Just over three months ago, my dear friend and designer, Shiana Weir, sent me an excited message saying she'd been given the chance to show at the first Wellington Fashion Week and that she'd be taking three months' unpaid leave from her day job in IT procurement to design and produce the first full collection for her label, Mardle.
(Prior to this Mardle had only ever produced mini collections and individual project pieces.)
Excited squeals of delight aside, Shiana asked if I would be willing to be her sounding board throughout the process, to which I said yes (of course). As a long-time lover and collector of all things fashion, and with a complete inability to draw even a stick figure,
I knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I'd be silly to pass up. It would give me an inside eye on what it takes to get a collection of garments from ideas in the designer's mind to physical items worn by Amazonian models stomping down a runway.
It would be my chance to get as close as possible to being a designer without heading back to uni for four years.
In hindsight, going back to uni would have been a huge help! The last three months have been a very big learning curve for me.
From the difference between chiffon and georgette silk to the length zip required to get into a jumpsuit without liquifying one's bones like a Harry Potter spell gone wrong, I have learnt a lot so far.
And I imagine I'm going to learn even more in the coming days. You see, Mardle's collection debuts in a group show at Massey's Grand Hall in Wellington on Thursday night. That's right. Tomorrow.
So what has it been like to get to this point? It started with many emails and Skype calls about the collection itself. Shiana had put together a collection plan, which involved ear-marking types of pieces to make up the collection (ie jacket, jumpsuit, long dress etc) and had started designing some of the pieces.
As any good sounding board, I gave her my honest opinion about what I thought would work and wouldn't. There were some tweaks made to fit, hem lengths and fabric ideas.
A couple of designs were discarded and a few new ones born. All the while Shiana kept working away at the beginnings of patterns and laid the foundation work for the collection.
Soon after that we met up in Auckland for three days of shopping. Well, I say shopping, but it was actually trawling wholesale fabric suppliers looking for the right prints, cottons, silks and modal blends to make Shiana's designs come to life.
Not only was it super-fun (like shopping with someone else's credit card) but it was also super-productive.
Shiana's designs are often inspired or influenced by her fabric choices, so we were delighted to find several fabrics that were exactly what we had in mind, along with a couple that inspired changes to key pieces in the collection, taking them to a whole new level.
On our first day we got caught out walking in a typical Auckland torrential downpour. Turns out, what looks like a short walk on Google maps took about 45 minutes. Rookie mistake.
We turned up to the belts and accessories wholesaler dripping wet. Literally. The lovely woman there had to give us tea towels to dry ourselves off with so we didn't leave puddles on her showroom floor!
The rest of our time in Auckland was relatively uneventful. As well as working on the collection itself, we also worked on several sponsorship proposals and crowd-funding ideas.
Even with Shiana volunteering her time and doing everything on the strictest of budgets, the collection itself costs close to $5000 to produce. And that's just the clothes.
Then there's the entry cost for WFW, music rights, travel costs, goodie bag goodies, shooting and printing the look-book of the collection for buyers and media... the list goes on.
It's an expensive business creating a collection and I very quickly realised it's a lot more than simply coming up with great designs and making them.
We didn't end up securing business sponsorship as we'd hoped (this was covered by WFW main sponsor funds being allocated to cover the entry fee), but we did set up a promotion called Name it & Claim it for Mardle's friends and fans on the Mardle website (with the help of Shiana's lawyer sister-in-law, Aisling).
Basically, it was a chance for people to sponsor the collection. In exchange for their sponsorship, they get to name a garment in the collection whatever they like, they get that garment in their size and a framed sketch of it alongside a photo of it on the runway.
I really loved that this involved Shiana's community and support network in her project. Not to mention, it's created a bit of buzz around the collection, which is always good!
So here we are,one day out. after flying down to Wellington I've hit the ground running as there are approximately a million errands to be done before the show.
Tomorrow I'll update you on the trials and tribulations of pattern-making, toiles (cotton mock-ups of garments), fittings and fabric supplier meltdowns, as well as what Shiana and I get up to in the lead-up to the show! I'll be posting a new blog each day this week and tweeting tidbits throughout.
Let the countdown begin...
Phew. The last two days have been a whirlwind of running errands, model fittings and getting the last of the collection sorted. First thing yesterday we picked up nine pairs of delicious shoes from Wild Pair for the show. At that point it sunk in that the show is mere hours away.
For months it has seemed a long way away. We've had a few obstacles along the way. It was nearly crisis point when we found out the order of one of our main prints.
