jack hill is an nz designer owning diy

We speak to the bright young talent about building your brand (and your shop) from the ground up.

by Ellen Rule
28 August 2015, 2:55am

Jack Hill's Dunedin workroom is separated from his brand new retail store by a giant glass panel—as one of New Zealand's most exciting emerging designers, it's important to him that his clients see the work that goes into the clothes he makes. From sourcing his sewing machines from a local prison to casting his latest show on the streets of the city, Hill has installed himself into what is fast becoming a national hive of creative activity. We caught up with him in the shop to talk about building a brand by making the clothes you'd want to wear.

How's it been working in the new shop?
It's been good. It's a very, very big space, but it's just been perfect really.

So how did you approach the shop design, why did you choose to manufacture the fit-out yourself?
I guess I've always wanted to set up a shop and I used what I had around me mostly. The fit-out's inspired by the shop space itself because it's in Dunedin which has lots of old historical buildings. The building itself is also a little bit rough and old and I wanted to keep going with that in the retail area— that's why I've got cinderblock stands for all the racks and kept all the pipes exposed.

I heard you sourced your sewing machines from a prison that was closing down?
I guess most people have a hobby, some people like skateboards or collecting sneakers— my thing is buying really, really reasonably priced industrial sewing machines. Yeah I've got an automatic, heavy duty plain sew that I got from the Christchurch Women's Prison when that shut down, I've also got a dome press from there. My equipment is from all over the place. All the machinery is from New Zealand businesses which are shutting down because of offshore manufacturing. I've been refreshing Trade Me every week and buying whatever I think is a good price, you can get a lot of stuff quite cheap at the moment.

How did you come to be based in Dunedin?
After I finished my degree in Wellington, I worked in a denim workshop for a little bit as a machinist and when I'd had enough of that, I moved back home before I went to iD fashion week, and I was part of the emerging designer show there and that's where I started looking around the place thinking, 'this is actually a really pretty city,'— there's so many cool old buildings and then along with that it's also got very cheap rent for massive, cool looking spaces. Dunedin also has a really good local interest in fashion, there's lots of labels here that have been doing well for a while, so I saw it as good circumstances to move into.

You said there was a bit of a fashion community in Dunedin, do you plan on collaborating with local designers?
Not yet, but when I had my show on Friday, I cast most of the models just putting posters around and having street signs out and stuff, it was really cool, the amount of people that actually turned up for that. I think there's a lot of interest in actually doing stuff here compared to other places where maybe people wouldn't want to turn up to it. There seems to be a great deal of interest in getting involved in stuff with an open mind here.

Is it important to you that you base yourself out of New Zealand?
I guess that I like being based out of New Zealand because it's familiar to me. I'd like to retail at other places in the future, but it is important to me to have everything made in New Zealand, just so I can see what's happening and oversee everything, it's just because I'm here.

Your newest collection for Fall 2015, saw you branch out into womenswear, what motivated you to make that transition?
I guess that a great deal of my stuff is unisex. I had done menswear at uni because then I could wear all the samples, but then I wanted to do womenswear as well. Most of the collection is unisex, then there's stuff that would more likely be bought by a girl. I guess it was a natural thing, I knew that I wanted to do both eventually, but when you're at uni it's just easier to focus on one thing.

What inspired the latest collection, what else were you doing when you were working on it?
At the time I was in Christchurch. I'm sure everyone's bored of hearing about it but Christchurch had a big earthquake, so that was an awesome time to buy lots of sewing machines. I was also op-shopping lots. I wanted the collection to be a little more easy-going and op-shoppy: I guess the colours are inspired by that and it has more of a lighthearted look than what I've done previously. That's the influence of going around and buying all this stuff that other people were throwing out. With the womenswear, I just try it on my friends and my girlfriend and if I like it then I just go with it.

I noticed you used a lot of utilitarian fabric in the collection, a lot of denim and things like that...
Yeah definitely. I always seem to have an element of utilitarian fabrics and pockets and stuff and also an element of uniform in there as well - that's the sort of thing I encode in all my stuff. I don't know if I should be trying to digress from that more, but I think it will be something I'll continue to do.

Would you still wear clothes from your earlier collections?
Yeah there's definitely stuff that I still do wear because I spend more money making clothes than I do buying clothes. As much as I'd love to wear lots of the awesome stuff I see in magazines, I put all my money into buying fabric. In saying that—and I'm sure this is common for everyone that makes clothes—there's stuff that I would never, ever wear that I made at uni.


Text Ellen Rule
Photography Russell Kleyn

jack hill