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By Frederique Gulcher
There are 60 million sheep in New Zealand, give or take, and approximately zero hobbits. But there is plenty of space showcasing a verdant, beautiful land that sparks a love of nature by all those who lay eyes on it.
Perhaps for that reason, there’s a huge sustainable fashion movement here, with a growing number of local ethical fashion brands emerging. For example? Here, we’ve found 5 seriously chic sustainable fashion brands from New Zealand that care for the environment, without compromising effortless elegance.
The colours of New Zealand’s summer have inspired the latest collection of Maggie Marilyn’s eponymous label. This is only her fourth collection, but there is nothing fledgling about this designer.
Exclusively sold online at Net-A-Porter.com and one boutique in Auckland, Maggie’s garments are like works of art that are exquisitely assembled, beautified by a sunkissed colour palette and featuring distinctive ruffles, pleats and ruching. This is called liveable luxury, but like Masami Clothing, this is more than Saturday morning mooch wear for a coffee with the girls – silks, organic cottons, wools, denims and cotton drills are hand selected from around the world and turned into chic sportswear with a feminine touch.
Like her counterparts, Maggie wants to make fashion fair – living wages and attention to the impact on the environment are two of her top priorities. At the same time, she wants her designs to reflect who she is – an optimist and environmentalist with elegance: “To me, the world right now feels slightly broken, but clothes can transport us to a dreamworld,” says Maggie. “A world that is brighter, sunnier, warmer with less darkness.”
Cheers to that!
To kowtow means to pay deep respect or submission – and that’s exactly what ethical fashion brand Kowtow does for the environment. Their unisex esthetic and multipurpose garments have blazed the way for sustainable fashion in New Zealand for over a decade.
The brand’s Director and key designer Gosia Piatek manages a small team who produce certified organic, non-toxic and fair trade clothing from seed to garment. Designed in New Zealand and produced in SA8000 certified factories in India, Kowtow’s philosophy revolves around trying to fix the flaws in the fast-fashion industry. This inspiring, minimalistic brand demonstrates beyond a doubt that it IS possible to be sustainable AND stylish.
Ovna Ovich may sound like the name of a designer, but it’s actually Russian for feminine masculine, and describes designer Marina Davis’ approach to fashion. Her garments are a celebration of the subtle beauty of the world around us in New Zealand – she describes her pieces as well considered, pared back and with a story to tell.
Her “garden-to-garment” concept is not just about natural fibres or sustainable fashion choices – it extends to the beauty and purity of the fabrics used, such as linen, tencel and silk. The trademark of the brand can be seen through impeccable tailoring, subtle tones and clean, confident silhouettes that allow the fabric to be the hero.
The Summer Spring collection Once Was was shot in a farmed setting, highlighting that garden-to-garment pride, and our local embrace of our backyard. I’m personally a huge fan of Ovna Ovich’s versatility with dress up-dress down silk dresses, ruched tops and linen blazers in an compatible capsule palette.
Not surprisingly, as a previous designer at Kowtow, New Zealand’s pioneers of sustainable fashion, production standards here are high for ethics and waste minimization, with the textiles all biodegradable.
Masami Clothing designer Julie Puddick hand makes and cuts limited collections, each with her signature style softness combined with sharp tailoring. She sources textiles, trims and embellishments from local secondhand stores, international fabric specialists and vintage boutiques.
Perhaps it’s the billow to some of the garments, or the origami-like folds, or the art of the cutting itself, but Masami certainly has an artisanal strength. As the name implies, there is a strong Japanese influence inspired by designers such as Yoji Yamamoto and Akira Isogawa.
“The cloth decides how each piece will be made,” she says, working with skilled garment makers and embroiderers in her town of Gisborne, known in New Zealand for its beautiful beaches, wine, indigenous culture and being the first place in the world to see the sun rise every day. Inspired by this easy living environment and laid back lifestyle, these pieces are everyday wear, yes, but elevated to a statement.
These two labels from designer Liz Turner are different sides of the same beautiful coin. Whereas Bare Bones is a basics brand with a strong, clean silhouette and a minimalist aesthetic, ideal for trans-seasonal layering, Arc & Bow offers seasonal items with textural and graphic characteristics that are distinctly feminine. Both appeal to the confident conscious consumer, complementing each other.
All garments are manufactured in Green Building-certified facilities in Thindal and Tirupur in India, with solid fair trade labour standards and using only with GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified cotton.
The designer, who lives near the ocean in one of New Zealand’s popular holiday destinations, says her brands are consistently working towards ways to reduce the environmental impacts of manufacturing including waste reduction. Her fabrics all use non-AZO dyes, and their screen and block printing processes support artisanal traditions.