“Threads of Unity: Embracing Diversity in Fashion” Member Event with The Shelter

In the beautiful sanctuary of The Shelter, a contemporary space dedicated to cutting edge fashion and design, our members came together for an evening focused on amplifying the stories of contemporary women leaders in the New Zealand fashion industry. Women from our membership shared stories and laughter, while The Shelter provided an exclusive showcase of top-of-the-line garments and invited attendees to participate in a competition to win one of their exclusive pieces.

Following a warm welcome by Global Women chair Theresa Gattung, who shared with us the work she is currently undertaking to empower women leaders in all areas, we had the privilege of hearing from four generations of prolific New Zealand women leaders in fashion. In conversation with Liz Mitchell, Vicky Taylor, Kiri Nathan and Claudia Li, The Shelter’s Mandy Tomlinson moderated the evening, inviting each designer to share her journey and speak to her own experience of diversity, inclusion, and unity in the fashion industry.

Liz Mitchell cast the first stitches of the evening, reflecting on her years in the industry, with a particular focus on her work with New Zealand wool. As a leading designer and bespoke tailor who is a MNZM for her service to the fashion industry, Liz’s dedication to sharing her knowledge and passion with the local community shone through – from her anecdote of encouraging a young boy to join her local knitting group, to the tips on wool-care and fashion sustainability she shared with the audience.

This topic blossomed into a conversation amongst the panellists, who spoke on the importance of sustainability within their work. From sourcing fabric, to construction, to tailoring and curating bespoke pieces, each designer revealed the high level of care they put into creating unique items that will be well loved by the wearer.

Leading Māori fashion designer Kiri Nathan and internationally lauded third-culture designer Claudia Li spoke on their experiences as women of colour in the fashion industry, and expressed their gratitude to the communities that have supported them in their growth. While Kiri has built her globally-recognised brand around her Māori heritage and culture, she still encounters barriers and has had people only wanting to support her as a diversity checkmark. Claudia’s designs, on the other hand, are well known for their fine arts influences and cult celebrity following, but her dedication to uplifting fellow women of colour has made waves internationally – particularly in her choice to prioritise other Asian women as the face of her brand on the world stage. Likewise, Kiri has chosen to give back to her community, in her case through her Kāhui Collective programme for emerging indigenous designers.

Working closely alongside Kiri in the designer education space is The Shelter’s founder Vicky Taylor, whose signature tailoring is both locally and globally renowned. With her brand celebrating 25 years this year, Vicky spoke of the work that has gone into building a longstanding brand over the years, and the stories of the women who have been part of that journey. She shared with us how it can be isolating building your own brand in a competitive industry, but celebrated her experience of camaraderie with many women who are there to share advice, feedback, and knowledge with one another.

Vicky’s story beautifully presented the key theme of unity that was woven throughout the night. Each of the panellists reflected on the conflicts and challenges of working in the industry, opening up about the struggle women in particular face in trying to juggle career success with taking care of themselves and their families. Throughout each discussion emerged the value each of these women place on community, and how they enact transformative, future-focused leadership by supporting and uplifting others within the industry.

With the vast majority of consumers and entry level workers in the fashion industry being women, it is perhaps surprising that designers and executives are still predominantly men. Through embracing diversity, sharing knowledge with their communities, and asserting the vitality of fashion, these women designers in Aotearoa New Zealand’s fashion industry are leading the way for equity and unity. The evening was a beautiful celebration of women in fashion, with the material carried home for one lucky Global Women member, Claire Amos, who won the evening competition and returned to claim her prize of a beautiful Taylor jacket.