Wendy Ganley: 1960’s Fashion Designer

The story of a 21 year old Hamiltonian, opening her own fashion boutique on Victoria street, caught my attention.  That it happened back in the 1960’s, fascinated me even more for the vision, gumption, passion and dedication it would have taken to succeed.  It was a privilege to hear Wendy Hall nee Ganley of Elle boutique talk about her early career during an event at the Waikato Museum / Te Whare Taonga o Waikato on Sunday.  The exhibition showcasing her work, “Elle & the Youthquake” was curated with the New Zealand Fashion Museum and runs until the 14th of October.

Take a sneak peek here…

A visit to the exhibition will take some of you back in time… and for the retro-curious like me, have you swooning over the display of 1960’s clothing we spend hours scouring op-shops for today.  I’ve got a little collection of dresses in the mod style which I’ve collected over the years – it’s difficult to find them in my size, but I find the shape flattering and the colour and patterns fun.

Sunday’s conversation was facilitated by Doris de Pont, a fellow designer and Director of the New Zealand Fashion Museum in front of over 40 people.

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Wendy started out by making clothes for dolls, herself and friends.  After finishing school she contemplated what might be next; and while peers may have followed a path in nursing or teaching she decided to follow her love of design, textiles and colour.  The decision was fortunate for Hamilton, which could have been forgotten as a trend setter for fashion in those days.  Because trend setter she was!  Hems were getting higher, she was cutting holes out of the midriff, using crochet loops to make her version of a fur coat and combining colours not previous paired.

She shared her love of colour, showing off the bright orange lining on the inside of her cream wedding suit – which is in the exhibition (bottom left of the photo above).  Orange has been her favourite colour though points out it doesn’t look as good on her as it used to… I’m not sure if I believe this, I get the sense when looking at her that she would still get away with it – as stylish as she has remained.

Society was changing in the 1960’s.  Youth were no longer restricted by pre-war conservatism and more women were in the workforce, giving many of us discretionary income for the first time.   In fact, one member of the audience and one of Wendy’s first customers, an ex-nurse, recalls spending “all her pay” in Elle boutique, while other’s nodded in familiarity at lay-buying their latest desires. Many of these items still hang in their wardrobes.

Another theme, coming from stories of Wendy’s early career was the industry support given to her by fellow designers and given to others in return.  Wendy learnt couture from Babs Radon in Auckland, and mentored Marilyn Sainty in return here in Hamilton.  It was through working with Barbara Penberthy of Babs Radon that she was able to see how balancing motherhood and a career could work; through setting up a space for ‘the babies’ in her Frankton workshop.

Wendy was able to share her original sample books with the audience, which showed the textile swatches she had to choose from – and the designs and combinations used to make her clothing and accessories.  I was really surprised each item was a one off – she explained there wasn’t the same awareness of economies of scale; customers wouldn’t want to be seen at the races in the same outfit as someone else and besides, it wouldn’t have been fun mass producing them that way anyway!

Before trade was opened up in the 1980’s New Zealand wasn’t inundated by cheap imported clothing; or “fast fashion” as we are now.  Buyers consumed fashion under the kaupapa of “Buy once, Buy well”.  Quality over Quantity.  These garments were often one of a kind, hand made and of high quality, particularly with New Zealand wool a common textile to use.   Collectors like myself can attest to this enduring quality – with it not being uncommon to find an immaculate 1960s dress or suit in an opshop (they obviously knew how to follow “care instructions” unlike me).

Inevitably it got me thinking about how different things are now, and most notably in comparison to fast fashion.  Will there ever be a resurgence of NZ made clothing? Will we look back some time in the future and pin point the time when we started to “Buy once, Buy well” rather than base a decision on low cost and quantity.  Will we look back in 50 years and know who our local designers were?

We are not paying “The True Cost” #fashionrevolution

The Waikato Museum / Te Whare Taonga o Waikato has booklets about the exhibition available in their shop for $15.

 

 

 

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The Definition of ME!

Last week I attended “The Definition of ME”, a panel organised as part of the Toi Wahine festival.  It prompted me to think more about how we define ourselves, how we look and compare ourselves to others and how to live a life with more authenticity.

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Panelists on The Definition of ME! Toi Wahine festival. Aug 2nd 2018

Social media feeds us a curated view of other women’s lives through a beauty filter.  Literally.  With that in mind, should those living fun and interesting, “successful” lives shy away from sharing it?  No.  Should they feel compelled to throw in #nomakeup selfies as a way to look ‘more real?’.  Well, only if they want to.  The important message that I want for you to remember is that a curated feed is just that.  It is a snapshot of the moments someone chooses to share with us.  It doesn’t tell a full story.  It doesn’t share day to day monotony nor the high dramas.  I mean, when was the last time someone posted a photo of themselves doing the laundry or vacuuming? Their feed will also be missing moments of pain, frustration and the breaking points we then use to build resilience from.

