International Women’s Day: Six women that are creating positive change in fashion

Grace Stratton, Kate Hall, Natasha Ovely, Lanu Faletau, Kiri Nathan and Rebecca Dubber feature in our celebration of women in fashion for International Women’s Day. Image by James Yang.

Fashion is so much more than just clothing, it’s art, commerce, function, expression, identity and emotion but at the heart of fashion is stories and people. Of the people in the fashion industry itself the majority are women, especially in New Zealand, which unlike some other countries has more female designers than male designers. Women also fill many of the workroom positions from machinists to patternmakers, while fashion retail, marketing and buying are also female led here. These women do an amazing job of creating and selling the clothing that we love yet the reality is women are still paid less than men, even in fashion, even in New Zealand.

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD) which is celebrated annually on March 8th and the campaign theme this year is #EachforEqual. IWD is dedicated to celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women in a positive way while recognising there is still much more to do to achieve equality. It’s important that we celebrate women in all their diversities and embrace their facets and intersections of faith, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity, or disability. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate those who came before us, those who stand beside us now, and those who will come after us in a meaningful way.

Creating change is how we make a difference and this IWD we wanted to champion some of the women who have been instrumental in creating and inspiring positive change in our local fashion industry in the past year. They are all exceptional in the way they lead by example whether in pushing boundaries, challenging the status quo or doing what simply hasn’t been done before in their own unique ways.

We asked each of them to share their thoughts on the challenges facing women today, who they look up to as female role models and discuss the ways that the fashion industry can be used as a tool for good. Honest, inspiring and thought-provoking, the advice and thoughts from these strong women is a fitting way to celebrate International Women’s Day.

International Womens Day 2020

Lanu Faletau

Lawyer, model and activist, Lanu Faletau is a multi-talented, determined woman who has no less than three degrees including a LLB, BA and Masters in Law. She was chosen as one of the inaugural cohort of Obama Foundation Leaders for the Asia-Pacific region late last year and advocates for the advancement of Pacific representation and education. Lanu feels strongly about representing Polynesians positively within the media and with her profile as a model she hopes to break industry barriers by advocating and vocalising the importance of diversity and proper representation of everyone.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
It’s a celebration of how far we as women have come, but also a reminder of all the work we as a society have yet to do.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women today?
Naming just one challenge is near impossible because there is an array of challenges that are equally important to redress. However presently for me, a major challenge is the patriarchy. The issue with the patriarchy is twofold: firstly, it perpetuates the notion that positions of power and social order are in the hands of males at the exclusion of females and secondly, the patriarchy is a universal issue that is preserved equally by men and women either by custom, culture or tradition. It is through the patriarchy that many inequalities still exist today. For example, access to education. This is a privilege that many across the globe still reckon with daily. Despite the progression of the modern feminist movements around the globe, many still believe that women are less worthy of the same educational opportunities afforded to men. This not only preserves positions of power for men but posits women as being subordinate in all areas of society who are not worthy of being listened to. I think the most disheartening reality of this, is that some women actively protest against a girl/woman’s right to education either due to fear or indoctrinated notions of what is right.

How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
It is so important. We are all experiencing the same struggle. Yes, to varying degrees and yes some more than others, but the point is, we can all relate to each other in ways no man can understand. Uplifting women means enabling women to be themselves in any form they wish to take… even if you personally don’t agree with them. Just empowering women to be themselves and to feel comfortable being themselves is what I think underpins what uplifting each other up means.

How do you personally define success and what does it mean to you?
The definition of success changes all the time for me. Right now, success to me is not allowing the opinions of others to deter me from pursuing or doing what I want or like. If I can get through the day unbothered by silly opinions, whether on the internet or in real life, then it’s a pretty successful day for me. So often, people get consumed in the opinions of themselves through others that they fail to see the true beauty of life. I think this is a real shame because there is so much beauty in just being yourself authentically always. Because at the end of the day, I would rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.

What are you most proud of doing?
I am most proud of staying true to myself and doing what I want or need to do despite conflicting little voices condemning me or telling me to do otherwise. I have achieved so much just by simply staying true to myself. For example, I used to get mocked all the time with modelling. I was told that I am a “wannabe model” or that “fat girls can’t model” or “NZ is too small to embrace fat models”, or that “I am vain, and that it will get me nowhere”. I laugh about it now. Especially because those same people are embracing me and supportive of me. I don’t hold their previous opinions about me against them but it’s just a sign that you must always stay true to yourself because there is no stability or success in the opinions of others. So, do what you have to do to make yourself feel good and always remember that what others say is a reflection of themselves… not you.

