Mina is the newest of an ever-increasing group of New Zealand fashion labels with sustainability at its core and a level of design and quality that is helping carve out a new reputation for New Zealand fashion.
INTERVIEW: ADAM BRYCE
PHOTOGRAPHY: LUKE FOLEY-MARTIN
Classic, considered and trans-seasonal collections bring with them a sense of strength in femininity. INDEX editor-in-chief, Adam Bryce, spoke to Natalie Procter about the philosophies behind the brand and the pending changes to her business.
Natalie, tell us about how Mina came about.
Mina launched off the back of a rather life-changing six-week seed-to-garment trip to India. Having spent a lot of time in South Africa growing up, it wasn’t, as such, the ‘poverty’ of India that shocked me, it was the intrigue I realised I had for people, the nosiness I had for the artisan more than I did their craft. I wanted to get to know these people, where they’ve come from and what their story is.
I want the brand to share these values, compassion for people and create a real community with the people behind our brand. Respect between people is so vital for any successful business.
The name Mina comes from Wilhemina (my South African grandmother’s name). It doesn’t pay tribute to her, as such, but more my time spent in South Africa as a child. Being witness to people living simpler lives but incredibly happy.
We live in a world where there is so much consumption with more and more being manufactured — how is Mina different?
We choose to tackle our consumption by taking a slower, more-considered approach. We create only two collections a year and those collections are designed to both transcend seasons and be lifelong pieces you cherish in your wardrobe. They are considered and each garment has purpose. If the collection only has two tops and eight pants, then so be it, we don’t force something to ‘create a range’.
We ‘make to order’ based on stockist demand, present a range to our retailers and, based on what they order, then create an indent order for our online store. Stock numbers are one of the hardest things to forecast, as you often cannot predict what your customers will gravitate towards each season.
Each season we don’t ‘reinvent the wheel’, we bring through styles that have been popular from a past season and evolve them, such as choosing a fabric that completely changes the look of the design. We listen to our customers and our retailers, styles that may have been tried on a lot but not sold through. We look at why that might be, how we can evolve the design or change the fabric so we can change the outcome.
Mina is dedicated to manufacturing in an ethical and sustainable way. New Zealand is becoming more globally known for its efforts in this area. How do you see this developing as your brand grows?
Mina works to a set of values that align with my personal values. One of those is local community and supporting people. This allows us to hold strong relationships with our supply chain, one that is personal and face to face. New Zealand production is so strong now but what’s to say more local brands won’t start to move their production offshore, when New Zealand production actually needs the demand for it to survive. Knowing the people and the factories where we produce our clothes will remain an unconditional value for the brand, so if our local production industry was to ever suffer we would work very hard to find a production house that we could nurture in line with our values.
Before Covid-19, we were in the midst of a very interesting time for New Zealand fashion. An emerging generation of brands excelling at a global level and a new signature look to what we produce here. Were you inspired by what you were seeing going on around you? Or is that not something you pay attention to?
Of course. Seeing some of those local brands, who have the audacity to go international so soon is inspiring, in a way. Mina is on a slightly different journey right now, where I’m developing my brand in the New Zealand market and building this foundation is important to our values. I’m a firm believer in mastering your craft and we are in a growth phase, particularly because of this ethos and, out of respect for this process, going international doesn’t align for us right now. We do, however, have international retailers which is a good testament to our future.
Speaking to the current position we’re facing now in lockdown, I saw a great quote from hospitality podcast Sick Leave that said “small businesses can pivot easier by their very nature. Its harder to three-point-turn a super tanker but you can 360º a jetski.”
How do you see the world changing post-Covid-19 and it affecting your business? What are the positives that can come from this?
There is a part of me scared it won’t change it at all and society will go back to its harmful ways. But then the optimistic side of me thinks a sense of community, kindness and respect will hopefully come from this experience. Our ‘buy less, buy well’ approach to our business model will be important, now more than ever.
Positives that are going to come out of Covid-19 is ‘locals supporting locals’. There is talk of our borders staying shut for a while and this will mean there is the potential for us to really strengthen our local economy and, within fashion specifically, brands may consider moving their production onshore.
We will hopefully see a strong return to face-to-face relationships with people. Communication and support and an appreciation and keenness for the story behind a product whether it be food, skincare or fashion.
Do you believe that ethical and sustainable production will become even more integral moving into a new world? Or will the economy make that something very difficult for the consumer to validate?
