Fashion News

Inside Dunedin’s iD Fashion Week with three Kiwi designers

We meet three creative minds who may be new to fashion, but are already upping the stakes

Dunedin’s iD Fashion Week is dedicated to celebrating the southern city’s style and the designers, both established and emerging, who are making their mark.

We meet three creative minds who may be new to fashion, but are already upping the stakes.

Jane Avery

When Jane Avery was 40 and working as an independent TV producer, she told herself she was going to have her own fashion label in five years. She said it as a passing comment, but with a feeling of serious intent beneath. It obviously cemented itself in her subconscious, because this year, aged 45, she launched her first label, Lapin. Right on schedule.

Those who took third form French know Lapin means rabbit, and in Avery’s case, that’s not just a cute, quirky name. Her garments are made from rabbit fur – a sustainable, plentiful and extremely glamorous resource.

“I always knew I wanted to be in fashion, I just needed to find the right concept,” she says.

And it seems she’s done exactly that with her unique product.

Avery originally worked in news reporting before switching to TV production in 2001. In 2008 she started working consistently with cooking personality Peta Mathias. She thanks Mathias for introducing her to Indian fabrics while filming a series.

“I just love Northern Indian, Pakistani, Kashmiri and Iranian fabrics – I sent 37kg back last time I was in Jaipur – and I love incorporating them with the rabbit fur on my coats.”

She credits Mathias as a great role model when it comes to doing different things no matter what age.

“She’s the mistress of reinvention and always says ‘Never stop peaking!’ It’s helped enormously to know her when making such a big career change in my mid-40s.”

The seed was sown when Avery was standing on a hill, soon after she moved to Dunedin from Auckland five years ago, with her husband and now 16-year-old-son.

“I knew I wanted to have my own label but when I moved down here, strange, serendipitous things started happening which made it more of a reality. I’ve always gone up to Central Otago, and you stand on a bluff and you look out over the beautiful land. And when you look out, the ground kind of ripples in front of you as all the rabbits scurry around.”

Watching this flurry of activity, she realised she was staring at a huge, untapped resource.

“When I was a reporter I did a story on rabbit numbers in the mid-90s. I’ve always been very conscious of the fact that these bunnies have been a terrible strain on the land. The rabbit fur idea started to come to me as both a point of difference and a way to use a resource which isn’t currently being used.”

According to DOC, female rabbits, or does, may be pregnant for 70 per cent of a year and they can breed the same year they are born. Does can produce a total of 20-50 young each.

“Left unchecked, they can multiply eight to tenfold in population in a season!” Avery says. “They can devastate the economy over the years. They eat everything – native plants, pasture – they’ve driven farmers off the land in the past. They’re a blight and gobble up all the vegetation and compete with native creatures.”

She began to seriously investigate the possibility. It seemed destined to be when she realised New Zealand’s only master furrier was based just down the road from her house

“Here I am coming up with this fur thing and here’s Mooneys, so close. Max [Wilson] is the last craftsman, New Zealand’s only master furrier and Mooneys has been around since 1923 in Dunedin.”

Since then Avery, who is a fourth generation sewer – her great-grandmother did it for a living – has been educating herself on the ins and outs of rabbit fur.

“If you’d told me some years ago I’d do work as a furrier’s apprentice, I would never have believed you. Mooneys do the fur work and I do the construction with the fabric. It’s been quite a learning curve but I’m really happy with the results.”

Avery found using rabbit was a good way to keep her coats high end and high quality without breaking the bank.

“I knew with my label I wouldn’t want to compromise the quality of what I was using. It’s a tough industry to be in money-wise, and I see designers having to compromise on the quality of their fabrics all the time.”

Rabbit provides the ultimate sustainable and affordable, yet still gorgeous, resource. And by sourcing her fabric from artisans in India, she’s been able to exist in the fashion industry with ethics intact and conscious consumerism at the fore.

“We want to have international pop-ups so we’ll be looking at selling in places like Aspen and the Italian Alps. While that’s exciting and glamorous, I equally love going to India and getting the opportunity to work with artisans at a village level. It’s really important for me to source my fabrics personally, with integrity.”

She soft-launched the label this year but iD will be her official entry into fashion. And so far feedback has been great, including praise from a client returning from six weeks of travelling around Europe in winter, who said she was regularly asked where her coat came from.

“She said it was so good, even on public transport. The way I position the fur panels is not by accident. I like them to help keep people warm, too, so they can be practical and beautiful. The bomber jackets are especially great for that.”

