Image supplied by Miss Crabb
Kristine Crabb founded her fashion label Miss Crabb in 2004, with an emphasis on ethical and local production. Here, she talks to us about designs that limit waste as well as how the industry can be more considerate as a whole.
How do you encourage your customers to keep wearing their Miss Crabb pieces, rather than continuously buying new season?
I’ve never thought about actively encouraging that, because it’s a no-brainer for me, I guess. My friends, staff and I are always wearing our favourite pieces, which aren’t necessarily new season.
We re-cut about 80% of what we make, so that in itself encourages this idea of our products being classic pieces. We have a line called Neoclassica, which is a twice-yearly edit of all the favourite styles from the archive or contemporary. Many of our customers buy multiples of the same style!
Sometimes my friends and I go to events and people are wearing their Miss Crabb styles from 10 or more years ago. It’s a really satisfying feeling as I set out to make these clothes that people can basically wear forever, no matter if their body changes a bit. The piece itself will still look and feel contemporary.
What ethical and sustainable practises do you implement?
We work to create a supportive and inclusive work environment. Everybody we work with and employ is paid at least the living wage – this is so important and it is my goal for our team to be getting even better pay. It’s mostly women who work in this industry, so pay scale is even closer to my heart.
The kind of clothes we make, they are sustainable in themselves: very little of the fabric in the yield is cut away and discarded, most of the fabric in the yield is in the garment; the designs are very simple in production, with minimal trims and processes; they have a long sale life, and most of what we make we never discount; the pieces have fast and high resale value, and it is often the most popular brand on rental sites.
How are you striving to pay your team, who – as you say – are mostly women, more, and how do you think this can be encouraged on an industry-wide scale?
I think I’m pretty in-touch with all aspects of the business, so I understand the time and costs involved at every stage. We are pretty established now, so we are able to make products that people want and we can make money. This has always been one of my goals as well as making true, challenging and subversive work.
How were you first introduced to the idea of designing clothes with less waste?
It was a few things, actually. I made my first robe in 2004, with the aim of creating the most volume with the least amount of fabric. At this point, I was looking at other ways to create shape in the garment, rather than the usual cutting away techniques or darts or things like that. This led to the minimalist way our clothes are produced – there are hardly any seams, for example. We use devices like tilting, bias cuts, twists and knots, pleats and wrapping and tying to shape the garments.
I was pregnant in 2006, which led me to experiment with this idea even further. I wanted very beautiful garments and pieces that I could wear as my body grew, but also to wear the same garments as I nursed my babies and my body went back to normal. I feel like the aesthetic was very much earthy, classical and fluid, which has informed this new style of dressing for the last 10 years or so.
Why is it important to you to keep the production of Miss Crabb in New Zealand?
It’s an important part of the business and it makes sense to me. I personally know everyone we work with, and it’s so special and cool. We run a really efficient system and it’s more cost effective for us to make our special pieces here in NZ. It’s also really important for me to stay close to the quality – so making them in Auckland really helps too.
I’m not against making other products in other countries that specialise in beautiful craft, which NZ can’t produce. I find that really interesting. It means I can travel to places with my kids and discover more of the culture and meet like-minded people.
In terms of production, I generally hear that it's more cost-effective to have pieces made offshore. How have you managed to make it more cost effective to have Miss Crabb made locally?
We have had a lot of conversations about making overseas, so I researched with our core pieces to see how much it might cost to produce. Interestingly, they had trouble interpreting our patterns (as they are pretty unorthodox). The costs came back about 10-15% more expensive than our costs here.
What are the biggest hurdles that NZ-based brands face with local production?
It’s quite hard, as the industry is so small and there are some things that we can’t do here, because it’s cost prohibitive. I think that has always been the case though, but in different ways. Because we are so small and isolated it’s harder to get certain fabrics, trims, paper grades, so much stuff. We have to make do and be creative with what we have.
The biggest hurdle is having such a small market. There aren’t that many people that have the means or are interested in designer fashion, or even have knowledge of pricing or cost indexes. In bigger places like Los Angeles, a niche brand can flourish pretty easily, because there are the numbers to sustain it.
What improvements can you make to your business to make it more ethical or sustainable?
I think it’s about technology, in terms of the way clothes are made and textile technology, but also the way clothes are marketed and sold.
We have started to use more modern synthetic fabrics, which is a bit of a revolution for us. It’s much easier care and the garment will last even longer. Sustainable fabric technology is really exciting.
Images supplied by Miss Crabb