two cups of tea with penny sage designer kate megaw
"I’m not really interested in being the next big thing," Kate admits — looking at the way things are going, Penny Sage might still end up that way.
You know how some dog owners look just like their dogs? Well, Kate Megaw is kinda like that, but instead of a puppy she's got a label called Penny Sage. Kate is her brand personified: thoughtful and meticulous, more the tortoise than the hare.
Penny Sage can boast some key Australian retailers as stockists — think Homecoming Intl, Pet Shop Girls and Shop Kinobi. A couple more spaces in North America picked up the label this year, and there are a handful of shops at home in Auckland that have been backing Penny Sage for some time now. Kate's studio is close to the centre of the city: It's a beautiful space she shares with a few other designers, with towering ceilings and concrete floors. She concedes it's an incredible space to work in.
When we arrive the new collection is hanging off two racks, and an Australian buyer is just heading out the door. Kate's wearing the Duse Coat from the collection prior to the one she's just shown at NZFW. Matt Nash, who shares the space and made the bags from the latest collection, soon comes through the door and begins cutting patterns. He teases Kate as we chat, 'cause she really isn't the grandiose design type. You know the ones: they talk about visions and expansion plans. If anything, Kate's shy — she spends time putting sentences together to make sure everything comes across as she intends. It's the same practice she brings to her clothes.
Penny Sage has a solid following in Australia, in Melbourne especially.
That's really nice to hear. It's great to know that it's resonating with people over there; I'm trying to build it slowly. I'm not really interested in being the next big thing.
What sort of career would you like to have?
In terms of designers that I've always admired, Dries Van Norton can do no wrong in my eyes. He always seems to be doing what he wants. It's beautiful.
Tell me about the beginnings of Penny Sage.
I officially launched my label at the end of 2011, and before that I was just making bits and pieces under Penny Sage. I was doing a lot of one-off knit pieces and a lot of hand painting and hand dying. I was still working for Miss Crabb at the time and I loved what she was doing: it made me want to make my own stuff as well. She was so encouraging, she would sell the things I made in her store. After that I was pattern-making at Karen Walker, which I loved because the head pattern maker there was the most amazing woman. She taught me everything. Nothing I did — internships, overseas study — could compare to my time working with her. I went full time with Penny in 2013.
Is it difficult to now work in seasons?
Because I started the label by making one-off pieces, collections were initially very difficult. I actually really love them now, because I like telling a different little story every time. Working piece-by-piece felt so endless. With the collections, you get to feel like you've completed something — then you can clean the slate and start all over again. I like that part of it. Plus, these day I get to design winter when it's actually winter, so I'll just think about my dream coat and whatever else I'm missing. I like that side of being seasonal.
What do you think of the move to begin showing in-season, it's something a lot of designers are looking towards right now.
I don't know; it does just feel like the fashion cycle keeps on speeding up. The more it speeds up, the more I want to slow down. Right now I do two collections a year, and that still feels huge for me. I couldn't imagine doing four a year! I just find it crazy now with the resorts and, what's it called? Pre-fall. I think that rather than adding those, I'd prefer to only do them. I would rather just do pre-fall and resort.
What about social media? Its importance really can't be overstated. Do you like being able to talk to you audience directly?
I'm torn. I'm quite shy and introverted naturally: I don't like posting things. At the same time, I think it's cool that you can reach out to people directly. With this range, I just released the images direct to Instagram, and that was it! Social media is a great storytelling tool. I think imagery is really important. That's what people see first, and that's how you tell your story. I'm really good at knowing what I want, and I've been very fortunate to have so many creative people around me to take wonderful pictures.
Who makes up the extended Penny Sage team?
It's more like an extended Penny Sage family. I have really generous and talented friends who help me in different areas. While making this collection I had friends giving up their time to do errands for me - dropping things off, picking things up. l always call on my friends Zelda Murray and Karamia Muller for styling look books and for any big and small design decisions I can't make. Zelda is a jeweller and created the amazing earrings and bracelets that featured in our show. I work with an amazing machinist who sews almost everything for Penny Sage from her garage in Sandringham, I just love her. and I have Yasmine — she helps with my online stuff; my PR and social media, I'm really bad at that!
It seems like you really value textiles and prints. In this collection, I especially love the volcano knit.
I'm very fabric and colour driven: that's so important to me. That print, it's quite a good story. Marta Buda is a print designer. She's based in Wellington, so before I started the collection I went and stayed with her a for couple of days so we could talk about what we were going to make. She's got a beautiful little daughter Anouk, who's six. She was just drawing these pictures and we thought, "Hey maybe Anouk could do a print for us?" She said quite matter-of-factly, "you can have this one." She gave us the volcano drawing. I'll have to make her a little baby knit with her own design on it.
Are you someone who is a big planner?
I'm so disorganised! It's terrible — I'm always trying to get a million things done. Maybe I was born like this though: I kind of think that some people just don't have it.
It seems like you've still managed to work it all out.
Well, I find it quite easy to put my head down and work because I love what I do, and I like a good deadline. I think everyone gets into fashion because they love it. I love making, it's so addictive. Lots of people end up giving it up, but then they always come back to it.
Photography James K Lowe