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Our tentative first steps into sustainable Kākahu made in Aotearoa. (Part 1)

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Our tentative first steps into sustainable Kākahu made in Aotearoa. (Part 1)

It was years after the fact that a friend confessed to me. The day our friendship began was back in high school. It had been a mufti-day where you could wear whatever you wanted, and whilst many of my peers were frantically searching out branded gears to add to a sense of belonging, I had turned up in wearing a (in hindsight, a terrible) knee length denim coat my mum had made for herself after learning a range of textural fabric manipulation techniques. I’d paired it with a bright scarf and apparently, walked through crowded hallways with absolute obliviousness to the stares of my peers.

(Picture a denim trench, knee length, with this level of texture all over, in a patchwork of denim hues :) )

 

It was that moment that cinched it she laughed. “If you could choose that outfit, and walk through the most insecure judgey hallways confident in your own skin and expression- I wanted in”.

I don’t remember, looking back at my teenage self, feeling that sense of confidence or self, more just a bravado and a determination to push the status quo. Exploring creative expression and versions of ‘self’.

 

Through seasons of life, our wardrobes reflect this too. Our sense of who we are, what we do, how we want others to perceive us, how we want to belong and be accepted.


While never an ardent rule follower when it comes to fashion, as I look back across my late teens and twenties I recognise seasons of self in how I dressed.

My uni / art school days were dominated by black clothes and bright silk and cotton oppshopped scarves. Expressions of conformity and rebellion, of some sense of bohemian whimsy and worldliness that I dreamt of.


I moved into a public policy space and began a self-imposed season of restrictive, tailored structured garments, heels and nylon tights as I felt my way in this ‘adult’ world. That ‘clip clop’ of heels, a childhood marker of a ‘successful professional woman’ or so I had imagined.


I stepped away from corporate culture in my early twenties - a terrifying move at the time as it encapsulated so much of my culturally validated notions of ‘success’. A title, a salary, a hook to hang my identity on.


It didn’t take long for me to realise that without the job, the clothes didn’t fit either. That for life outside the confines of a desk, no one really chooses restrictive, tailored, high maintenance garments. It was during this season I began sewing my own, exploring a little more of how I presented to myself and the world.


It was during this season I found myself immersed more in the whenua of my tūpuna, seeking out spaces, practices and relationships that reignited connection. grounded in our whenua, learning te reo Māori, redefining my sense of te ao Māori, Ngāi Tahutanga.

During this time, I created a collection of women’s Kākahu and entered them into Miromoda (the beauty of being oblivious to how much you don’t know what you’re doing and so not letting that hold you back :) ). The collection was an expression of my dream to have beautiful, elegant, high quality kākahu that were woven and imbued with expressions of whakapapa through kōwhaiwhai. I made them at our kitchen table, dyed them in a plastic bucket, etched them with designs cut by hand. It was a journey.



Then Māmāhood took over my life, and a new priority for absolute comfort, practicality, a desire to still feel dressed or ‘put together’ with as little effort as possible for day to day life. With this new identity and body, came a reformation of self- of a strong desire to have a me that is my own, and not just a service extension of these small souls I serve. But also, practically, garments that can be washed and worn on repeat, that are flexible as my body fluctuates, as I chase toddlers, cook meals and venture out in public. 

I wanted something I could throw on every single day without thinking about it too hard, made from sustainable, breathable natural fibres and which expressed, both inherently and externally (implicit/explicit), something about who I am in myself and the world.

 

And so this is our starting place in this great experiment.

An ambivilence to 'fashion', but a love for form, line, style, design, texture, textiles and expression.

An absolute rejection of the values of fast fashion which is characterised by:
-low cost production and pricing which is enabled by exploitative labour practices in low-cost economies and cheap to produce fabrics.

- a high seasonal turnover of styles to encourage ongoing spending and consumption of products- a sense of 'keeping up with the fashion' or being 'out of fashion'. This is encouraged by the low cost of the garments to consumers

- an encouragement to dress in 'fashion' or trend, rather than by style

A kaupapa or foundational worldview/value set that centres us as kaitiaki or custodians of this world for our descendants and theirs’. Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri a muri ake nei- For us and our children after us.

And with this always guiding our decisions, we prioritise sustainable environmental, social and economic practices.

In practice this looks like natural, renewable, organic, biodegradable fibres.
It means paying fair wages to everyone in our supply chains.
Aiming to minimise our environmental impact, and offset where necessary.
It ideally looks like NZ made production, as we believe that keeping our dollars as well as our knowledge base (and industries) local is important for our sense of rangatiratanga- self determination.

And, on top of that- we want to be able to afford it! 

Oh, also, no pre-existing exposure or experience in the clothing industry in Aotearoa, just a utopian pipedream and the help of google.

Thanks for joining us for the ride.

In the coming couple of weeks I’m planning to walk through each of the steps we’ve taken so far- from the fabric, to pattern development, production, photography and marketing as it unfolds.