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Zambesi

Zambesi

This print started off as a postcard, and then it became wrapping paper. One day we said, ‘Let’s print this on linen and it can become part of our summer collection’. I could visualise it… it would be great. And the fact that it could be [part of this fundraising effort] for Starship? It was like, ‘Yes, let’s do it’.

Meet the Designer Part 1:
Elisabeth Findlay

Meet the Designer Part 2: Elisabeth Findlay from Zambesi on being Great Full

On where I started…

I’m one of six children, grew up in Dunedin and left when I was 21. I came to Auckland on a working holiday and managed to secure a position in a clothing company where I realised, ‘This is where I want to be’, and slowly I educated myself in the industry. I loved the whole process.

After slowly educating myself in the industry, I worked in a small workroom with Walter Hart who was doing Vamp at the time. We started in retail in Parnell. Neville, my husband, worked as an engineer then and we thought it’d be great to have a shop and I could stock designers I loved:  local designers’ Miranda Joel, Marilyn Sainty, Elle Boutique from Hamilton. In 1979, I made things on the side (Neville bought me a sewing table) and there was no kind of strategy - we didn’t get any business advice, we just thought we should start our own brand, so we did. It evolved and grew naturally.

On falling in love with fashion…

Looking back, it seems inevitable that I’m in the fashion industry as growing up I was surrounded by a mother who was fascinated by clothes. She was a beautiful sewer, she made all of our clothes, taught us to sew and my sisters and I were constantly in her wardrobe trying on her stuff. On Friday nights we’d go to an amazing store in Dunedin called Penrose’s, and there was an area upstairs that was full of patterns, fabrics and remnants (which were cheap as they were the ends of rolls) and Mum was great at manipulating fabrics. 

On considerations as a designer… 

I’ve always been inspired by fabric - it’s the beginning for everything for me. I don’t sketch up drawings and try to fit into that. My first step is deciding on the fabric and then I imagine what it would look good in.

It’s an instinctive process; not about following trends. We consider what is quality. What will endure. It’s what’s collectable but totally wearable so we find customers can relate to that, and can mix something from 10-20 years ago with something now. It’s instinctual, so it’s always going to work together.

On Made in New Zealand…

We are Made in New Zealand because we started off making in New Zealand and I never considered going offshore. I like overseeing the entire process and if it was out of my hands, I wouldn’t be comfortable. I’m proud that we make in New Zealand, and as much as it provides jobs, we encourage the craftsmanship, the artisanal side of making garments. We sew all our buttons by hand, our cutting is done in-house. We’re part of the New Zealand fashion industry and I’m very proud of that. The only thing we don’t make in New Zealand is things that are hand-beaded.

On how things have changed through the years…

There is so much bombardment of fast fashion. We were protected in New Zealand in the early years as there were hardly any imports because they were so expensive to bring in, so it was easier to start up and get on with it. It’s a bit harder now. You need business strategies and you need a plan.

On my advice for those starting out…

Be prepared to work very hard. It’s important that you have a passion for what you’re doing as that will secure your belief in yourself as it’s an industry that’s full of hope and despair. You have to leave your ego outside.  

On being a designer…

I love making clothes as it’s so stimulating and challenging. You always get the chance to reinvent yourself a little bit, every season... you never feel like you’ve finished, that you’ve done it and that you can sit back.

On sustainability in fashion…

We joined a group called Mindful Fashion which is just establishing itself now. From our point of view, we’ve always cared about being resourceful and sustainable and not dumping unnecessary waste. We try to use everything. At our workroom, you’ll find buckets of zips and buttons that we box up and make something from, instead of dumping them to become landfill... We need to make that a priority in our business but educate the consumer to take more responsibility about what they purchase and what they dump as well. There have to be different levels of affordability... but [with] the way [things] are marketed and sold, we need to... [really] think about the end result – what happens to that stuff you’re tired of or that you're over or that didn’t last? There’s a lot of work being done with new generations on recycling and how to be resourceful and how to make new things out of old things and that’s great.

On being part of a team…

I think I’m a calm personality and I care about my team. I appreciate the talent and creativity of those around me, which is important to have when you start out. 

Everyone thinks it’s just one person – like me – because I’m at the front of the house – but there’s actually more to it. It’s a whole team, I’d be nothing without them. I realise they need someone to lead them.  

On the print for Great Full…

This print for Great Full started off as a postcard, and then it became wrapping paper. One day we said, ‘Let’s print this on linen and it can become part of our summer collection’. I could visualise it… it would be great. And the fact that it could be [part of this fundraising effort] for Starship? It was like, ‘Yes, let’s do it’.