We scroll through our feeds and watch other women tick boxes for marriage, 2.5 kids, a career, community involvement, a mortgage … (while also being rich, skinny, pretty and talented).  We might feel envy, resentment and then resignation to always be two steps behind success.  But, are we comparing ourselves to a mirage?  How many of the women who we think “have their shit together” would also say that of themselves?  I’m going to hazard a guess and say “very few”. So, why do we put these unrealistic expectations of life on ourselves?  Why do we let ourselves be defined by rules of a game that we had no input into?

Panelists at “The Definition of ME” were asked defining moments in their lives.  Their stories aren’t mine to tell, but you could see a pattern of not so much as moments but events or decisions that changed the path they were on.  Some are chance encounters, some due to forces outside of their control; whatever they are it should act as a reminder that any life can change, better or worse at any point in time.  The other overarching theme is the internal-battle that exists throughout; which may cause times of avoidance, breakdown, panic, substance abuse, reliance on others and eventually resilience to fight another day.  These are the stories that colour our pages and should be embraced.  All panelists shared their experience of “a peppering of mental health issues”.  But, we don’t always see these battles in the social media feed.  It’s unlikely they, their friends or family would post a photo of them curled up crying in frustration or in the midst of a crisis.

In the reminder that social media is a curated view, and that ticking off all the boxes in the right order and at the right time, is a dangerous framework with which to view and compare your life, how do you want to be defined or known?  What is your story?

The seed to begin your personal journey into a life authentic to you or to be “your best self” could start with pondering three things today.

  1. What are your passions? – where does the fire burn in your belly;
  2. Your skills? – believe it or not everyone is good at something;
  3. Your contribution? – how can you help leave the world better than you found it?

It might, by default include ticking all of the ‘expected’ boxes.  It may not.  Identifying your passions, your skills, your contribution and living life accordingly is authenticity.  Instead of envy, resentment, sadness or resignation at not being “that women” with the fabulous life on social media; cheer them on and cheer yourself on.

Can you identify your passions?  Your skills?  and Your contribution?  No?  Surround yourself with women doing great things and they will help you find yours. Strong women lift each other up.

There was a song that kept repeating in my head while writing this, so I thought I’d share it – You are welcome 🙂

The next post I’m writing is on the use of alcohol to deal with social situations…  for now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post.

 

 

Waikato 125 – the women who shine

Podcast available for Episode 89 (22 June 2018).

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Angela O’Leary (Hamilton West City Councillor) joins us in this episode to talk about an exciting project she’s driving called Waikato 125.  The project is calling for nominations of great Waikato women (past or present) who embody strength, vision and honour.  They will then be commemorated at a Suffrage 125 event in September.   We also discuss the lack of  Women in Politics – and what we can do to tip the balance for the 2019 elections.

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Later in the episode I go on a bit of a plastic bag rant – after discovering plastic bags replacing plastic bags at Countdown…  sigh.

Continuing on with the wahine theme… Music on this show is from Auckland emo-pop band Openside; Coral (who is off to represent the Waikato in Hollywood next week!) and Tami Neilson and The Miltones (in town on August 1st).

 

 

Don’t spread your bad luck over here.

Is misfortune contagious?  If I distance myself far enough from those who experience bad luck; whether it be the loss of a loved one, redundancy or illness will I be able to continue with my privileged life and tell myself they are to blame for their circumstances?  Because it is their fault, isn’t it?  They chose to live like this, they clearly couldn’t afford to have children and their unemployment is a result of bad choices.  If I try understand the circumstances the vulnerable are in, if I attempt to help them, and if I see them as people – just like me – what will happen?  Will the gap between my life of privilege and their existence narrow?  There are two types of people in the world – those who see the bundle of blankets in a door way, recoil in disgust, judge and then think nothing of it until they next have to walk past; and those who see the people.

Which one are you?  I’m going to admit, I think I’m more of the first.  I don’t understand, and what I don’t understand – I don’t like much.  I’m certainly not alone.  Take the “Your help, may harm” campaign, rolled out in Hamilton last year.  “Your help, may harm”.  Look at that.  You are great, privileged and generous – now distance yourself.  Now, you don’t even have to fumble around in your pocket pretending to look for $2 – you can walk past – with a cursory nod to the poster on the dairy wall and go buy that takeaway coffee.  I can distance myself further.  Great.

It’s not just dirty old men in sleeping bags I’m avoiding.  What if, I found myself single, unemployed (because who can afford childcare anyway) and on a <shock horror> benefit?  I’d be smoking at the kitchen table while watching Jeremy Kyle in no time.  I don’t want to be like that.  I don’t want society to judge me.  There are two types of people in the world when it comes to the fallout surrounding Green party co-leader Meteria Turei’s admission last week.  The one who thought – “OMG benefit fraud – she has no morals – she has to go!” and the one who thought – “I’m glad she chose to use this example to make welfare an election issue”.  Shouldn’t it always be one? I admit I am judgmental at times – but I’m in the second camp here, I wholeheartedly support what she did.  How can we judge a parent for wanting to make sure their kid is fed?  How can we act so shocked and disgusted when let’s be honest, it’s impossible to navigate our social welfare systems and no-one on a benefit is raking it in.  It barely covers the cost of living.  But, I understand… fraud is ripping off the tax payer – people like you and me who pay taxes.  I would never do that.

