of her diploma, she’s enjoying being back on campus to study at UTS. “It’s been really great to see friends from last year in my classes. I’m seeing some teachers from last year too. It’s so great to see them all in person,” she says.

Drawing inspiration from family
Katherine says she often looks to her family for inspiration. “Some I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and others I’ve only heard about through stories. I had this great-great-great-uncle who was a farmer back in Greece. He herded lambs and sheep, but he was known for sitting and spooling yarn. Men didn’t typically do that sort of thing, but he loved it, so he just did it.” She also has childhood memories of her auntie, who was a seamstress. She says, “Now that I’m starting to sit behind a sewing machine, like her, the memories are flooding back.”

Her husband’s grandmother was also a seamstress, and Katherine now lives in her old house, which the couple are renovating. “It’s amazing,” she says. “I’m finding old pattern blocks, and all these old tools and fabric. Every day I find myself being quietly thankful to her.”

Doing something you care about
Looking to the future, Katherine’s key word is sustainability. She says, “I don’t mean just in a physical sense, but also looking at what constitutes sustainable living personally – having some level of work/life balance. If you have to work long hours, that’s fine, as long as you’re doing something you care about, that actually matters. I want to keep moving in that direction.”

Her advice to other design students is simple: “Stay true to your morals and ethics and always be accountable to yourself.”