There were a few frantic phone calls that day. Having said that, the supplier was very apologetic and sussed us out a fairly similar replacement with very little effort.
And Shiana actually prefers the new print, so we're seeing it as a blessing in disguise.
We also had plans for a great accessory to sell, but in between our initial order and now, the supplier sold out of the base product. So unfortunately it will only grace the runway.
While hiccups like this were nice confirmation that what we'd chosen was on the money style-wise, it certainly is a setback having to reassess what we're doing.
The rest of yesterday was spent tidying up more of the collection, while I did a couple of spreadsheets and triple-checked that the buyers' look-book and order form were all accurate. They've gone to the printers now to be burnt onto discs for the buyers' day on Friday.
We've also had several model fittings in the last couple of days, which has been an eye-opening experience. While it's easy to think all models are alike, they're definitely not.
We've had to very carefully match the model to the outfit, to ensure the pairing is not only what make the clothes look best but is also flattering on the model. Varying body shapes, weights and limb lengths all contribute to the giant puzzle that is planning which model wears what. When it works, and the model fits what you've assigned perfectly and it looks on them, it's great. But when the pants are too short, or the waist not fitted and things need altering to fit properly, it can throw things a tad!
Thankfully, we've only had to switch up a few models/outfits and the remainder are falling into place around that. Which is blimmin' lucky seeing as we have around 24 hours till the show! Eeeep!
On top of running approximately a million delegated errands, Shiana's husband also spent the afternoon spray-painting jewellery we've bought for the runway.
It's looking great and will really amp up the collection for the runway. We've very quickly realised that what is ok for every day needs to be multiplied by a factor of at least 15 for the runway, because you want the collection to be memorable.
And now I have to run and get myself prettified for the opening party tonight. We have some serious networking to do... fingers crossed that we make some great industry connections to contribute to the success of it all. After all, the whole point is for it to sell!
Wow. What a huge day. First things first, the show was amazing. Just had to get that out!
Right, where did I leave you? Ah yes, opening party. It was really great. Shiana was a wee networking machine. She really shone and was so great at making sure she'd met/introduced herself to everyone in the room that she really needed to.
We didn't stay too long as there was still a lot of work to be done before the show. However, while at the party we saw one of Starfish's new dresses on Wairarapa-based stylist Samantha Hannah. It was in a print we'd actually considered while in Auckland!
I was not-so-secretly pleased we'd opted for something else, as seeing what Starfish designer Laurie Foon had produced with it, it really fitted with their aesthetic perfectly. Plus, no-one wants to debut as the designer who used the same print as Starfish!!!
So after that, I came home and wrote out and tied ribbon to all the price tags for the items for the buyers' day, while Shiana went and collected the final dress (Be My Muse) from her machinist, whipped up two new Mardle clutch inners in our key fabrics and sewed the remaining Mardle labels into the garments. (She really is a wonder woman at times. I have spent much of this week marvelling at just how much she has achieved in the 68 days since she left full-time work.)
Then we slept. Then SHOW DAY!
Today involved two final model fittings and finishing off those hems, taping the bottoms of 10 pairs of shoes borrowed from Wild Pair (to ensure they don't get scuffed), fitting said shoes to models, then sourcing correct shoe sizes at last minute...
And yet, despite that, our day felt very calm throughout. While we were busy, we were never running about in a mad panic, as I expected. Our team of stellar helpers contributed a lot to that. And we had our to-do list, so just worked our way through it.
I actually can't remember much else of what we did, as the day itself seemed to fly by and all of a sudden we'd had our run through, lighting and music check and the models were in hair and make up! Then, it was show time!
We were sixth up out of eight designers, three of whom were showing current season items. This turned out to be a huge blessing as it meant Mardle's bright colour palette and fun, summer prints really stood out.
It was so very awesome seeing the models line up in all the garments we've spent the last three months pouring life and love into. Several of the models were very taken with various pieces, asking about retail prices and stockists etc, so that bodes well for our trade event tomorrow.
And then all of a sudden, the music was pumping, the models were stomping and five minutes later it was all over! Three months of hard slog came to its conclusion. And it felt phenomenal. We also had really great feedback on the collection, which was a nice bonus.
After packing down and triple-checking we had all our garments, shoes and other various bits and pieces, it was out to dinner with Shiana's family and close friends/supporters to celebrate.
But for us, it's not over yet. We still have a few bits and pieces to sort out for the buyers' day event, and have to be on our selling/promoting A-game first thing. So on that note, it's off to make (hopefully) one last list and bed for me. It really was a truly spectacular day.