Don’t have children if you can’t afford them they say?  Jesus, I’d love to know how many of us actually planned to have kids.  Were you in a long term relationship? – did you save and plan for that kid?  I’m glad your child wasn’t born with an illness or disability, I’m glad you didn’t lose your income during that time.  Lucky our circumstances stayed the same eh?

Redundancy hurts.  Well, not for me personally – but I’ve heard it does.  I’m skilled, educated and have mediocre social skills – I’ll never have a problem getting a job.  Will I?

I have a choice now.  I can continue just “being lucky” until my time is up – and then become “one of them”… that pile in a doorway – that mother who has to lie to WINZ to survive, or that person who has to apply for 100 jobs before being successful.  I can plan on being lucky – or I can share luck, build resilience and demand better social services for the vulnerable.  I can discard the judgment, use my luck and privilege; and help in any way I can.

There are community organisations picking up where our central government misses the mark.  We can help them.  We can volunteer our time, skills or money to help improve our communities.  We can give as little or much as we like.  Everyone has something to share.  Find yours.  Get involved.  Don’t turn a blind eye.  Luck isn’t finite. While politics seems irrelevant – there’s no denying central government has the ability to respond to community momentum too.  They represent us.  The government does what we want – or it goes… that’s how it works.  Encourage the young, and poor to vote – if you know any.  And if you are privileged, if you’ve had luck – consider sharing it.   Vote for the greater good this year.  Vote for a fair and equal society.  There is no science backing the idea that misfortune spreads.

 

Bustle, a nest of ethical fashion

Bustle Hamilton
Visit Bustle for beautiful, ethical and quality clothing.

Bustle caters for women who love fashion with a conscience.  Susie’s carefully curated collections are a mix of new and recycled designer fashion.

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She also stocks NZ label Widdess who are known for simple styles with natural textiles.  No need for me to tell you that that makes it socially and environmentally ethical.

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The clothing is beautifully complemented by Hydrangea Ranger, another small New Zealand business who handcrafts whimsical gifts and accessories.

Hydrangea Ranger: Lotus hands incense or flower holder
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Acorn necklaces… aren’t these gorgeous?

In these times of fast fashion, it’s refreshing to find a business which does the opposite with small quantities of high quality fashion. To read more about ethical fashion.

Bustle is open from 10-4pm Thursday and Friday and 10-3pm Saturday.  Make sure you give the page a like for updates and follow @bustle_river_road on Instagram.  

Am I a feminist?

This Wednesday, the 8th of March is International Women’s Day with the theme #beboldforchange.  This got me thinking… “am I a feminist”?  When the New Zealand media recently reported that Bill English didn’t know if he was a one; and that Paula Bennet was a feminist “on most days” – I saw the media’s contempt for their uncertainty and lack-lustre affirmation as a challenge for me to decide where I drew my line of lipstick on the mirror.

I know that I am one of the privileged ones; because I haven’t experienced blatant sexism – or felt disadvantaged because of my sex.  I’d always thought of a feminist as someone with hairy arm pits, brandishing a loud speaker and protest signs about how much they hate men.  But is that even a fair representation of what a feminist is?

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I decided to go back to basics and googled it.  The definition of Feminism is “someone who advocates for  social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men”.  Well that all sounds rather reasonable to me – and I think it would be difficult to find a female who didn’t think those rights should automatically be extended… But there is one word that stands out there… “advocates”; and something else that becomes apparent… if it is so reasonable why are women reluctant to call themselves a feminist?

Let’s start with “advocate”.  An advocate is a verb… so subconsciously wanting and expecting to see equal rights fall into your lap isn’t the same as taking steps to ensure that women achieve those rights by influencing social, political, legal or economic outcomes.  The difference is action.

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Do you do anything to improve the rights of women? We know sign waving, passionate speeches and petitions and forums to those in positions of power are overt actions. Blogging, signing online petitions and sharing “Beyonce style motivational “girl power” posts” on social media are passive but still actions which many of us do.  In fact – I’d argue that the act of supporting women – just because they are women is feminism.  Women and men supporting women in business, in politics, in mother’s groups… against women’s violence, for pay equity are all expressions of feminism.

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So why the reluctance to call ourselves feminists?  Is it the stereotype scaring us away from claiming the “feminist” title? or is it that we don’t think we do enough to earn it?  What is enough to earn it?

This year the theme for International Women’s Day is #beboldforchange.  Will you be bold?