Style Liaisons With Viva Next Gen Designer Nicole Van Vuuren

By Annabel Dickson
“I first started to notice the amount of textile waste that was sent to landfill that I had the desire to repurpose,” says designer Nicole Van Vuuren. Photo / Lea Jordan

The phrase ‘waste not, want not’ is evident in Nicole Van Vuuren’s namesake label.

“My dad worked in a furniture factory and would bring home offcuts of leather and upholstery fabrics for me to use, and later he taught me to use the industrial machines in the workroom,” says the fashion designer. “I continued working with the textiles I sourced there in my first year of study at OP in Melbourne.”

There, Nicole came across a fabric warehouse, Rathdowne Remnants, where you can purchase fabric off-cuts, ones with footprints, markings, tears and frayed edges.

“Initially, I sourced there as a cheap way to find fabrics for school — between these and offcuts from internships, I could manage to afford to design garments. Eventually, I became obsessed with the odd shapes and signs of wear and tear embedded in the scraps, and eventually, this became a focal point for my graduate collection.”

Singer and songwriter Benee wearing Nicole Van Vuuren. Photo / Frances Carter. Hair / Sean Patrick Mahony. Beauty / Lara Daly. Styling / Imogen Wilson.
Singer and songwriter Benee wearing Nicole Van Vuuren. Photo / Frances Carter. Hair / Sean Patrick Mahony. Beauty / Lara Daly. Styling / Imogen Wilson.

After graduating, the first pieces she made to sell were remnants and scraps hand-sewn together into T-shirts while living abroad in New York. Then, in New Zealand, she sourced from a remnant shop that was closing down. This time, with access to a sewing machine, they were made with an overlocker to mimic the original hand-stitching designs.

While working in an industry job for local label Kate Sylvester, it became clear to Nicole how important the re-purposing of fabric really was.

“I first started to notice the amount of textile waste that was sent to landfill that I had the desire to repurpose,” she says. “I had been working with scraps for so long, but only then did it really occur to me that there was such an abundant source of materials that I could reuse.”

At present, Nicole Van Vuuren’s “slow-growing project” has become a flourishing label with a strong following of like-minded individuals. With fans like singer Benee, things are only looking up for this emerging designer.

Tell us about what your day-to-day role involves and what you like about the job as a creative person.

Day to day, I teach part-time at Whitecliffe and have a weekend bar job, so I have to try to be quite intentional about my studio days. In the studio, it’s currently just me working on the label, so I complete everything myself from sourcing, washing, and sorting textiles to patternmaking, grading and sewing, to bring my designs to life, as well as trying to manage photoshoots, fittings, my website and social media. It’s busy and can be a little chaotic but I do enjoy being a part of every process and having quite varied workdays.

What has been the most rewarding thing about creating a label, and what has been the biggest challenge?

The most rewarding part is obviously getting to design and make my own work every day, especially using textiles that might have otherwise ended up in landfill essentially, getting to wake up and do what I love.

The biggest challenges for me are trying to keep up with my ideas and finding enough time to try all the things I want to try and execute them well. Also, running a business it’s obviously an entirely different skill set to the creative side of things and I still have a lot to learn.

What, in your opinion, makes style?

Style is the aesthetic representation of who you are, or who you want to present yourself to the world as, so style to me is knowing who you are and being your true authentic self.

Describe your personal style and what you wear when you want to feel your best.

My true authentic self is a basic b*tch. Honestly, I just love to feel comfortable. I’m mostly found in jeans and an oversized hoodie and jacket, and if I want to jazz it up, I’ll add some accessories.

Tell us about a piece of clothing or item you have inherited that’s particularly special to you.

Not so much clothing but my treasured pieces are a signet ring of my grandfather’s who had the same initials as me. My grandmother’s pearls were carefully reworked into an everyday necklace by Hannah at Dangerous Goods, and also her sewing shears, which I use in my studio. My grandmother always loved fashion and sewed a lot when she was younger, so it’s nice to feel like she is with me in the studio.

Tell us about your earliest fashion memory.

Insisting that bright pink gumboots were the only footwear I would wear at 3-4 years old. I’m still that girl, but now I have Bottega gumboots.

There are a lot of challenges ahead for designers, from navigating the post-Covid world to working towards sustainability. Is there anything that you hope will emerge creatively from this time?

Hopefully to see younger designers with new ideas and business models at the forefront of fashion in New Zealand, with support through funding, buyers, spaces, etc. There are some new initiatives in Australia for young designers it would be cool to see something similar here.

What processes are involved from scrap to garment?

It adds a whole other process to the garment-making process. First up is sourcing textiles, sorting them by size, colour, and fabric type, then everything is washed and stored until I’m ready to use it. When starting a garment or textile, I pick out the fabrics and colours I want to put together. Sometimes I’ll cut, shred or dye them before use. For most garments, my process is to first put together the textile through a range of stitches and techniques, then cut and sew the garment as normal. I’ve developed this way of working through trial and error, and to try and make my garments somewhat easier to produce and sell in the future.

How do your international experiences continue to influence the work you do in Aotearoa?

The most important things I learned overseas, which I still apply to my practice today, are the importance of unbounded creativity and community. It can feel isolating at times, alone in a studio, but fashion can’t exist in isolation. There truly is strength in growing and succeeding together.

What can we expect to see from you in the Viva Next Gen show at NZFW 2023?

More scraps.

5 Quick Questions

Favourite drink?

Diet Coke.

Dream holiday destination?

Right now, Melbourne and New York, because I’m missing my friends there a lot.

Top three accounts you follow?

@Ai_clothingdaily, for AI-generated clothing inspiration.

@Archivepdf, for archive fashion scans, articles and content for the world.

@Uselessfarm, for an escape from the creative outlet and for a bit of a laugh.

What are you reading at the moment?

Education from the Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art series by Felicity Allen.

What are you listening to?

Hot songs on rotation for motivation are currently Cobrah’s ‘Brand New B*tch’, Azalea Banks’s ‘New Bottega’, and Marie Davidson’s ‘Work It’ (Soulwax edit).

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