International Womens Day 2020

Who do you look up to as a female role model and why?
I look up to so many amazing women! To name a few… I think of course my Mother will always be my number one role model. Aside from her, I love Ellen, I think that her whole aura is so uplifting and genuine, and I love that she uses her platform to do good for others. I also really admire Meghan Markle, I think the way she holds herself is so beautiful and I love that she has such a powerful voice. She continues to challenge norms just by being herself and I think there is real strength in continuing to do what is right for you despite the backlash. I think it would be remiss of me not to mention that I absolutely love and adore Michelle Obama, even prior to being the First Lady, she was such an impressive woman, but more impressive is the work she continues to do! You can’t help but feel inspired and empowered by her. She’s one of those women you just want to be best friends with because her presence is just so powerful and magnetic. Finally, I really adore Dinah Jane, she is a singer and of Tongan heritage as well. I’m not only a fan of her music, but just her whole vibe is so uplifting. Seeing her represent Polynesians in her own authentic way is admirable. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing someone live their life authentically and doing so well!

In what way can the fashion industry be used as tool for good? Can feminism and fashion co-exist?
The fashion industry has the power of influence and I genuinely believe that with the power of the people, it can be used for good. For example, the fashion industry can help highlight particular issues at a grand level, the issue of climate change, or even feminism is being marketed as not only ‘cool’ to know about but also exposes consumers to issues they likely wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. We are seeing more companies now take sustainable approaches to their products by either being eco-friendly or sustainably made and encouraging consumers to do the same. Look at designers like Stella McCartney and the power of her influence in the fashion industry. She helped raise awareness to sustainable high-end fashion AND animal rights. This was even before I knew what vegetarianism was let alone veganism.

I most definitely believe that feminism in fashion can co-exist, on a personal level, fashion can be used as a tool to express yourself. However, on a corporate level, more work needs to be done. Having more women in positions of power or at senior levels would be a start.

How do you feel about how women are represented in the media, film and pop culture and what changes would you like to see?
I mean it really depends on the outlet or the brand and the film. I’m quite selective with what I follow so generally the representation I see of women is positive. This doesn’t mean that I am oblivious to the obvious dysfunctions that are perpetuated through the media towards women. I think in general women are unfairly subjected to criticisms in tabloid culture based on how they look, who they’ve been with, what they weigh etc, when really… why does any of that really matter? And why are women constantly being held to account for these things? Further, I do find it appalling that women to this day are still being paid less than their male counterparts in almost all professional spheres and the film industry is no different.

I would like to see the culture of the media change. For example, I find it destructive and divisive that particular looks are considered to be “high fashion” whilst the rest of women are excluded from that rhetoric. 99.9% of the time what is considered high fashion is incredibly thin, western and white. I find it disheartening that just because I was born looking the way that I look, from the heritage that I am from, with the body that I have… that THAT is a reason to feel not worthy of being “high fashion”. I think this mould needs to change and I applaud the companies and publications making small changes now and revealing to us a range of cultures, body types, skin tones, ethnicities and more.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in the fashion industry?
Not to take the opinions of others too seriously. You may be the next big thing to one person, but a complete waste of time to the next. It is so important to keep your mind on the goal and not let the opinions of others deter you. When you are first starting out you may look to others for guidance or mentorship but have your own style and your own “flare” if you will. Never lose your individuality to suit others because the industry needs you, not an imitation of someone else.

What are your goals for the future?
In the modelling world, I am hoping to book more editorial shoots. I would also like to book major campaigns with high end designers like Trelise Cooper or Kiwi designers Twenty-Seven Names. I think working in particular with our Kiwi designers is something I would love to do more of in the future. There are a few other things I would like to achieve but I want to keep those close to my heart until I am ready to pursue it. For my career, I want to continue doing the work that I do as a lawyer and continue my work with my community projects. I think generally, the ultimate goal is to achieve what I set my mind to, and not letting the fear of failure deter me from believing in myself!

