Eddie Charlett-Green has always dared to be different.
A veteran of the Royal Air Force, the Aucklander never followed a conventional path in life. So when the 66-year-old avid knitter and cycling enthusiast was looking for a way to make her daily bike commutes safer, the result was always going to be a little more creative than just pulling on a high-vis vest.
“I’m not a Lycra cyclist – you’d never catch me in Lycra,” Eddie laughs. “But what do you wear when you cycle?”
In Eddie’s case, the answer is a glow-in-the-dark, reflective, floral pink and green, crocheted woollen vest. Yes, really.
Now calling herself “the freewheeling fibre artist”, Eddie’s on a mission to make her trips to the supermarket safer and bring her north-west community closer, and for the lifelong knitter, yarn and needles were the obvious answer.
Growing up in a poor family in Birmingham after World War II, knitting was a way of life for many British families like Eddie’s.
“My mother and grandmother knitted. I grew up in a family where all of my clothes and teddy bears’ clothes were all handmade.
“Coming from a working-class background where my parents didn’t have a lot of money, it was accepted in those days that mothers made your clothes.”
Picking up the craft from the age of seven, Eddie made her own clothes all throughout her teenage years.
“You would just go into the wool shop, pick a pattern and the wool you wanted and whip it up! Knitting is definitely in the blood. I can’t even sit in front of the TV without doing something. I need to keep my hands busy,” she tells.
She later joined the Royal Air Force because she was adamant she wanted “to work with my hands, not my head”.
“I became an electronic mechanic of navigational instruments. I said, ‘If it means I use my hands, then I’m in.’ I kind of got mocked for knitting and crocheting in the air force, so I gave it up for a while. But I would always drift back to it.”
Of course, there were many other threads in her action-packed life, which eventually all came together in Auckland, where the Briton settled with her husband John in 2003.
They’re both keen cyclists, which Eddie credits for keeping her fitness up.
“We’ve cycled a lot,” she says. “The older we get, the less active we are, so the more conscious we have to be to stay active.”
It was when she found crochet group KumeuKnitty at the local library that the idea for the cycling vest first took hold.
Eddie bonded with a fellow bike-riding member who was trying to raise awareness about cycling safety.
“Finding ways to be noticed is what we can do to advocate safer riding conditions in our community and to get people to be able to go out on their bike,” she says.
“I did have one of those fluoro vests, but I read an article saying that often people’s brains fatigue from seeing that because they are so common.”
Her one-of-a-kind vest took five weeks to make with reflective yarn sourced from the US.
“The idea is that in the daytime, it’s bright colours, but if I was riding during the night, it would shine in the headlights,” she explains.
And it sure gets her noticed.
“It does the job and people smile when they see me in the supermarket,” she says. “But the point is to create a culture where riding a bike is normal and safe. Wouldn’t it be nice if more children could ride their bike to school?”
While she’s thrilled with her design, Eddie rubbishes the idea that she’s onto a Dragon’s Den-worthy product and she doesn’t think it’s the beginning of an empire – the labour cost alone, she says, would make it a hard sell for the average cyclist.
“There’s not much money to be made in craft – this took me five weeks to make! But I am going to start spinning my own reflective wool that is a lighter weight, so maybe there’s an idea,” she ponders.
We’re standing by, Eddie!