Can New Zealand-made clothing embody the spirit of the country? A successful Christchurch fashion designer thinks so.
It began with a pair of red shoes. They came wrapped in a brown paper package and when a six-year-old Peri Drysdale’s mother lifted them up to inspect the sole, she read aloud three words that would resonate with her aughter decades to come: “Made in England”.
“She said that meant they were good quality,” says Drysdale, now the mastermind at the helm of a company for whom quality and sustainability are crucial threads, as interwoven in the business as the garments themselves.
Untouched World’s collection of organic fashion and sportswear began back in the early 80s with the Christchurch local’s desire to manufacture New Zealand-made products and send them out to the world.
“Even back then I just knew there was something there for New Zealand,” says Drysdale of the potential she saw in raw materials being shipped off overseas. “I know it sounds a bit unusual for a 20-something-year-old but, when you’re that age, you think you can change the world.”
Well before sustainability found its way to the top of her business agenda, Drysdale was adamant she wanted to work the concept into her label, which has pioneered luxury knitwear manfacturing in New Zealand.
“I hadn’t even heard the word ‘sustainability’ in business. For me it was just intuitive. It wasn’t just about making the clothing, it was about the New Zealand brand.”
Three decades on, Untouched World has become the first fashion company to be recognised for sustainability by the United Nations and has found its customers, including former US president Bill Clinton, in those who appreciate garments that stand the test of time.
“Our customer is very style conscious. They want to look good all the time. They want garments that perform and can come out of a suitcase and steam while you’re in the shower.”
With 95 per cent of production conducted on home soil, Drysdale says she is seeing an increasing desire for New Zealand-made clothing, coupled with a rise in the refusal to buy Chinese-made goods.
“It’s grown over the last 24 months. We’ve got retailers saying, ‘Don’t show us any of your garments made in China or India.’ It’s not about the quality. It’s about the brand. People talk about a kind of spirit that attaches itself to a garment. They say it’s not there in clothing made in China.”
The company’s latest venture into cycle wear has brought further accolades with an International Forum Design award at Eurobike 2010 for the men’s and women’s merino-based ranges.
“One of our designers took up cycling and said, ‘We can do so much better.’ Cyclists are very fashion conscious. Our angle is that cycling’s the new golf. If we could get half or two thirds of children riding to school – it’s so good for your health,” says Drysdale, whose consideration for future generations is indicated in the company’s Charitable Trust, established to foster young adults to develop their individual potential and lead the way in creating sustainable futures. “It’s just amazing to know the garments customers are buying are in turn creating opportunities for these young people. It just makes it worth getting out of bed in the mornings.”
The recipient of an MBE for her services to manufacturing and exporting, and 2006 New Zealander of the Year, Drysdale is a demure character when asked about her company’s success and plans. “To be honest, we just get on with what we do. We’re just working really hard, we’re very excited and very positive.”
Top: Peri Drysdale . Left and below: the new Untouched World range.