PORTRAIT Nº 01: Harris Tapper
Photographed & Interviewed by Adam Bryce
Tell us what you do and why you do it.
Our intention has always been to build a business centred around career women in the modern sense of the word. Modern women’s personal and professional lives are fluid, they require their wardrobes to seamlessly work into their lifestyles. We believe in women having opportunities in the workplace and want to design an offering of pieces for generations of women; unwavering, forward-thinking and ambitious in celebration of their femininity.
Tell us about the creation of Harris Tapper and the original concept.
We set out making beautifully cut, high-quality shirting. Since then, we have expanded into full collections, we’re now simply an expansion of that first idea. We’re never going to be overly trend driven, we are committed to designing timeless wardrobes for women that want pieces to work with their lifestyles.
What are your thoughts on sustainability, ethical fashion and the current concerns around the fashion schedule and discounting?
It’s such a big topic and there are so many questions around sustainability in the fashion industry. Our intention has always been to make pieces that sustain a long time in a woman’s wardrobe and a big part of our collection is made from end-of-line fabrics that would otherwise end up in landfill. That said, the entire industry is built on the idea of consumerism and newness so the whole concept of sustainability in this industry is very murky.
We started Harris Tapper with monthly drops of product, instead of seasonal collections. However, it is almost impossible to work in with the wholesale arm of the global fashion business if you’re not working to seasons, as the whole structure of the industry is based around trade market weeks to sell collections.
Cracks in this process appeared years ago, and with the rise of social media, these have become mass-marketing events instead of direct to industry sales viewings, which has, in turn, created a cycle of ‘fashion fatigue’ in the eyes of the customer. The recent open letter to the fashion industry, helmed by Dries Van Noten on overhauling the fashion system, is great and long overdue. The new calendar proposed does make sense — but it does leave room to wonder when everything is planned so meticulously and sales dates are only allowed to be at specific times, the opportunity to be reactive and do what’s best for your own business at the time is limited. Who has the right to decide sale dates? Do brands and stores not have the right to be reactive or push products that aren’t selling when they need to? The concerns are warranted but who decides what is right for everyone? Lots of questions and we don’t have all the answers.
What inspires the Harris Tapper aesthetic?
The women who wear our clothes and the structure of their lifestyles inspire our aesthetic. They are intelligent, pragmatic, thoughtful and sophisticated. With a sense of ease.
How does fast fashion affect your business?
It’s a very different customer to ours but there’s always going to be a flow-on effect from big retail giants that take such a big market share.
What are your thoughts on the formation of a New Zealand fashion council? And how do you see the future of New Zealand fashion withstanding the current economic issues?
As New Zealand fashion has grown, and with it the number of designers running (and manufacturing) labels here, there is definitely a need for an authoritative, mediating body to sit at the helm of the industry. A New Zealand Fashion Council would drive New Zealand fashion forward, take it to the world in a sustainable, smart way and would hopefully provide designers with a resource of wisdom, guidance and support — particularly important if we’re to emerge from Covid-19 in a strong position. New Zealand labels are already of an international standard, it makes sense, for the future of fashion here, that the local industry started structuring itself like its overseas counterparts.
What are your future goals for the brand and how do you see these being accomplished?
We believe in a long-term sustainable business model and want to find a balance between environmentally friendly practices and sustainable business growth. We also want to reach a place where we are in a position to work alongside organisations who help women to become financially independent and provide for their families. With the platform we have grown, we want to utilise that to the advantage of women — especially the ones within our community who don’t have the necessary resources to put their best foot forward and have a fair chance.
Your newly-released collection, Prelude, is inspired by mid-century design and artists of that era, such as Agnes Martin. Why are you inspired by this period of history and how did you interpret it into your designs?
Design is a dialogue of what’s happening in the world at the time it was produced. Mid-century design emerged right on the cusp of massive societal change in the 50s and 60s, and we find it interesting to see how designers and artists interpreted these times into their products and work.
Agnes Martin’s work (aside from the fact that we just really like it) is particularly interesting because of the way it changes with every way you view it. From several feet away the pieces often look blank and hazy, but move closer and they slide in and out of focus, tricking the eye. Even closer and tiny, intricate details are revealed and the surfaces boast evenly-spaced, hand-drawn lines.
Her work is both rigid and relaxed and is anything but simple. So, with this collection, we wanted to convey that same sense of expressive detail in every piece. Detail that’s intriguing up close and just as captivating when seen from far away. These pieces are purpose-driven and tailored, but are also optimistic and aesthetically fluid.