She’s been prepared for criticism, but it hasn’t come yet.

“I’m always waiting for the backlash from anti-fur groups but I don’t seem to get it here. New Zealanders understand the enormity of the problem with rabbits here. So many species around the world are being hunted and driven into extinction. But here it’s a bit different and we have two species (rabbits and possums) that can provide fur in a more conscious way where we can act with integrity.”

Fiona Clements

With a label like Senorita AweSUMO, it would be hard not to expect something vibrant and fun when meeting Fiona Clements. And she doesn’t disappoint. The young, vivacious and passionate designer is on a mission to create great clothing people want to wear using commercial offcuts, recovered fabric and other discarded materials. Meet one of New Zealand’s queens of zero-waste clothing.

Clements, 36, came to her current life as a designer and community educator from an unlikely angle. She worked in a signwriting business for five years, until she felt unwell and decided to leave that working environment.

Despite working in signwriting and then childcare, fashion has always been present in Clements’ life.

“My grandma was a tailoress and my mum’s always sewn all our clothes so I spent a lot of time as a child in their sewing rooms and making dolls’ clothes and playing around with textiles.

“It has always been part of my life, but I didn’t really know I had an intuitive sense until I entered a competition in 2008 called Novadown Fashioned Feathers – and won!”

Winning that competition was a huge turning point for Clements.

“I made a really huge wearable art piece. It was all hand-felted and the front was brown and boring and purposefully quite drab. The back was brilliant blue so every time the model turned around the audience would gasp. It was one of the coolest feelings ever just sitting in the audience knowing what was coming and hearing that reaction.”

This win gave her the confidence to apply to Otago Polytechnic for the three-year Bachelor of Design in fashion. She really enjoyed it and in her second year had a revelation of sorts over the amount of waste in the industry.

“I realised how much waste my classmates were creating so I started using that. I started playing around with what was possible with textiles. I have always been quite environment-

ally minded so this fitted in well with my ethos.”

After further research into fashion’s impact on the environment, Clements became more convinced about the importance of finding ways to minimise waste and reuse things that may have otherwise been thrown out.

Clements is fighting the waste issue in a multitude of ways. She established the non-profit trust, Just Atelier, which aims to be “a local solution to a global problem of social and environmental waste in the fashion industry.”

“I run that alongside another woman here,” says Clements. “We run mending sessions and teach people how to sew. We do a lot of community engagement. A lot of talking around conscious consumption and the subject of the fashion industry. We’re doing a pop-up in the centre of town.

“We have a community space in the building I’m in with other designers, and we have sewing machines and tables and a massive room full of fabric that has been donated.”

And then there’s her label. Senorita AweSUMO was originally an alter ego that Clements created to escape the unpleasant workplace she was in when signwriting.

“She helped me figure things out. She’s been alongside me for a long time – almost another personality for when I was really sick. Being Senorita AweSUMO helped me be in social situations when I didn’t feel like being there.”

Having been part of her for so long, the moniker was the only logical choice for her label name when she launched it in 2012 after graduating.

“During my third year, I made two collections out of waste. The first one, called Waste What, went to the Fashioning the Future Awards at the London College of Fashion and got shortlisted in their awards.”

In the same year, Clements also became involved with some other zero-waste practitioners, which made her realise the sheer scale of waste in the global fashion industry.

“But for me it’s a resource, not waste. I know I can make beautiful things from it – it’s entirely possible.

“I create clothing from mostly ‘found’ textiles. Things I find at the dump store, donated textiles and manufacturers’ offcuts. People love giving when they know it’s going to go somewhere good.”

Alongside making clothes, Clements has conducted workshops at the Otago Museum, showcased two collections at iD Fashion Week, featured twice at New Zealand Eco Fashion Exposed and every year for the past three years, she has organised a fashion show through Just Atelier in Dunedin’s heritage precinct, where she also works.

It’s clear Clements is forging a path to get communities to think and reconnect with their clothing, and to fight the tide of waste in the fashion industry.

Clements wants to be a heart-centred brand in an industry often satirised for being superficial.

“I don’t always like the way fashion industry currently works. I don’t like the way it can shame people into thinking they have to be size 10, eight, six. I worry it can make people sick in so many different ways.

“There are still a lot of problems with chemicals and environmental damage, and of course, the problem of mistreatment of workers in the garment industry in developing countries.

“Change is happening as people start becoming more aware of it all, and I want to do what I can to help in that area.”

A true zero-waste warrior who is starting to amass a tribe, Fiona Clements is definitely going to be a key influencer in trying to make fashion a kinder and less wasteful place.

