Romea Kumar has always loved art.

Over the years he has been perennially fascinated by techniques, colours and different media—and he thought he knew where it would all lead.

“I fell I love with graphic design after I studied Vis Com in Year 10 at Crusoe College,” he said. “So I came to BSSC expecting I would do Graphic Design as a career. But I also selected Art Fashion and Photography.”

Once immersed in his subjects, Romea discovered a freedom and creative satisfaction in fashion design that didn’t seem possible within the parameters of Graphic Design.

“Fashion design allowed me to choose a theme and follow a process based on my own personal interests,” he said. “Suddenly I could create something that really meant something to me.”

As part of his Art Fashion studies, Romea researched the designer Pierre Balmain who founded the French luxury fashion house, Balmain, in 1946. He fell in love with his designs.

“I also studied the lives of Vivienne Westwood and Alex McQueen and began to understand how they got to where they did,” Romea said. “I had once mistakenly believed that if I pursued something very creative I would have to come up with totally new ideas out of nothing. What I learnt from researching these people is that art is like music: you learn the rules and you understand the influences of the past—and then you innovate.”

So what are Romea’s main artistic influences and how has he innovated?

As well as an interest in fashion design in Western society, Romea has his heritage. He was born in India and his family moved to Bendigo when he was just two years old.

“Dad is a chef and found a job here,” Romea said. “We moved to a couple of other places but settled in Bendigo again when I was in Grade 3.

“I not only think of myself as Indian, but I have a goal to not forget my history. So when you look at my style—both my fashion designs and my photography—you can see that I am very much inspired by my heritage. My innovations adapt the rich culture of India into contemporary, monochromatic pieces.”

For one of his Year 12 creations, Romea found inspiration from architecture—specifically the Taj Mahal—creating a sparkling white gown reminiscent of the shimmering marble and architectural grandeur of the iconic palace. This stunning dress is just one of nine major garments he has designed and made while at BSSC.

Three other important influences are veganism, gender roles and sustainability.

“I’m presently a vegetarian and would one day like to be vegan,” he said. “In one photography project I addressed the issue of veganism by putting myself in the position of the animal.

“I explored issues of masculinity and femininity using the image I entered in the Year 12 Art Exhibition,” he says. “The beautiful fabric in the photograph was part of my mother’s wedding sari.

“When it comes to sustainability, I could talk for hours about ‘fast fashion’. “It’s the idea of buying a new, cheap outfit for every event.

“It’s basically supporting and feeding abuse of textile workers. The fabrics are often badly made and coloured using toxic dyes. I want to use sustainable fabrics to make individual items and say to people: ‘You don’t need a new outfit for every event’.”

This year Romea also studied Psychology, English Language and Business Management. He believes everyone could benefit from studying psychology.

“I think it teaches us about ourselves and how we learn,” he said. “From a fashion designer’s perspective, emotion affects the way we dress, so psychology has been important in that way too.”

As for other interests, Romea works part-time at the Mexican drive-thru in Kennington and is really into social media.

“I love making and posting videos and doing advanced selfies,” he said, “and I also love Bollywood movies and often watch them on Youtube—especially the older Bollywood productions.”

BSSC has been a place that has nurtured Romea in a number of ways—not only did he unexpectedly discover his flair for fashion design, but he found a freedom here that has been really important.

“Everyone can find their own group here,” he said. “The ‘high school’ mentality is gone. There are no ‘popular’ and ‘unpopular’ groups…. everyone is equal.

“At BSSC I’ve had heaps of support to do my best, and yet it’s not competitive. Most of the students share our ideas and collaborate with each other.

“At BSSC I became more ‘myself’ and comfortable with my sexuality, and I have stopped worrying about what people think of me. It is an interesting coincidence that the day after I came out, the Indian parliament decriminalised homosexuality.”

Romea’s change of direction from Graphic Design to Art Fashion and Photography, is already creating ripples. In Year 11 he won the Fashion Award and more recently a Photographic Award in the Year 12 Art Exhibition.

More publically, Romea was delighted when his gowns drew gasps of delight from guests at this year’s Bendigo Fashion Festival hosted by the Bendigo Marketplace.

“The reaction of the audience filled my heart with joy,” he said. “My parents were there and they even cried.”

This early success is surely a very good omen.

“I want to get into the RMIT Fashion Design course,” Romea said. “I went to their open day and it was great to learn about the course, selection process and options. In fourth year at RMIT you actually get the chance to develop your own label! Maticevski is a RMIT graduate.”

Turning the conversation from the future to the past, we asked Romea what advice he would offer his 12-year-old self.

“Stop hiding, stop conforming, and stop worrying what other people think of you,” he said. “Be yourself. You need to love yourself at every stage and phase of life.”