International Womens Day 2020

Kate Hall

Kate Hall lives and breathes sustainable living and ethical fashion, documenting her discoveries, learnings and adventures on her popular blog Ethically Kate. While she grew up in an ethically-minded household, it wasn’t until she watched the fashion documentary The True Cost that she set about learning everything she could about sustainable and ethical fashion. What started as a passion has become a mission to educate and inspire people to make more sustainable choices for the good of our planet. Kate partners with many leading sustainable brands including Ethique, ReCreate Clothing and Biddy & May, and she recently gave a TEDx talk on ‘How to be a conscious consumer’.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
I try my best to think of the women who input into my life, every single day. The women who made my clothes, my food, who inspire me, who fill me, and who make me laugh. However, on International Women’s Day I think it’s important to acknowledge these women, but also acknowledge how far we’ve all come in terms of equality and general success. I am able to be anything, do anything, and say anything that I want; I have past women who fought for MY freedom to thank for that. To me, International Women’s Day is a celebration, reflection, and a special day to uplift and honour the past, present, and future women who are leaders in their own unique ways.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women today?
Each other. Of course we still have a way to go in terms of equality of the sexes, but I see the bitterness and jealousy of women bring other women down. Some of my most fuelled and ‘cup-filling’ moments have been when I’m surrounded by other inspirational and kind women, but some of the most hurtful moments I’ve experienced or witnessed, have been because of the toxic culture of comparison and gossip amongst women. We need to understand how we truly impact each other, both through our actions, but also our passing-by comments. We need to respect each and every woman, no matter what we think of the life they have chosen.

How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
It’s paramount. Like I said above, women hurting other women is a big challenge we all face today. Women do great things TOGETHER. But being together can only be a positive thing if everyone has each other’s best interest at heart and genuinely care about lifting each other up. Lifting each other up means being happy for someone’s success, rather than jealous or forcing them to feel guilty. It means encouraging a woman to stay home with their child for as long as they want to, or equally encouraging them to focus on their career and get that promotion at work. Lifting each other up involves accepting the path each woman chooses, and helping them to achieve whatever their goals may be – even if their goals are completely different to your own. Listening, encouraging, sharing, talking, crying, laughing, tough love, helping out, respecting, solitude, banding together… that’s what women lifting up other women looks like.

How do you personally define success and what does it mean to you?
To me, success is when you find the ideal balance of maintaining your basic needs, your relationships, your ME time, and your space for growth. Once that balance has been met: that is success. For me, I swing between it. Sometimes I feel very successful and at equilibrium with all of those things. Other times I’ve spent too much time working, and my relationships suffer. Success doesn’t mean reaching your goals, because for me the very act of getting to a goal is overwhelmingly satisfying if I feel ‘successful’ through the process.

What are you most proud of doing?
I’m most proud of myself for being brave and stepping out of my full time job at the age of 20 to start businesses and freelance. As someone who loves structure, knowing what’s next, and planning everything by the minute, leaving a 9-5 was daunting. I will always look back at that time of my life and think WTF was I doing and how did I do that?!

International Womens Day 2020

Who do you look up to as a female role model and why?
This is going to sound super cheesy, but my mum is my biggest role model. She has always balanced so many different jobs, hobbies, and careers, while keeping ample time for her family and friends. I watch how she makes people light up when they’re around her, I observe how she cares for people immensely, and I always admire her strong flare of determination and drive. I know I wouldn’t do what I do today without growing up watching how she tackles life. Mum is the first to laugh at herself and make a joke, but the first to call out dishonesty and do the right thing. I know everyone looks up to their mum, but I also know for a fact she’s extra marvelous by the way others describe her.

In what way can the fashion industry be used as a tool for good? Can feminism and fashion co-exist?
Fashion is one of the biggest tools for good! As an ethical fashion blogger, everyday I am reminded how fashion uplifts both the women who wear clothes, and the makers behind them. Fashion connects humans (including women) globally through the network of global trends, plus the connection we have with our clothes which often come from overseas. Community and connection with our local and global communities opens many opportunities for ‘good’, and fashion is a huge industry that grows this. Fashion can be a tool for helping people help themselves get out of poverty, depression, and loneliness. Just look at brands like Holi Boli who now employ 25 women in rural India. These women work in a beautiful sewing house, have financial security, feel belonging in their community, and have gained respect from their husbands and families that they never would have dreamt of before. They are taught basic skills as well as sewing, and they’re able to move on to do even bigger things. This all happened via the medium of fashion!

