Ethical judgments for NZ fashion brand

By Zoe Walker

Ethics play an important part in the fashion decisions of We'ar manager Anya Merrifield.

Anya Merrifield at We'Ar. Photo / Babiche Martens
Anya Merrifield at We'Ar. Photo / Babiche Martens

Anya Merrifield has a refreshingly open approach to fashion, combining intellectual leanings (she has an honours degree in political science and gender studies) and upbringing (the daughter of two "self-proclaimed hippie environmentalists") to shape her unique attitude. Merrifield is the general manager at ethical clothing label We'Ar, working alongside founder Jyoti Morningstar for the past two years. "Everyone who works here is really invested heart and soul into the business; we all practise yoga, we all have environmental leanings and we all think we can build better futures through design," she explains. "It's really heart-warming to be involved in a business that works that way, especially in an industry which can, at its core, be quite shallow. It is awesome to be involved in a business that is locally owned and independent. In a world of mass production it feels pretty good to be the little guy."

My earliest fashion memory ... Sitting on the dining room floor watching my mum make my sister's intermediate social dress on her pea green second-hand ex-army sewing machine.

It was like a little show, all that chalking, cutting and trimming and then the whirl of bobbins and thread and the clang of old-fashioned sewing machine engine. As a child all of our "special" clothing was made at home, and my mother being a machinist and pattern maker was adept at it. But I hadn't seen anything so luxurious being made before, and all that tulle and satin stuck with me. And while seeing my sister transformed into a princess was pretty magical, the best bit was me and my mum designing mini-outfits for my dolls out of the left over fabric bits - I had the best-dressed Barbies in town.

I love the transformative effect that fashion has. That ability to create a new identity, new emotion, new mood, a new way of being perceived - kind of like a performance but with the joy of it being everyday. I love that I can wake up feeling absolutely awful, sad and tired, throw on a bright blue chiffon dress, a scarf I treasure, some red lipstick and a pair of killer heels, and almost trick myself into feeling that everything is amazing, bright and saucy.

The designer that I respect the most is ... Internationally, Viktor and Rolf. I really respect that they create conceptual, insane, theatrical collections but every piece is beautiful, and so much of it is, despite its theatrics, wearable. What they are doing is always interesting and I like the fact they continue to do what they do, even when it makes people tilt their head to one side in confusion. Locally I really respect We'ar's own designer Jyoti, for creating a range of clothing that makes you feel loved and happy while making you look stylish and timeless.

Fashion itself is quite an unethical beast. It creates a wealth of product every season, tells you that you must own it, crafts it from precious resources then next season tells you to get rid of it all and start again. I personally like to think of fashion as an evolution, choosing to add to a pool of quality pieces in my wardrobe over time with things that I love and feel good about wearing. Since working for We'ar I'm really mindful about checking where things are made, who makes them and what they are made of, and making the best choices I can with my budget. When the bank account is low and the wardrobe is hungry I tend to feed it with vintage, which in a lot of ways is the most ethical shopping choice.

The most treasured item in my wardrobe is ... I'm tempted to say my Marie Antoinette costume, but it would have to be a fluffy frou frou red lace dress from the 1950s I saved for three months to buy from Ziggurat in Wellington. When it's not hanging on my wall as art you can find me spinning round and round in it at bar Golden Dawn with matching red lipstick and a ribbon in my hair.

The Pakuranga night markets are my current fixation. Eating barbecued squid with chilli and lime while picking over second-hand stalls and fossicking through boxes of bright nail varnish straight from Japan is my idea of heaven. And for people-watching it's the best, from indie kids and mums and dads, to groups of guys in crisp white tees and Jordans.

My heroes and heroines ... The guys from the Sustainable Business Network are amazing. Made up of people like Charlotte Freer Gordon of the Grey Lynn Farmers' Market, who are doing projects in their community in their own time and also working at the SBN supporting businesses who want to be kinder to the earth and the humans on it. They make what we do at We'ar so much easier, and they all live and breathe what they are doing. It makes me sleep easier at night knowing they exist.

- NZ Herald

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