20 key fashion moments from 20 years of New Zealand fashion

Orlando Bloom wearing a Huffer tshirt at the premiere of The Return of the King in Wellington 2003. Image by Kent Blechnyden from Fairfax NZ – Dominion Post.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of FashioNZ, I look back at twenty poignant moments from the last twenty years, which have altered the course of the NZ fashion industry and landscape. Let me tell you a tale…

1998 – The annual Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards ends, taking with it a major platform for aspiring fashion designers to have their work publicly acknowledged and awarded on national television. When cigarette sponsorship was banned in 1995, the awards were then known as the Smokefree Fashion Awards, and without finding another major sponsor to replace Benson & Hedges in the following three years, the event closed.
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1999 – The ‘New Zealand Fashion Four’ (Karen Walker, NOM*d, WORLD and Zambesi) go to London Fashion Week with sponsorship from Wools of New Zealand. A label of “dark and intellectual” is touted from the international media in the wake of their shows; a label which sticks to NZ fashion for at least the next decade.
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2000 – iD Dunedin Fashion Inc is set up and the previously smaller Dunedin fashion event is moved to the Dunedin Railway Station Platform, showcasing the best in upcoming local and international fashion talent, and bringing big-name international judges to our wee corner of the world, like Zandra Rhodes and Doris Raymond.
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2001 – New Zealand Fashion Week is created by Pieter Stewart (who is made Dame Companion of The New Zealand Order of Merit for services to fashion and the community in 2012), and in its first year it shows Insidious Fix, Trelise Cooper, Tanya Carlson and Zambesi, among other designers.
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Zambesi at L’Oréal New Zealand Fashion Week 2001 on FashioNZ. Screenshot via Wayback Machine

2003 – English actor Orlando Bloom wears a “I Huff NZ” t-shirt, by streetwear label Huffer, to the premiere of The Return of the King; an act that leads to a huge spike in popularity for the brand, and is thought to be responsible for the increased surge of Kiwiana-themed streetwear in the ‘00s.
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2003 – Karen Walker launches her jewellery line in a controversial show at NZ Fashion Week.  What made it controversial? It didn’t involve a runway. This was a continuation of Walker’s inclination to break traditional fashion rules, ruffling industry feathers along the way. For Walker, it was also the start of her successfully branching out into accessory lines, and for the NZ jewellery market, it was the beginning of designer jewellery lines, and local jewellery that offered a rock’n’roll twist.
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2006 – The Textile and Design Lab (TDL) is established at Auckland’s AUT campus, allowing students and designers alike to learn about and experiment with new design and fabric technologies, including seamless knitting technology, digital printing and electronic felting.
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2006 – Trelise Cooper launches Trelise Cooper Kids in an adorable NZ Fashion Week show, making her the first and only major NZ designer to branch out into children’s clothing. She opened a shop in Newmarket completely dedicated to the new line, but closed it and the line down in 2011 as the recession had taken a toll on sales. Cooper got back into children’s clothing again in 2016 with the line Little Trelise.
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2007 – Kowtow launches and goes on to become the NZ fashion industry benchmark for ethical and sustainable fashion, making all of their clothing from fair-trade organic cotton, ethically certified merino, sustainable trims and using Global Organic Textile Standard approved inks and dyes for their surface and colour work. Kowtow were recently an A-grade in the 2018 Tearfund Ethical Fashion Report.
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2008 – The Global Financial Crisis hits, and in true-to-form ‘tude, WORLD shows it a middle-finger with a $33,000 Swarovski crystal-embellished tuxedo at NZ Fashion Week.
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Lena Dunham (left) and Jemima Kirke (right) in a Lonely campaign from 2016.