When it comes to feminism, fashion co-exists with feminism regularly. You could argue that ethical fashion at its core is feminism. Brands also use fashion as a way to promote and encourage feminist values, for example Hara the Label, The Social Outfit, and Nisa Women. Fashion and feminism stop holding hands when the ethics of the fashion label do not respect the female makers. I become super frustrated when t-shirts with feminist quotes are made by women exploited for their skills and treated terribly in the work place. The irony is not lost on me!

How do you feel about how women are represented in the media, film and pop culture and what changes would you like to see?
I think I’m in a little bit of an eco/ethical bubble when it comes to the media, so I probably have a more positive (and not reflective of the mainstream) feeling towards how women are represented in the media. In general, I’d like to see true equality in the media and pop culture. It’s either super behind the times and traditional, meaning women are the classic damsel in distress… OR the media overcompensate and compromise on the quality of film/stories, because they’ve focused on women empowerment in a very blatant and uncreative way. I think we shouldn’t swing the pendulum so far, rather find a balance, which should be reflective of what we want society to look like: equality for ALL, regardless of gender.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in the fashion industry?
Listen, have coffee with, and learn from everyone you can in the fashion industry. Sure, studying fashion or reading articles is a really great start, but understanding the fashion industry from the people who are actually in it, is priceless. I came to be where I am because I was inquisitive, I asked questions, and I tried my best to get as many chances as possible to absorb the knowledge of those already in the fashion industry. What’s the harm in asking? All someone can do is say no. But chances are, that’s how the individual came to be in the fashion industry too, so they’ll be more than happy to give back.

What are your goals for the future?
I’m really passionate about educating. I believe before system change, product updates, technology innovation… we need to educate consumers around how to shop and consume consciously. This means understanding where their clothes come from and also adopting realistic shopping habits that don’t continue to draw precious and finite resources from the earth or exploit others. I’m going on tour in May, which is a huge goal that I will tick off my list! I will always continue to dream of owning a sustainable lifestyle block where I host eco-retreats, workshops, weddings, events, and foster community.

International Womens Day 2020

Rebecca Dubber

An accomplished Paralympic swimmer, Rebecca Dubber represented New Zealand at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London and at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro where she won the bronze medal in the women’s 100 metre backstroke. No stranger to breaking barriers, last year Rebecca signed on as a model to social change agency All is for All where she graced the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week 2019 in several shows in what was a big step forward in diversity for the event. She is passionate about changing the representation of people with disabilities in the media and will no doubt use her Bachelor of Communication Studies from AUT to advocate for more positive change.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
To me the meaning of International Women’s Day comes from having a day where the messages and conversations are about empowering all women. It’s a day where we get to be heard and we get to amplify our voices to encourage conversations about what is important to us, for me that means not just talking about who I am as a woman and what I want but also by shedding light on making sure as a woman with a disability that my thoughts are being heard there too.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women today?
Something that scares me about being a woman, is the lack of autonomy and choice we seemed to have about things that shouldn’t be anyone else’s decision. I don’t think we should have to fight for the right to make decisions about our bodies and what we do with them.

And while there a huge pushes towards women supporting women, I’m shocked by some of the judgement I see around women’s issues coming from other women. It looks like we still have a way to go there too. As my nana would tell me keep your opinions to yourself and if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
Very important, I’m not a perfect person and I’ve made comments and said things to other women that I regret wholeheartedly in the past.

I’ve put a lot of effort into bettering myself and calling myself out on my insecurities that lead me to pass judgement out loud. I learnt there is room for everyone, and pulling someone else down thinking that will put you further ahead achieves nothing. I get more from cheering on my fellow ladies now than I ever did being insecure about them becoming more successful than myself and it’s made me a much happier person.

How do you personally define success and what does it mean to you?
To me, my success is reflected in how happy something makes me. If I achieve something and it makes me happy then that’s a win, if it doesn’t then I re-evaluate and move on. I spent a lot of time doing things to make others happy and that didn’t always make me feel great, I realised I needed to change how I defined my success for the sake of my own happiness.

