Tell us about family background – geography, culture, language, and religion.
I grew up on picturesque and pristine sheep farming high country on the edge of the southern Alps in the South Island of New Zealand. Until relatively recently New Zealand was primarily bicultural, with our First Nation people the Maori having arrived here first, then came settlers from United Kingdom. My forbears arrived from UK in two of the first four ships of European settlers to arrive in New Zealand. I spoke English as did everyone around me, only recently have I been learning some Maori language.
What is your personal story – education, prior work, and so on?
I initially went to the local one room country school, reached by quite a long walk then a school bus trip, then at eight years old I was sent to boarding school in Christchurch, a city 100K away. As a child I had an idyllic life in the high country, swimming in crystal clear rivers; with a clear blue sky and surrounded by nature. I graduated as a registered nurse then went to work in cardiology until my first child was born.
How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?
I had started my business soon after our second child was born, and was exporting to other countries very soon after. As I travelled around the world selling our knitwear visiting each country and area once a year I was watching I could see the environmental degradation going on, and I became really concerned about the trajectory the planet was on. I was also concerned at what our industry was doing to the planet, in particular cotton growing.
How did your educational/professional experience inform fashion work?
Very little! I was selling dressed soft toys at the age of 12; and I designed and made all my own clothes but from there is has all been learning as I go. I started in business there were very few women in business here, and women were not well regarded as a good business risk. It was a little bit tough to overcome these issues.
What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?
It is tougher to run a sustainable business and was much tougher back in the late 90’s and even the 00’s, but it is absolutely essential that sustainable and ethical fashion designers and businesses have pioneered a way for others to follow, as business is now the most powerful vehicle for change in the world, where once before it was government or religion.
What is the importance of fair trade?
Exploitation of workers is incredibly short sighted on every level.
What is Untouched World?
Untouched World is a casual luxury lifestyle brand based on a foundation of sustainability. The core of our collections is based around natural fibre knitwear, which we produce ourselves here in New Zealand, and our aesthetic is less is more, minimal.
What inspired the title of the organization?
Untouched World started out as a certified organic undyed mid micron wool collection of knitwear way back in 1996. The name spoke to us of what we would like to make a contribution to achieve for the world.
What are some of its feature products?
We are known for our knitwear in luxury fibres that stand the test of time, fibres that deliver the garments that have longevity, with lightness and high performance characteristics, we have some innovative yarns and use a lot of fine beautifully high quality New Zealand merino grown with minimal intervention in the Southern Alps.
What are the main fibres and fabrics used in the products?
We use mostly New Zealand merino and possum fibre, along with some organic cotton. We are constantly looking into new sustainable fibres.
Who grows, harvests, designs, and manufactures the products of Untouched World?
The merino wool and possum, raw materials are grown in New Zealand, designed in New Zealand, knitted by us here in New Zealand. Possum fibre is a recovered fibre which would otherwise waste, possums are an ecological threat to New Zealand and there are government eradication programmes to reduce numbers. Possums were introduced from Australia and populations have exploded. We spent several years developing a blend of possum and merino which is truly sensational.
For our organic cotton Project U garments, we make them from certified organic cotton grown in India, and made by women in India who are being given a trade to get them out of sexual slavery, they are paid well, above the living wage; their children are offered education and there are development programmes for the women.
Will the fibres and fabrics for the products from the company biodegrade?
We do a full lifecycle analysis on all our products and the bulk of our products will biodegrade, and if they don’t they will recycle.
What is your customer base – the demographics?
We sell from 18 years all the way up, but 35 to 50 is our core age group of customers. Our customer base is about an attitude to life and the world, rather than an age demographic. Our customers are generally busy people, travel a lot, are globally aware, and want clothes that multitask I style right across the day, and with ease across climates.
What topics most interest you?
I love art and design, outside of this my number one interest is water.
Untouched world funds a Charitable Trust which concepts and delivers leadership for a sustainable future programmes for young adults. Two of our four programmes are called Waterwise. We are a founding member of the UNESCO GAP programme and on their website as one of three global exemplars in ESD.
Have you mentored others?
Yes, constantly mentoring both in fashion and sustainability
Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?
Phew this is a thesis!