There will always be a temptation for fast fashion, as trends and our desire for ‘newness’ demand for it. It’s also in our nature to search for a cheaper price. For the small minority of consumers who can afford to support the New Zealand fashion industry, it’s so integral that we can educate and share our values to unite and support our own economy and the people that sustain it. If we can change our mindset to appreciate well-made, elegantly timeless staples, my hope is that people will become more diligent with their money and make more-considered purchase decisions.
We all know ethical fashion is important but it can be hard for a consumer to envisage how it affects them on the day to day. What are your thoughts for enlightening those people?
Change is driven by each individual and I hope that, by sharing the story behind our garments, we have played our part in educating that change. Sometimes you need to be directly affected and Covid-19 has provided New Zealand with a nostalgic reminder of what a Kiwi lifestyle used to entail, the very things that make us unique as a nation.
What is your design ethos and what are you inspired by?
At its core, we design around the notion of ‘a desire for less’. We are considered and purposeful with what we bring into this industry. Each piece and collection we look to be trans-seasonal, to transcend trends and to really last, not just a season but a lifetime. Each piece we drive to be ageless, not for a certain age bracket but a girl/woman who yearns quality, ease and effortless tailoring. We are inspired by fabrics — there is so much beauty in pure natural fabrics, why manipulate them and make things complicated.
Tell us about the new community element of your marketing. And why is this such an important story to tell?
We hold so much value and respect for our brand, and each and every product, because we know just how much work has been put in behind the scenes. We want our customers to share that same respect and value for our brand, and any other brand, so it’s important to share that story for a piece of clothing.
We also feature people in local business who align with our values, whether they are on the same street as us or live a town away. We believe a sense of community is pivotal to a healthy, fulfilled life and we think that goes for business too. We love working alongside talented people and like to share the love with those who share our values and their audiences. Supporting one another is what community is all about, it’s a win win.
There is a lot of talk about direct-to-consumer brands being a model that may save fashion. Do you think it’s a model that could work from New Zealand? Or specifically for Mina?
I definitely do, and I would love to have a direct-to-consumer business model for Mina but it’s not that simple. There are pros and cons to a direct-to-consumer model as opposed to a wholesale business model. Direct to consumer gives you absolute full control, of your business, of your relationships with your customers, how you want to present your brand, full control of when you launch your collections in the season and, of course, full control of your profit margin. This is a big one. However, for a young brand like myself, I don’t have the upfront capital to open a bricks and mortar store, so Mina would run as an online store. With this, comes a barrier as customers don’t have an avenue to try before they buy so this can deter a customer base who doesn’t buy online. By wholesaling, so that your brand sits within retails stores throughout New Zealand and internationally, essentially helps to both grow your brand awareness and build up your customer base. You have the opportunity to pick up a customer who may have gone into that store to buy a different brand and walked out with Mina. I sense the retail industry may look different coming out of lockdown so it will be interesting to what happens in this space.
What has working in lockdown been like? Describe a normal day for you working from home.
The first few weeks felt like sink or swim for me, to be honest. There has been an overwhelming feeling of pressure to do everything to keep your brand from going quiet and it has felt like a lot for a young brand like myself. The timing was rough for us, as the day lockdown was announced we also launched our new collection. There is so much hard work and late nights during the lead up to a launch but afterwards the positive response and love from customers makes it all worth it. With the country going into lockdown the timing felt so inappropriate and the excitement you have for the range is silenced.
I’m spending isolation up in the Coromandel with my partner. We came here the weekend before lockdown as I was launching my new collection so wanted to get away from city life/K Road distractions. Not knowing we were about to go into Level 4, we made the decision to spend isolation here instead of driving back. We’re so lucky to have the beach at our doorstep so we’ve really been making the most of our early morning and evening walks on the beach. After some bursts of fresh air and peaceful walks on the beach, I was able to put myself in a positive headspace and now, each day has been a luxury to be able to work on the business and bigger picture ideas. We’ve also spent this time embracing our brand values. We’re working with a marketing collaborative at the moment which has helped guide and support me for when we return back to some normality.
I spend a large portion of my day on Zoom calls, with the rest of my day being filled by working on our ‘every piece has a story’ feature along with a few other projects. I’m also navigating our next season and beginning to think about what that collection might look like and how Covid-19 may affect our approach to designing.
What are you looking forward to the most, post lockdown?
The simple things, really. Seeing my family and my friends, not through a laptop screen. Walking to a local cafe for Sunday brunch. I’m really looking forward to getting back to my showroom and office on K Road and getting back into a creative collaborative environment. I’m looking forward to my first barista coffee from our downstairs friends Josh and Albert at Daily Daily. I also can’t wait to send our online orders out that some of our most supportive customers purchased almost four weeks ago.