What are you most proud of doing?
I’m proud of a lot of things in my life, I think the thing I’m the most proud of in recent times is the way I have grown since retiring from competitive swimming. For so long I was Rebecca the swimmer, it scared me to have to leave that and to have to make a new name for myself, I’m proud of how far I’ve come, the people I’ve met and the opportunities I’ve been grateful to have been offered. I feel like I have some incredible things on the horizon and I’m excited to keep working towards them.

International Womens Day 2020

Who do you look up to as a female role model and why?
I have so many amazing role models in my life, I love drawing inspiration from people and I am lucky to be surrounded by strong, confident and wonderful women who are open to sharing ideas and helping to nurture my growth and development.

In what way can the fashion industry be used as tool for good? Can feminism and fashion co-exist?
Representation is important, everyone wants to feel represented in fashion and in media. If we want fashion and feminism to co-exist then we need to start listening to the desires of ALL women about what they want to see and how they want to see it. We also need safeguards in order to make sure everyone can feel safe in their jobs regardless of at what level.

How do you feel about how women are represented in the media, film and pop culture and what changes would you like to see?
I might be biased, but representation of disability is a big one, also making sure when disability is represented it is by talent that is disabled and the storyline or angle is not harmful to the disability community or reflecting ableist views. People with disabilities should be given the opportunity to consult at every level to avoid that happening.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in the fashion industry?
Don’t be afraid to apply for things and put your name out there even if you think your unqualified, however be prepared to work for what you want, and always show up on time or early as people respect someone with good time management and a good work ethic, if you have those you can succeed.

What are your goals for the future?
Continue to grow my opportunities and build on the life I am creating for myself and my family, and to be able to have strength within myself to say no to the things that don’t serve me or align with my values.

International Womens Day 2020

Kiri Nathan

Designer Kiri Nathan is a force to be reckoned with, in the past year alone she’s led a successful hikoi of Māori designers from the Kāhui Collective she founded to China, shown at Thai Silk International Fashion Week and created an incredible custom gown for Jojo Rabbit producer Chelsea Winstanley to wear to the Oscars. Not to mention the fact that last month she opened the first Māori fashion department store with her Kāhui Collective designers in Britomart. Kiri is a passionate advocate for Māori fashion and creating more opportunities for indigenous talent, she also believes in slow fashion and making garments by hand that are special to the wearer.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
It’s a day to acknowledge the challenges we face as wāhine and a day to celebrate all the wins thus far.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women today?
An even playing field.

How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
It is imperative that we authentically tautoko (support) each other on all levels. Supporting other wāhine is a very natural and purposeful way of living for me. I am also very privileged to have the genuine support of many women… it is so important to build a strong tribe.

How do you personally define success and what does it mean to you?
Success to me is a healthy, happy and engaged whānau and tribe, it is breaking new ground and taking others with you and it is creating better spaces and futures for Moko generations.

What are you most proud of doing?
Birthing and raising my babies.

International Womens Day 2020

Who do you look up to as a female role model and why?
Merata Mita, because she pioneered a space for indigenous creatives where there was nothing, no reference points, no foreseeable future – now we’re winning Oscars! I have a group of women I refer to as my tribe, they inspire, role model and support me through all aspects of life and business. I couldn’t feel more humbled or more grateful to know them.

In what way can the fashion industry be used as tool for good? Can feminism and fashion co-exist?
Of course! Most things in life are possible, it comes down to the willingness of people to make better choices for more than themselves. Goodness is quite a simple concept, if everyone actively went about their lives with goodness at the fore… people and planet would thrive.

How do you feel about how women are represented in the media, film and pop culture and what changes would you like to see?
Well to be perfectly honest I’ve never fed into media’s version of truths. I tend to judge people on their actions… as a mother to girls I have fears of how they do and will perceive their place in the world given the bombardment and portrayal of today’s young girls and women. It just seems the only real tool we can give our babies is the gift of self confidence, self knowing, one that sees their happiness based on how they see themselves in the world.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in the fashion industry?
Be very sure this is the chosen path for you, build a strong tribe, create from original thought – never copy, educate yourself, lose any ego you may have, be humble and open to learning, choose goodness, always treat people with kindness – it does come back to you.

What are your goals for the future?
The same as they’ve always been, be a good human – raise good humans, break new ground and take others on the journey and support Māori everything! Be useful and leave this planet in a better condition than when I came into it.

