Designer and maker Kate Kininmonth sews clothing from a peaceful spot in the Tasman. And she learned from the best: her grandmother.
WC: Where did your designing and making journey start?
My grandmother Mary has been one of the guiding lights in my journey with sewing! I spent some time with her during the 2018 university holidays in Māpua, a little seaside village at the top of the South Island. I had a head injury that meant a lot in my life had to change, and creating became a way to work through that. Mary has been a constant source of wisdom and support since, passing on her knowledge and later going halves with me on my first sewing machine. She's always been keen to clear the kitchen table for a project, too.
After university (studying media and accounting at Otago) I moved up to Auckland, but this year I came back to the Tasman region. I found myself returning to Māpua, this time living with a lovely flat of friends and working from a shared Motueka studio on the estuary (Zappekin).
WC: Where does your label name come from?
Kate Kininmonth is quite literally my first two names, but part of the reason that label made sense to me was because Kininmonth is also Mary's last name. It's honestly crazy but everything came full circle this year. I'm just three doors down from her and my grandad; they are the most active and wonderful people and we catch up all the time. Some days we still set up our sewing machines side by side and work on pieces together at her place!
WC: How has sewing together impacted your relationship with your grandmother?
Sewing has brought me a lot closer to the elders in my family, and Mary in particular. The opportunity to learn from them has brought so many stories to light and I feel like I have a much better understanding of my whanau and the women who came before me.
My favourite design is a pair of wide leg linen pants and they're named after my grandmother – a homage to the time we've spent sewing together and just hanging out as adults. I think a lot of us tend to embark on our own adventures when we get to our twenties, which is really important, and at the same time there's this wealth of knowledge, experience and love that we tend to forget about. It's been a real source of strength for me and I feel really lucky to have had this time.
WC: How making clothing has changed the way you view fashion?
I was always interested in design, but when I look back on things growing up I realise I always sort of assumed that my clothes had been made by machines. Everything was so perfect and so cheap. It honestly doesn't make sense until you factor in the ridiculously low wages and sweatshop environments most of these people are working with.
When I started making for myself I really started to appreciate the time and skill that goes into every piece of clothing on the market. And then you start thinking about the fabric and where it was grown, how it was milled... if anything has changed it's that clothing has become political for me. I feel a strong desire to know the story and the people behind the piece I'm wearing, and I also feel strongly about the choice of textiles and the environmental impact of clothing - in production and at the end of life.
Pure linens, cottons and silk have become heroes for me because they are made from plants and are fully biodegradable at the end of their lives. I've even composted pairs of pants before! How good.
WC: Can we talk a bit about the work involved in creating garments?
There's a lot! When you're creating a pattern you need to get really comfortable drawing, cutting, sewing and then pulling it apart and doing it all again to factor in any amendments. Often I make things to measure too, which is a lovely feeling because it's so personal. I also spend time sourcing fabric, experimenting with natural dyeing methods and photographing work. There are a lot of hidden costs - with equipment, good quality and ethically sourced fabrics, making the labels by hand and of course a living wage for the designer.
WC: What’s next for you, and where can people find you?
Basically I'm seeing where this year takes me! I'm working on a few collaborations with some local artists that I'm very excited about and in general enjoying dressing some lovely people around Aotearoa. There's a women's art publication based on creative exchange in the works too. A website is on the way, but in the meantime you can find me on Instagram @katekininmonth.