The Penny Sage studio is one part of showroom, one part studio. The space hints at a heavy workload but the unkept work areas almost seem purposeful, beautifully strewn across the studio, as artful as the collection itself. Kate explains to Lisa on her recent visit to Auckland that each collection is made locally, within 18 miles of her studio, to be precise. The dedication to local production doesn't sacrifice on design. Take a peek inside the studio and mind of Kate Megaw from our visit this past New Zealand fashion week.
1. You create everything within 30km (18 miles) of your studio. How important is local production to your business, and what is the challenge you face with this focus?
Local production is central to Penny Sage as a label. The local makers and suppliers are my community; I love being able to interact with them face to face. Thanks to their knowledge and support I'm always learning more about my craft and they help to make my label better every season. There are definitely limitations and challenges in choosing to produce in a small country like New Zealand. The biggest challenge I face is access to limited resources but I have learned to embrace this hurdle and use it to my advantage.
2. Take us back to the beginning. Why did you create Penny Sage?
My mum used to make clothes for me, my sisters and our dolls which is where my love for clothing started. She taught me how to sew and the obsession continued to grow from there. Making clothes has always brought me joy and I knew I had to make it my profession.
3. Tell us about your studio space, neighbourhood, and home.
I live in Herne Bay in a sun filled little apartment with my partner Mike. It's a bit cluttered with plants, books and my not-so-small wardrobe. We have a tiny west-facing balcony where we hang out at the end of the day and watch the sun set. I work nearby in Arch Hill in an open plan, spacious studio alongside talented graphic designer –– Brogen Averill and my Penny Sage team. I'm very lucky to work in such a supportive studio space, constantly filled with creatives who inspire, challenge and encourage me.
4. Can you walk us through your path? What kind of stops were along the way to where you are now?
I started out making one-off knit pieces, hand-painted and hand-dyed garments before moving to full collections. I grew Penny Sage as a label very slowly, mostly as a creative outlet while working for other New Zealand fashion labels. I was very fortunate to work with talented and nurturing women who imparted their skills and wisdom to me. Most notably, the head pattern maker of a label I was working for here in Auckland taught me everything about pattern making, especially how to fix bad fitting sleeves!
5. What lead you to branch out independently and pioneer your brand?
I've always had a strong desire to create my own garments and do business in my own way. I wanted to create clothing for myself and my friends that held true to my ethical and aesthetic values. Naturally, most of my wardrobe is Penny Sage. 6. What's special about new design coming out of New Zealand? How has your community influenced your designs?
New Zealand has always had a special style community and unique point of view that is influenced by our isolation to the rest of the world. For Penny Sage, I often draw on New Zealand fashion history and nostalgia. I’m really lucky to work within a community of like-minded designers who inspire me, many of whom I collaborate with regularly like textile designer Marta Katarzyna Buda and jeweller Zelda Murray.
7. Starting a business and working for yourself is scary. Describe the first year of going independent.
In my first year of setting out as an independent designer I quit my day job and took on the lease of my current studio. These were two giant leaps of faith that I had to make to fully back myself and believe in my vision for Penny Sage as a label. Looking back, I think it was quite a brave move and I'm really happy I did it! It was a really exciting and scary year. Most of the Penny Sage makers have been graciously working with me since day one of setting out independently. They all took a really big chance on working with me, something I am forever grateful for.
8. Five places we should visit in Auckland?
1. Georgia Jay, Georgia has a beautiful space where she produces and sells her own bags along with an exciting selection of pieces by other local designers.
2. All the west coast beaches but specifically Anawhata is really special. It's a long windy road followed by a steep 20-minute walk to the beach. The not-so-easy journey means you end up on a very beautiful and often empty beach.
3. Gemmayze Street for delicious Lebanese food in a beautiful historic arcade.
4. Waiheke Island, the easiest way to feel like you're out of the city without having to drive anywhere; it's just a short ferry ride from the CBD.
5. Auckland Domain Wintergardens, it's really peaceful with ever-changing plant life.