Carla Zampatti AC

Honorary Doctor of Letters

Citation delivered by Professor Paul Wellings CBE, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wollongong on the occasion of the admission of Carla Zampatti as a Doctor of Letter (honoris causa) on the 13 December 2018.


Chancellor, I present Carla Zampatti.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” 
Today we celebrate the inspirational achievements of a woman whose drive, talent and tenacity created not only an extraordinary life but a fashion powerhouse, and without whom the Australian fashion industry would not be what it is today.

Over more than five decades the Italian-born Australian fashion icon has not only survived the notoriously fickle fashion industry but has gone from success to success, garnering accolades and awards both nationally and internationally. Indeed, pure talent teamed with passion and determination has seen Carla Zampatti become one of Australia’s most accomplished and respected fashion designers as well as one of the country’s most successful businesswomen, a champion for women and an advocate for multiculturalism.

Carla was always destined for a career in the fashion industry. From her early days growing up in Lovero, Italy, Carla was fascinated with fashion magazines, and not even the upheaval of migrating from the lush Italian countryside to the sunburnt Western Australia of the 1950s could dampen her enthusiasm.

In the ensuing years, Carla discovered that the Australian fashion industry lacked a certain joie de vivre. Determined to become a designer, in 1964 she moved to Sydney and found work as a fashion assistant. With an unshakable belief in herself, Carla used her life savings of £750 to release a small collection of her own in 1965.

Carla’s first national launch in 1967 was overwhelmingly successful, and just three years later she established Carla Zampatti Ltd. Her first shop opened in Surry Hills in 1973, quickly followed by others across Sydney, and today, in addition to an online store, Carla Zampatti boutiques are located across Australia.

With her exceptional eye and entrepreneurial spirit, in 1973 Carla was one of the first Australian designers to expand her range into swimwear, followed by a line of sunglasses for Polaroid, and launching her own perfumes in the 1980s.

Her success prompted the Ford car company to recruit Carla to design a car for them, aimed at capturing the women’s market. Her first Laser, produced in 1985, was followed two years later with a collection of Lasers and Meteors that are still remembered as classic examples of stylish design innovation in the Australian industry.

This stellar career was most certainly been built on sheer hard work and an undying passion for fashion, but Carla attributes part of her success to the fact that she was an immigrant, and as such, it was important to her to prove her worth. She has long been a strong advocate for women in business and throughout her career has sought to inspire women to become entrepreneurs and leaders. Back in the 1960s and 70s, when having career while raising a family was almost unheard of, Carla Zampatti was one of the very few women heading up her own business while also being a wife and mother. At the height of her career, and during a period of huge growth for her fashion label, Carla raised three children – all of whom hold successful careers in the fashion industry today.

Carla’s many accomplishments in the fashion industry have been lauded with numerous accolades over the past 50 years, however, she has transcended the fashion sector by serving on a number of major boards, sharing her business acumen, knowledge and expertise to shape economic growth and support cultural diversity with organisations such as SBS, Westfield, the Australian Multicultural Foundation, the European Australian Business Council and the NSW Art Gallery.

Carla’s appointment as the first female Chair of the SBS Board is one she counts amongst her greatest achievements. Of the position she proudly held for 10 years, she has said, “As an Italian who made Australia home, I am very proud of the multicultural drive of this national broadcaster.”

Carla was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1987 for her service to the fashion industry. She was further honoured in June 2009 when her award was raised to the higher level of Companion of the Order of Australia in recognition of her continued contribution to business through leadership and management roles, multicultural broadcasting, and her role as mentor to women.

What makes Carla Zampatti a unique and remarkable individual is her strength of character and her ability to overcome hurdles and barriers as an immigrant, a woman, and a woman in business. As a doyenne of the Australian fashion industry, she says would like to be remembered, “As a champion for women in business, whether it’s dressing them or by being an example of what can be achieved.”

Chancellor, for her outstanding services to the fashion industry, her advocacy for the equality of women in business, and her sustained contributions to champion multiculturalism in Australia, it is a privilege and a pleasure to present Carla Zampatti for the award of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.