Justine Tindley

Starting her own label hasn’t been the only big change Justine Tindley has made in her career. She started in tourism, moved on to film and television and is now immersed in the world of fashion. It’s all in a day’s work for this dynamo of a woman who loves learning new skills and taking on exciting projects, no matter the industry.

Tindley has retrained twice, and each time it has involved at least three years of study. The first time was for film and TV as a solo mother with two young twin boys, and the second just a few years ago in fashion design when her boys were teens.

But Tindley has a vigour for life that makes all this sound effortless. She’s driven by passion, an endless interest in increasing her skill set and, as she says, she “just loves working and learning new things.”

There is a logical connection between her world of heavy cameras and the more whimsical realm of fashion – she worked in the wardrobe department and as she couldn’t sew, she became frustrated at not being able to repair and alter costumes when required. Fate stepped in when camera work started to become a bit scarce and she took a job as a lifeguard at the local pool.

“A lady called Dr Margo Barton from the fashion school at Otago Polytechnic used to come in every day for her morning swim and we used to have a bit of a yarn.”

Their conversations led to Tindley signing up for a three-year degree to solve her wardrobe repair woes.

She aced it, graduating as the top student in her final year in 2013, as well as being invited to show at iD the next year.

“As a 40-something single parent, that felt pretty cool,” she says.

But she was a bit lost when she came out the other end. There were so many options in fashion, she didn’t know what to pursue first. While her love for filming meant she kept her hand in with camera work, she spends a lot of time immersed in fashion projects.

One of them, of course, is her label, where she’s collaborating with one of her polytechnic tutors, Kathryn Corry. Like Tindley, Corry wants to design clothes in varying shapes and sizes, and she’s also one of the few people in New Zealand who has been certified in Scotland to make kilts. Their skills are very complementary.

“We’ve realised we are the target market. I’m size 14, I’ve got big boobs and a flat arse and not much of a waist, and there is a need out there for clothes that fit people like me and Kat. Not all 40-something women want to wear shapeless tunics and black boots!”

Their label repurposes second-hand items and gives new life to materials that are already in the system, using remnants and offcuts. Tindley loves this concept not only from a sustainable viewpoint, but also because she’s passionate about the idea that clothes have past lives.

“You walk into a second-hand shop and everything has a past life. The way [the clothes] are stretched and stained and how they’ve been worn is speaking about the things that happened to them. There are so many fascinating stories.”

The clothes in their line feature pictures on the label of what the current garment used to be.

This love of second-hand clothes and their tales undoubtedly comes from her mum, who ran a Salvation Army shop. She passed away last year from cancer.

“It was so awful. But she had a huge collection of vintage clothes which I’ve now moved to my studio so it’s nice she’s always around me.”

Tindley is also keeping her mother’s memory alive by combining her love of working in wardrobe departments with her mum’s amazing collection. Between that and other pieces, there is easily enough to be useful to big film productions.

“I’ve been talking to Dunedin City Council about the fact if a big movie came here, we have the resources and expertise to handle it. I’m in the process of getting everything online so it’s visible and film crews can see it, so we can take on big projects. It’s full-on but will be worth it.”

Tindley works in a shared space, along with Fiona Clements.

“I love collaborations, making and working on projects with talented people. I think it’s important you don’t design in isolation. I love sharing a space with other creative women and our next move is to have a shopfront downstairs so we can sell our clothes.”

As if all this is not enough, she’s also involved in a project with her aunt and uncle in Malawi.

“They never had their own kids and their whole lives have been involved with agriculture and international aid and development.”

The current project is aimed at keeping girls in school.

“When girls in this area get their periods, they stop going to school because they don’t have any sanitary pads – or undies in some cases. So they’ve developed girl-friendly toilets at some schools and bought sewing machines that don’t need power so they can make pads. So far, they’ve trained 15 women to sew reusable sanitary pads but they need a regular supply of free offcuts so they can make more.”

Even though it’s her first visit, she’s already talking of knocking on every door in South Africa if she has to, to get the material they need.

“I’m really passionate about the fashion industry giving more back. There’s no way we should be throwing away offcuts and things people can use.”

While she admit she’s taken on a lot, there’s no sign of resentment at being constantly busy.

“It’s really exciting and inspiring. My mum was such a huge loss for the family, but it has taught me that life is so short that you just have to go for it and make the most of today.”

iD Fashion Week runs March 18-26 in Dunedin.

Words: Alexia Santamaria

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