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When I first moved to New Zealand, a trend emerged amongst our female friends. Initially, it was just an admiring observation and then, by its fourth appearance, a pattern was well and truly evident. It was a pants thing. A black pants thing; black pants that sported a casually sophisticated cut but, even better, had the added-in comfort of a wraparound waist. What a cinch of a combination; pure elegance, with the satisfaction of a sly belly-warming act.
They were Kilt pants.
New to the Kiwi fashion scene, I had a lot to catch up on. Whenever I admired a girlfriend’s pretty top, or queried where that jacket sprang from, or who were the designers responsible for that hoodie with the cute print – the answer would be the same. Kilt. It became an in-house joke; all roads might lead to Rome but all envy-worthy clothes seemed to lead directly back to Kilt.
So it was always going to be exciting getting a glimpse of the company’s behind-the-scenes world. The first thing you notice when you walk through the doors of their Napier-based design studio is the energy; the place exudes the buzz of a small party, with passion and enthusiasm and warmth all in equal portions. This isn’t just a label that’s identified a market and built a business purely on fiscal potential – it’s obvious it is very much a labour of love for all involved.
The company’s convivial culture is evident in the delight the girls take in their creations. It’s something Mel Williams Lamb, the owner and original think tank / creative behind the outfit, is particularly proud of. She says that the team is very much “a family”, so it’s no surprise that this open minded approach is reflected in the clothes themselves. Pieces range from the practical to the flirty, from the cute to the classic, always designed with “real New Zealand women” in mind. This is a place to come for items that will always look good – and pieces that you’ll still love in a year’s time.
Perhaps unique in the oft-fast turnaround of the fashion world, this approach to design and production is refreshing. Kilt’s close relationship with its customers is a continuously evolving collaboration that feeds closely into the company’s design process and outcomes. Weekly meetings between the design team to discuss this retail feedback play a pivotal role in identifying what’s working in store, what’s not, and where to go next.
Unlike most companies which work six – twelve months ahead, Mel and her team work in a much more organic structure. With new items constantly popping up in store, new ideas have room to be embraced there and then, sampled and tested accordingly. Fluidity such as this is rare, especially when the company has seven stores. However, proximity obviously makes a difference: production happens just around the corner. Handy, huh?
It’s clear that the girls love the hands-on nature of it all, where an early morning need for a sweet little jacket can eventuate in a tangible garment by, say, that afternoon. Fabric is often the source of inspiration when it comes to garment cut and purpose, not a means to an end. Keeping this in mind, the company is particularly excited about a new range of knitwear, all of which is merino and, quite importantly, made in New Zealand.
That’s the thing about Kilt: they practice what they preach. The recent New Zealand Made March started off as a conversation and rapidly took on a life of its own. As Amber, Kilt’s PR guru, says, the whole project evolved far beyond that initial chat over tea and cake, fuelled by the challenge of increasing an awareness of Kiwi brands. Customers jumped on board, keen – or curious – to see if they could avoid off-shore companies (and purchases) for a month. Difficult? Apparently not – and the girls are gearing up for another March next year, all in the name of promoting what’s good at home.
So while I never did manage to acquire a pair of those veritable black pants, I reckon there definitely is hope (not to mention wardrobe thievery).You see, a little bird has mentioned that there’s something just as good for leggy action on the way; something just as essential to maintaining the bottom (sic) line.
We’re talking jeans here. A new range of jeans, including special ones for tall people (yes, I’m one of those). Jeans. Kilts jeans. What more could you need?
For more info and locations of kilt boutiques in Palmerston North, Napier, Wellington, New Plymouth, Tauranga, Ponsonby and Nelson see their website www.kilt.co.nz
Words and photos by Willow Sharp
18 May 2012