2009 – Lonely Lingerie launches after a company restructure (looking at you, recession!), leading to the most authentic body-positivity campaign from a NZ label at the time, and widespread international interest (including celebrities like Lena Dunham and Kylie Jenner).
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2010 – NZ Fashion Museum is established as a charitable trust, and is led by Doris De Pont to do great things for NZ fashion history; including 15 books, 11 physical exhibitions, pop-up fashion photography sets to capture and document pieces of NZ fashion history on an ongoing basis, and an ongoing fashion history walking tour around Auckland.
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2012 – It’s been four years since the recession began, and its effects has squeezed costs for NZ fashion labels, changing designer’s views of investing marketing capital in attending NZ Fashion Week, their expectations of bricks-and-mortar stores, and moving their sights instead to international online sales. Fashion shows are well-televised to the public by now, and new tech-savvy customers want to be able to buy what they see on the catwalk immediately, which in-turn puts a strain on the traditional show-for-trade model, which sees garments taking 6 – 12 months to get from the catwalk to the rack.
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2013 – After 25 years of closure, and three years after its head designer Gus Fisher had passed away, the El Jay workroom in Auckland’s CBD opens its doors to the public for a three-day vintage fabric/deadstock sale. El Jay was a local label which held the only local licence to reproduce Dior designs here in NZ, and like a closed time-capsule, the workroom still encompassed all of the vintage Parisian glamour you could expect from a Dior-affiliated fashion house.
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2014 – NZ Fashion Week starts to post videos of all their fashion shows on their website; firstly as an indication of how people were preferring to absorb media, and secondly as an indication of how the event has evolved from being a trade-focussed event, to involving the general public in its audience more and more.
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2015 – The Tearfund Ethical Fashion Report (originally started in 2013, after the tragic Rana Plaza collapse) includes NZ brands for the first time and gives Glassons a D-. The public nature of this report encourages brands to have a hard look at their supply chains, and work with Tearfund to improve them. It also encourages the general consumer to consider who they buy their clothes from, and what went into making them, driving consumers to shop with an ethical mind, and brands to improve their practices for fear of low scores the next year and a falling customer base.
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Natalie Cantell in a street style shot by Dan Roberts at NZFW 2015. Image from Viva.co.nz.

2015 – Major local fashion publications Viva (NZ Herald) and Fashion Quarterly start to focus on and publish more ‘street style’ images from NZ Fashion Week. This increased attention to what the public and trade attendees are wearing increases the relatability of the event to the rest of the general public, and provides style inspiration for social media platforms. This ‘street style’ trend has been long seen at other international fashion weeks.
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2016 – Bloggers and influencers are seen in the front rows of NZ Fashion Week shows, alongside members of trade and industry. Bloggers are like new-gen journalists, while influencers are like new-gen celebrities, both of whom come with some very large online followings. And as the shift of local designers’ intentions for showing at NZ Fashion Week moves from selling wholesale to brand awareness and marketing, it has made sense to open the shows up to wider and younger audiences.
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2016 – The fashion-based My Heels Are Killing Me podcast, by Sonia Sly, launches with Radio NZ. Sonia conducts interviews with designers and brands, as well as the general public, to find out how do we as New Zealanders relate to fashion in this current age, what’s behind the glamorous curtain, and where to from here. It’s like a regular fashion column, but in aural format, which has been an increasingly preferred way for people to consume their media in the past few years. Print was hurt by digital text, and digital text may well be hurt by online audio and video in the not-too-distant future.
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2018 – The first ever Good Sustainable Style Show will be held at this year’s NZ Fashion Week. This is a positive sign that the number and quality of ethical and sustainable brands in NZ are growing and improving year-on-year. As new generation designers become established, they are bringing with them an ingrained mindset that they won’t do business any way other than ethically. They feel the urgency of the situation, and have the drive to be part of the solution, rather than add to the problem.
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What will we see in the next twenty years? I’m personally hoping for increasingly widespread improvements on the ethical and sustainable front, so the introduction of the Good Sustainable Style Show this year has got me buzzing! We’ll definitely see more developments in the tech-in-fashion space, with new fabrics and manufacturing techniques, and a normalisation of digital wearables. We’ll see more small brands rising quicker, with the increase of digital access to their customers, both locally and internationally. We’ll possibly see some shifts in local buying behaviours, as the NZ Government implements a GST on offshore internet purchases by October 2019. The local fashion market has definitely felt the squeeze from cheaper offshore competition over the past twenty years, and so this new legislation could lead to a big improvement for the local fashion industry.

Continue to Support Your Local, and we’ll see you back here in another twenty years!

Danielle Gardner is a fashion designer who also writes over at her label’s website.

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