International Womens Day 2020

Grace Stratton

Avid fashion fan Grace Stratton is the co-founder of social change agency All is for All which launched in March 2019. Under the leadership of Grace and her co-founder Angela Bevan, All is for All had six models with disabilities cast in runway shows for the first time at New Zealand Fashion Week 2019 and they work with many leading fashion brands for the agency’s accessible online store (which is a world first in its approach). All is for All also consults with businesses and organisations on how they can work better with those with access needs as one of the drivers for Grace is changing the perception of people with disabilities. Grace’s work has brought her international attention and she was named on InStyle magazine’s list of 50 Badass Women for 2019.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
I often think about how I move through life; I didn’t have to advocate to have my own credit card, for my rights to attend university as a woman or vote in an election.

It’s a luxury to not have to advocate for those things, because it means that someone else’s work, effort and advocacy – (Kate Shepard, Mary Ann Colclough, Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia – to name a few New Zealanders) has afforded me these things by default.

So, to that end International Women’s Day for me is a time to pause so we can appreciate and think of those women – acknowledge the risks, sacrifices, resilience and courage they held, to fight so hard for rights we hold now so easily – because it is easy to forget that the rights we expect as part of normal life – were fought for, and are still being fought for in some places.

International Women’s Day is also a time to renew our courage, because there’s more work to do – and we each must engage in these efforts in the ways that we can, as future generations are counting on our efforts – one day they’ll be afforded things like equal pay, by default – because of work and advocacy that we have done collectively.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women today?
I think that every woman is different and has challenges unique to their backgrounds and life experiences, so I can’t speak to the biggest challenge facing all women. But, speaking from my experiences I think we need to empower women with disabilities to speak themselves on the issues that affect them, or that they are passionate about. Speaking for yourself does not just mean independent verbal communication, because this is not possible for everyone – but what “speaking for yourself” embodies is the understanding, that we do not speak for people – rather we make space for them to be their own advocate in their own way, which might mean communicating through a trusted confidant.

I know many bright, dynamic, talented disabled women – who often are not afforded an assumption of intelligence in the first instance, people speak to their able-bodied companions, instead of them, for example; this must change. Everyone deserves to have their voice heard in a meaningful way and disabled women deserve to be at the table, engaged in or leading high level discussions if they wish – because that is the way that things which matter to disabled people, get on the agenda.

Of course this issue extends to disabled men too. And we must be building pathways to change this.

How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
It’s critically important. To me, it’s about having a group of people who cheer you up, keep you going, but also keep you accountable – call out your BS and push you to do better, lifting up women is not about always being positive, it’s about striving for more, being honest, encouraging and helping people be their best (which sometimes requires listening to constructive criticism).

How do you personally define success and what does it mean to you?
I remember hearing an interview once that spoke about “the car and the boat attitude” which was discussing how a lot of people work, they get their car, boat and bach that they want – and then they stop working – because that’s their end, their success. I don’t have that attitude, there’s no definition or end point to “success” that I could point to you and tell you – I’ve reached it. I am someone who is always thinking 10 steps ahead of right now, and wanting to build on what I’m doing because I want to see change happen, and that change is not fixed, what it looks like is always evolving. So I think my definition of success is connecting the dots, responding to new and different challenges, helping and making space for others – knowing when to stick with and when to iterate. It’s not stopping with the car and the boat.

It means everything to me – I work pretty hard at what I do because I want to see my team succeed, change done – I love it.

What are you most proud of doing?
I’m most proud of what I’ve built with All is for All – it’s been a team effort from the start, but I am proud at what it has secured for others.

International Womens Day 2020

Who do you look up to as a female role model and why?
There’s so many people, my mum of course who has basically been the foundation for everything I’ve ever done – alongside my dad whose a formidable person. My co-founder Angela Bevan, who always sees the best in people; and teaches me to invest in hearing people’s stories and never give up.

Also, Dr Roberta Francis – Robbie. Robbie, co-founder of The Lucy Foundation and expert advisor to the New Zealand Government is an incredible woman. She makes space, she has knowledge that she compassionately shares, she is an exemplar to me of how to navigate the world as a proud disabled woman and I feel so privileged to be her friend.

