For Berserk designer Karen Bjornenak, it is always ‘buy once, and buy well’

One of Geelong’s longest running fashion brands, Berserk by Karen Bjornenak, owes its inception to a mix of personal beliefs, cultural heritage, and a desire to “buy once, and buy well”.

Sustainability has been at the core of the Berserk ethos since its launch way back in 1996, says the designer. Since 2000, Karen has been running the brand as a full-time operation. 

RR geelong fashion brand BERSERK designer interview

“The Berserk name came about through my Norwegian heritage. The Bjornenak family come from the extreme north of Norway, and descend from the Berserk Vikings. ‘Bjorn’ means bear, Berserk Vikings wore Bear skins into battle, believing they had the strength of the Bear. This is where the modern meaning ‘going Berserk’ comes from,” explains Karen.

Karen’s parents were young adults during WWII, and the ‘make do and mend’ philosophy was a part of their everyday life. Like many of the older generations, the Bjornenak family was sustainable long before it became a conscious choice, she says.

Taught to knit when she was only four years old, Karen got her first Singer sewing machine for Christmas when she was five. Since then she says she was “happiest surrounded by piles of scrap fabric and skeins of thread”.

“Mending, making and recycling clothing were an everyday part of life. As was learning to read quality in store bought clothing, which included identifying fabric, fit and style,” says Karen.

“I was encouraged to buy once, and buy well.”

When she was a teenager, however, Karen realised that not everyone was brought up with the same ethics and skill set. So after high school, and still passionate about fabrics and making, she started working in fashion retail. Eventually Karen decided to start her own fashion label, kicking off her plan with pattern-making night classes. 

“The motivation to start a label came out of my frustration with fits and fads in the clothing industry,” Karen explains.

RR geelong fashion brand BERSERK designer interview

The Berserk Store, 106 Pakington Street, Geelong West

“Starting out at markets around Melbourne, it was not long before the label was stocked in boutiques and gathering a loyal following. I also launched one of Melbourne’s most loved and longest running independent boutiques, The Cats Meow, which I only left after 12 years.”


According to Karen, her inspiration for Berserk garments starts with the fabric, and the technical side of design. The label uses vintage and deadstock fabric, along with natural fibres like cotton, linen, wool and denim.

“The fabric often dictates what it wants to be made into! Nature, particularly birds, are a huge inspiration for me, as is the sea. People watching and picking up on what people are wearing in the street also provides much influence,” explains Karen.

“My intention has always been to design timeless garments highlighting the beauty of vintage textiles, and evoking emotion through the use of eclectic colour palettes. 

“The ranges also include a collection of basics cut from natural fibres. The garments are designed to fit ‘real’ women and to withstand life, love and laundering.”


Over time, Karen has refocused the brand emphasising Australian production with the aim to preserve skills, and ensure better sustainability. She is “hands on”, making most of the garments in her studio and a small number of items are outsourced locally. 

“The maker is responsible for any waste produced in creating those garments. There is very little fabric waste, as off cuts are used to create smaller items like headbands and belts, or donated to other entities that may use them. 

“Our sustainable practice includes purchasing our materials and haberdashery through ethical sources, and paying award wages to any employee or outsourced service.

“Feedback from our customers is pivotal in creating a more sustainable product, be it in regards to sizing or styling, the more garments produced that are worn and loved the less end up in landfill. 

“As most of the garments produced are of natural fibre they can decompose at end life, or can be recycled,” says Karen.


Karen says that the brand is constantly evolving and changing along with its customers, but that Berserk is always recognizable by its use of vintage textiles and natural fibres.

“During Covid, I completed Certificates 3 and 4 in visual arts, with a view to design fabric prints. In the early years of Berserk the label produced many screen-printed pieces, this may be an option to re-visit,” Karen explains.

“Covid created many challenges in supply for a small entity like Berserk, but I continued, and will continue making garments with a human element reflected in the designs, and hopefully employ a new generation to pass those skills onto.”

You can shop Berserk online at, or shop in real life at the Berserk Store, 106 Pakington Street, Geelong West. You can also follow the brand at @berserkworld. Discover more Local Brands & Designers

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