Sophie Findlay channelled the creativity she showed as a child into a career as a music video director and book illustrator.
1 Your parents Elisabeth and Neville Findlay launched Zambesi two months after your birth in 1979. What was it like growing up with the now iconic New Zealand fashion label?
I grew up with very hardworking parents. When they first began the business it was run out of home. Mum had a tiny sunroom with a giant cutting table where she'd create her designs. Dad did the business side of things and when we opened stores he designed the interiors. He created that industrial look that a lot of stores have now. A lot of my childhood memories are of finding comfortable places to nap in the workroom. I was a very quiet, introverted child so I spent a lot of time drawing pictures. I'd make up little characters. At one stage I made a range of T-shirts.
2 Were you and your sister Marissa both expected to join the family business?
No, but we were encouraged to be creative. Marissa has a passion for photography so she does all the Zambesi campaign photography and produces the Fashion Week shows. Growing up I wanted to be a writer and filmmaker, so I went to South Seas film and TV school.
3 How did you end up making hip hop videos for South Auckland record label Dawn Raid?
My friend who was working there introduced me to Brotha D and Andy. I went out to Papatoetoe and sold them the most elaborate ideas for music videos because I'd never made one before. The first one I made, Fallen Angels by the Deceptikonz, was shot outside a beautiful church at night. My original concept was to have Savage riding a horse but by 3am I realised I'd been too ambitious and I had to call off the horse.
4 Your music video for the No.1 hit Swing featured a miniature Savage surrounded by giant women in a laundromat. Why was it remade when the song went international?
The record companies decided to remake it for American audiences. The result was pretty standard. I think they underestimated people's ability to have a sense of humour. It would probably be different now. The Dawn Raid guys were great. They totally got what I was going for. I was really proud of that video and Mareko's Stop, Drop and Roll because I was able to tell a story which is much more creatively challenging.
5 Hip hop videos often portray women as scantily clad objects for male possession. Is this an issue you've tried to take a stance on?
As a feminist it's something I'm always conscious of and I don't think the issue's exclusive to the hip hop genre. Whenever I've shot females there's always pressure from managers or record companies for them to be presented in a certain way. There's a lot at stake because they have to compete internationally. I did get some stick for the girls dancing in the Swing video. Even though I defended myself at the time, I did take that on board. On the other side I've been given crap for my work not being sexy enough. It's that old mindset of women having to serve the male gaze. Even now, a lot of the feminist hip hop artists probably still struggle with having visuals that aren't pandering to that.
6 What was the idea behind your video for R&B artist Aaradhna's song Brown Girl?
I really liked the idea of projecting Aaradhna onto herself because it speaks of image and how people see races, cultures, women and artists. I felt like it would be really wrong to sexualise such a statement song. It was such a proud moment when Aaradhna refused to accept her Tui award. The best urban/hip-hop category had been nonsense for years. Aaradhna's strong and stubborn and speaks up for what she believes in. Being uncompromising is not always popular but some of the most successful people I've worked with have been uncompromising. I need to develop that skill.
7 When did you first get into hip hop music?
At Parnell District School one of my best friends had a Public Enemy T-shirt. I thought it was a really cool graphic so I started listening to them and got obsessed. When I was 10 this kid, Manu T, had an NWA mix tape that we used to share around school. So that was my introduction to American history — through rap music. I went through a grunge phase as well when Nirvana came out.
8 You also work as a 'music curator', choosing the music for special events and fashion shows where the opening track is crucial. How did you land that role?
Growing up with Zambesi, we'd have music listening sessions for shows and I was always trying to put in the Pixies or Sonic Youth or something. As I got older I got more opinionated and just ended up taking it over. I'll talk to Mum and the menswear designer Dayne about what kind of mood they want to come across. Sometimes we'll decide just days out from a show. You know an opening track when you hear it.
9 What's your main role in the family business these days?
I work with Zambesi's social media and e-commerce which is becoming increasingly important. It would be a bleak future if the internet replaced stores entirely. I think with clothes, people still want to touch the fabric and try them on. Zambesi held off jumping on the social media bandwagon for quite a while so now we're catching up. Sometimes I wish the internet had never happened. We'd all be a lot more chilled out. I'm really glad that my childhood was sans internet.
10 Did you have a strong sense of your ethnicity growing up?
We knew we were different from a young age. Mum came to New Zealand as a refugee on the ship Goya when she was about 3. Her mother was Greek and her father was an escaped prisoner of war from Ukraine. Growing up in Dunedin, Mum was made to feel like she didn't belong. Dad has Scottish and Syrian ancestry. The police followed him home from the 1990 Commonwealth Games because they mistook him for a Maori activist. We're a very close knit family. Food is a huge part of Greek culture.
11 How did you come to illustrate one of the stories in the 2017 Storybook for Starship?
Mum did an amazing job illustrating last year's book. She was too busy this year so I did it instead. I illustrated a true story by a young girl called Michelle about her brother who is autistic and experiences bullying at school. It's a great story about standing up for others. It was such a cool experience. My nephew Bruno was treated for a life-threatening condition at Starship at 3 weeks old so it's really nice to be able to give back.
12 What are your plans for the holiday?
Our family are having Christmas on Waiheke this year at my sister's bach. We usually make way too much food so . . . we'll be eating all the best leftovers. We'll watch a bad movie on TV, lie in the sun and read the paper.
• You can get the 10th edition of Barfoot and Thompson's 2017 Storybook for Starship at; www.barfoot.co.nz/storybook