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Martin Sanders Mr K: Meet the Front Soldier Who Became Designer of Australian Fashion Week

A front-line soldier has revealed how he went from army sniper to weapons fashion designer after taking a job as a teenager “putting dresses into bags.”

Martin Sanders, who has three sons and lives in Sydney with his girlfriend, is the lead designer behind the glamorous evening wear label Zaliea and debuted his label at Australian Fashion Week this year.

His dresses were worn by Robyn Lawley, a plus-sized superstar, who became a superstar after being on the covers of Vogue, Italia in 2011.

The model was the first plus-size woman in Australian Vogue and is one of the most recognizable faces pushing for inclusivity in high-end fashion.

Martin Sanders, is a former soldier, who discovered a career in fashion after frontline – this year he dressed Robyn Lawley for fashion week

Martin never imagined a career in fashion - he had always wanted to be a soldier and joined the army at the age of 18

Martin never imagined a career in fashion – he had always wanted to be a soldier and joined the army at the age of 18

Robyn wore this beaded dress for the show finale, one of Martin's 'passion pieces' that was added to the collection by popular demand

Robyn wore this beaded dress for the show finale, one of Martin’s ‘passion pieces’ that was added to the collection by popular demand

Speaking to FEMAIL, Martin, who describes himself as a “rough sports fanatic,” said he was overjoyed to dress Robyn for the “Curve Edit” show and even more excited that she chose his favorite beaded dress to wear for the final.

“It’s hard to believe my garment has Robyn Lawley dressed,” he buzzed.

“She loved it, which keeps me going. I love it when women feel so good about themselves. I love being able to do that for them.’

The 61-year-old didn’t realize he was settling into the fashion industry for a lifetime when he landed a job on the cutting floor of a local fashion house.

Before long, he was poached by the managers of bridal company Mr K, who “thought he could cut” before deciding he was more suited to apprentice-style jobs.

“There I learned about different fabrics, about warehousing and how to cut a collar,” he said.

But the idea of ​​fashion as a career still did not occur to him and in 1978, when he turned 18, he went into the army.

Now he owns four inclusive fashion labels with sizes ranging from six to 24, pictured here with Chelsea Bonner, the model manager behind the new Curve Edit during fashion week

Now he owns four inclusive fashion labels with sizes ranging from six to 24, pictured here with Chelsea Bonner, the model manager behind the new Curve Edit during fashion week

Martin only spent four years in the military - the time away from home turned out to be his downfall

Martin only spent four years in the military – the time away from home turned out to be his downfall

“After training, I was sent as part of a contingent to defend the Royal Australian Air Force Fighter Jets Base in Butterworth, Malaysia, not far from the Thai border, for four months. Our job was to protect the RAAF from potential communist insurgents,” he said.

“I was an infantry soldier on the front line, trained to shoot to kill when necessary. When I was there it was pretty rough, we had to constantly keep our heads up.

“Once, while I was on patrol around the air base, a soldier on the other side of the base was stabbed in the face by two insurgents who climbed over the barbed wire and entered our area. Luckily he fought them off and was lucky he wasn’t killed.’

Martin soon discovered that he was “good at soldiers.”

He won awards as the best soldier in his platoon and thrived in the well-organized, rule-heavy military environment.

Now he spends his days designing evening wear for women, and he loves it

Now he spends his days designing evening wear for women, and he loves it

He is pictured here with one of his models in a beaded dress - Martin likes to use rich colors and beadwork in his dresses

He is pictured here with one of his models in a beaded dress – Martin likes to use rich colors and beadwork in his dresses

Martin said he designs dresses in the hopes that the women who wear them will feel empowered and confident

And was overjoyed when Robyn felt this way because of this dress

Martin said he designs dresses in the hopes that the women who wore them would feel powerful and confident and was delighted when Robyn loved this dress

But after four years, he decided he wanted a family — and being on the road all the time, often out of the house for months, wasn’t going to help him find a steady relationship.

“I struggled when I first left and wondered if I had done the right thing,” he said.

He knew Mr. K’s team and went to see if they had work for him.

They hired him right away and paid him to “put dresses in bags” before realizing he had managerial skills.

Before the show backstage, Martin was overjoyed to have Robyn walking in front of him on his fashion week debut

Before the show backstage, Martin was overjoyed to have Robyn walking in front of him on his fashion week debut

He filled the void left by the military with sports – he became a black belt and became heavily involved in football.

While the organizational skills and leadership skills helped him climb the ladder to become one of the top executives in the formidable fashion industry.

He slowly fell in love with the industry, after learning the history of some of the world’s top fashion houses and how to reinvent them to stay relevant.

It was here that he met Chelsea Bonner who convinced Australian Fashion Week to consider a plus-size runway in the 2022 show.

In 2016, Martin decided to put his creative energy and decades of industry experience into his own labels.

He calls himself a casual designer and invents 400 new dresses every year

He calls himself a casual designer and invents 400 new dresses every year

But it's not all glamorous - Martin took this photo he showed just days before his debut fashion week show, proving he's still doing the grunt work

But it’s not all glamorous – Martin took this photo he showed just days before his debut fashion week show, proving he’s still doing the grunt work

Zaliea was born alongside sister labels Jesse Harper, Layla Jones and Joshua James.

“Even though I was in the military so long ago, the lessons I learned there still help me every day in my job,” he said.

“It’s so easy to put things off when you’re tired, but in the military you just learn to do it, so I’ll do it. And persevering means I’ve been more productive and built a very successful business.”

Each of Martin’s labels cater to women of all shapes, sizes and ages ranging from size 6 to size 24, something Martin is passionate about.

“Women ask for bigger evening wear, who am I not to listen,” he said.

“The most popular size should be 14 or 16 now, it went up from 12 to 14 a few years ago,” he said.

“I listen to the women in my life, and I’m surrounded by them, and I incorporate their feedback into my designs,” he said.

All of Martin's dresses are made in Australia, something he is very proud of

All of Martin’s dresses are made in Australia, something he is very proud of

‘My brands don’t discriminate and I’m proud of that.’

Martin has designed 14,000 dresses in six years – some of which only take him five minutes to conceive.

“I have a rule that if I have to think about it, it probably won’t work, and I deleted it,” he said.

Martin can’t draw, so he sits with his pattern maker and describes what he wants in productive brainstorming sessions.

“Sometimes I wake up with an idea or get one when I’m on the road, so I just immediately add it to my notes,” he said.

Robyn chose to wear two of Martin’s favorites as she hit the runway on Thursday night.

The designer says he likes to make women feel great

The designer says he likes to make women feel great

Robyn chose to wear this velvet number in the show, the bottle green velvet is one of Martin's favorite materials at the moment

Robyn chose to wear this velvet number in the show, the bottle green velvet is one of Martin’s favorite materials at the moment

“I’m in love with velvet and that bottle green right now, and it looked so good on her, it’s a dress with lots of classic details,” he said.

While the other a beaded dress was a love project.

“Sometimes I design things just because I like the idea of ​​it. This was never intended for production, but people liked it so much it made it into this season’s collection,” he said.

“But it started as a passion project.”

Martin is still sometimes shocked by his career in women’s fashion, noting that it doesn’t go hand in hand with his rough start as an army man, sports freak or father of three boys.

‘Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have anything to do with women’s fashion. But I absolutely love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for gold,” he said.

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