In what way can the fashion industry be used as tool for good? Can feminism and fashion co-exist?
Franca Sozzani exemplified, at Italian Vogue that fashion is a force and you underestimate it at your peril. She used fashion and art, as a tool to advocate, and in doing so she innovated the entire industry and social structures that surrounded it. Her work to cast women of colour, in the “Black Issue” (that was the first of it’s kind) succeeded in drawing attention to the lack of diverse casting. In Franca’s time at Italian Vogue, the magazine was as much a tool for social commentary, as it was for fashion garments – she commented on the BP oil spill, cosmetic surgery, domestic violence – through her magazines – and it struck at people’s hearts and minds, creating change and drawing critique (because people thought fashion wasn’t a place for advocacy)

So yes, fashion is a tool for good. Of course it is. I’d go one step further and say that fashion is a powerful tool for good, because it’s a tool that people are engaged with, that they listen to. Furthermore, I think at All is for All we’ve shown that fashion is a tool for good, our work has pushed boundaries, made spaces, mindsets accessible; innovated and challenged stereotypes, told better stories – all with roots in fashion.

Yes, of course feminism and fashion can co-exist, as long as we move away from fashion for the male gaze. Leandra Medine is an example of fashion being independent of the male gaze, her outfits aren’t about what makes her look sexy or appealing – she puts together the pieces she wants to wear and shares it with you and girl she pays no mind to whether a stranger (male or female) likes it or not.

That’s what fashion should give us, power and confidence over ourselves, our expressions – that’s when fashion supports feminism – advertising and marketing that supports the male gaze is going to have to innovate, because people don’t want that stuff anymore – give me Man Repeller and Leandra any day of the week.

How do you feel about how women are represented in the media, film and pop culture and what changes would you like to see?
I think it’s getting better, the work done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is actively creating more equal outcomes for the film industry, which I think is exciting. They’re also showing that gender equal movies perform better, and complex female characters are connected with; so you can’t argue with the metrics.

Of course, Greta Gerwig was snubbed for an Oscar, as was Lulu Wang, so there’s clearly more work to do.

I want to see complex stories, told about many different kinds of women.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in the fashion industry?
Fashion’s not about clothes, it’s about everything those clothes stand for – what they mean, what they can do for people, how they make you feel. Fashion is about culture, it is in everything and informs everything – and it’s a joy to be part of that, so don’t worry about if you’re wearing the right thing.

What are your goals for the future?
So many. I have three years to go until I graduate, with a Law and Communications Degree – and globalisation plans for our company.

International Womens Day 2020

Natasha Ovely

Designer Natasha Ovely is the creative force and founder of socially conscious, gender neutral clothing brand Starving Artists Fund. Natasha has a fearless approach to championing diversity and utilises her brand to promote radical inclusivity by celebrating individuality, body positivity and non-binary perspectives. Her label made it’s debut at New Zealand Fashion Week 2018 and last year Starving Artists Fund and Wellington label Havilah did a celebrated NZFW show together which had the most diverse and authentic casting of the week. Sustainability is also important to Natasha who designs and makes her collections ethically in New Zealand.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
International Women’s day to me is a checkpoint; to celebrate our progress and to assess the work still to be done. Its an opportunity to share our perspectives on how to proceed. Womanhood is nuanced, our experiences of it differ based on race, sexual orientation, physical ability, privilege, appearance, belonging to the trans or non binary spectrum. This day is an opportunity to make sure all of these narratives are honoured, equally.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women today?
Unfortunately, the glaring challenges are the oldest ones. The threat of sexual and physical violence, the lack of rights over our own bodies, patriarchal systems in legislation and the workplace, so ultimately still, inequality. For every woman who has the chance to exercise her basic rights there are tens of thousands of women who don’t. We are still compelled to treat whatever rights we do have as privileges.

There is also a generational shift in feminism. For example, art activists like the Guerilla Girls fought against the objectification/sexualisation of women and we now have a new wave of women using social media to express their bodies and sexuality freely as a form of empowerment. This is an interesting discussion to dive into!

I also hope that we can be kinder and more patient with women who are yet to unleash their voice. We must remember that many of us were too fearful once and finding your voice as a woman is a thing of beauty. Nurturing someone who is on that journey, instead of judging them for not speaking up could be a powerful way of supporting them.

How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
It is integral. Show me a woman who says otherwise! Our greatest strength is our camaraderie. To me it means speaking honestly with each other without fear of judgement and sharing any space, knowledge or opportunity. If there is an inch of room for another woman to sit beside you on a platform, ask the dude next to you to stop man spreading and make room for her.

