New Zealand

Can New Zealand-made cloth­ing em­body the spirit of the coun­try? A suc­cess­ful Christchurch fash­ion de­signer thinks so.

Element - - Fashion - By Re­becca Blithe

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.

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