How do you personally define success and what does it mean to you?
Growing up, I thought the only measure of success was monetary. Since I started my brand, I came to a fork in the road and realised I couldn’t fully keep the integrity of my creative work and make it commercially viable in this market at the same time (not just yet). My decision to prioritise the former altered my definition of success. I decided to play the long game because want to be able to look back on my body of work and stand by it.

I know that its not commonplace to discuss side hustles in fashion, I’d just like to say that having a secondary source of income has given me the independence to work in this way. A lot of other people in the industry treat their other jobs like a dirty little secret, which is a bit silly. And a bit boujee. Being able to work honestly and towards a larger purpose that contributes to society is what makes me feel successful.

What are you most proud of doing?
It’s difficult for me to say I am proud of myself – which is a trait I’ve noticed in many of my female friends. In honour of International Women’s Day, I’m gonna go ahead and celebrate three things!

I’m pretty proud of being a good friend and a person who has people’s backs. I’m also pretty happy that I have the strength to be vulnerable and feel empathy. Starting Starving Artists Fund was also a huge, terrifying and rewarding journey that has given me so much joy and I am proud of it.

International Womens Day 2020

Who do you look up to as a female role model and why?
This is by far the hardest question to answer. I am spoiled for choice when it comes to women to look up to. From family, friends, collaborators, activists, women who tell off men for making sexist comments in bars; they all make me proud to be a woman.

Maya Angelou was the essence of womanhood to me because of her resilience and ability to turn adversity into art that helped others heal. I admired her sense of servitude and responsibility to contribute to a better future by addressing her own pain, which couldn’t have been easy to confront.

In what way can the fashion industry be used as tool for good? Can feminism and fashion co-exist?
Yes. Fashion and feminism have and continue to co-exist. If you look through the silhouettes of women’s clothing through the decades, it is a map of what was going on politically and socially at the time. Not to mention iconic protests from the bra burnings, pussy hats and the “not asking for it” campaigns, to name a few.

Our industry has a lot of making up to do for the damage it has caused generations of women, made to feel unvalued based on their physical appearance. I believe that if it could create scars and insecurities that deep, it could be equally powerful as a force of good, if we subvert the narrative.

The advantage that fashion has as an industry is that it is non-threatening and easy to consume. People are more likely to digest a social/political concept through looking at fashion, compared to the skepticism it could be met through the news, for example. Our industry can be brushed aside and be dismissed as frivolous but if it can simultaneously dictate what people around the world are going to be consuming at the same time it must have the ability to act as a well-oiled machine for good.

How do you feel about how women are represented in the media, film and pop culture and what changes would you like to see?
There’s the good, bad and the ugly. We see women represented in several different ways in film and pop culture- some empowering, some upsetting. Either way there is free discourse around it, which is a healthy thing. The media, however, (news, tabloid, advertising) still rely on severely archaic and sexist narratives around women and have the position of influencing minds in a more direct way.

It would be great to see more women producers, directors and writers – have our stories told by those who actually understand it. I’d also like the systemic blindness that allows the Harvey Weinsteins of this world to prey on women to be completed eradicated.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in the fashion industry?
Assess your motives at the very start. It will help you figure out the steps you have and who you’d like to cater to, how to go about production and sourcing etc.

Use your money wisely and have a financial plan in place – a budget can sometimes do great things for creativity.

Social media is a double-edged sword, its a powerful platform but don’t allow it dictate your sense of self worth or success.

Prioritise your mental health and don’t get caught up in the petty bullshit.

Collaborate with as many creatives as you can! It is one of the greatest joys of being in an industry like this.

Enjoy your process and make friends with failure, its what comes before the breakthroughs.

What are your goals for the future?
In the long run, I’d like to widen my reach with SAF and immerse it in different cultures around the world, to prove the universality of the values it stands for. To try and make as many people as I can feel seen, heard, valued and catered for. To try and ensure that the next generation grows up freely, knowing that no matter who they are there is a real space for them in this world to thrive.

I want to continue working on my personal growth and stop beating myself up about failure and be able to fully own my achievements without feeling uncomfortable. And lastly, to keep learning new skills, getting to know and work with inspiring people and telling new stories.

Images by James Yang.
Art direction by Anton Carter.

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