New Zealand Fashion Week is Postponed – Long Live New Zealand Fashion Week

As our national Fashion Week takes an about-turn, what is the next step for the industry’s biggest runway and launchpad?

By Jessica-Bella Greer 

As news broke on Thursday, May 2, that New Zealand Fashion Week 2024 is cancelled, we couldn’t help but feel a little shattered. It’s been a challenging year for our local fashion industry, which has been closing stores and generally taking stock as we enter a shallow recession. 

General Manager of NZFW, Yasmin Farry

“It really became apparent when we were getting the same responses from designers we were talking to daily that they are doing it really tough currently and needing to consolidate their resources,” says the general manager of NZFW, Yasmin Farry, of the tough decision. “Without a good number of NZ designers able to show, it’s simply not viable as we don’t have a compelling programme, befitting of the world-class event that Fashion Week is.”

No shrinking violet, NZFW promises to be back in Auckland next year, operating on a new biennale schedule, and with its major presenting partner Shark Beauty still by its side. For now, the announcement is met with mixed emotions. 

New Zealand Designer, Kathryn Wilson

“We were disappointed to hear of the postponement of NZFW as we were looking forward to bringing our collections to life on stage,” says Kathryn Wilson. “It’s understandable that brands and businesses are needing to be mindful of outgoings and expenses in the current economic climate, however I believe it’s more important than ever to come together as a community and celebrate and support the talent we have here in NZ with media and our customers.”

“Fashion week has felt like such an integral part to the Juliette Hogan brand throughout the years, and we have loved building collections to show in this unique and special way,” says Juliette Hogan herself. “It’s a hugely valuable marketing tool – it drives brand awareness and is a great opportunity for engaging content creation, which in turn support sales.” 

New Zealand Designer, Juliette Hogan

 “A Fashion Week show can really push you to be more creative and innovative, and it’s so rewarding to see all your hard work amalgamated into this one big celebratory moment. It’s as much a celebration of the individual brand showing as it is of the industry as a whole, that’s the main part I’ll miss,” adds Hogan. “However, I do understand and completely respect the decision to postpone the show.”

For those who have been associated with NZFW in recent years, including during its four-year hiatus post-lockdown, the news is triggering. “We’ve obviously been here before, and so for a lot of the fashion industry the news would’ve been a mixed bag of shock, disappointment and frustration,” says fashion stylist and NZFW ambassador Sammy Salsa.

Fashion Stylist and NZFW Ambassador, Sammy Salsa

And yet, the decision is also met with gratitude. “I’ve seen firsthand the hard work that goes into putting a fashion week together. This closure shows just how passionate the Fashion Week team are about our industry and only want the best for our designers, creatives and everyone involved,” says Salsa. “It’s more than just making bank. It’s a cultural event that’s bigger than just showing collections. This is a community that supports each other so that everyone from designers, stylists, hair and make-up artists, front of house and back of house all thrive in their respective departments, all while keeping our industry at the forefront of fashion.”

Fashion Stylist and Founder of Cool Pretty Cool, Chloe Hill

This sentiment is echoed by fashion stylist and founder of Cool Pretty Cool, Chloe Hill, especially following on from the success of the 2023 event, New Zealand Fashion Week: Kahuria. “I loved the absolute transformation and the genuine inclusion and tautoko for designers outside of the usual staple. It was a really uplifting event for me, being at beautiful shows of Māori designers and feeling the true inclusion of community and the uplifting of tikanga. So from that perspective, I was really disappointed to hear of the cancellation,” says Hill. “But at the same time, I felt relieved to hear the team had made the call early and had been smart about the viability of the event. A lot like with designers who have made the tough call to close their doors, I have a lot of respect and I really celebrate them all for making that call, and doing what is best for them.”

Still, behind the scenes, the news has been a surprise. “It was definitely unexpected as a client and I had just met with organisers last week,” says Tatum Savage, the founder and director of PR, brand, and creative direction agency Savage Society. Having worked the event for nearly 20 years – most consistently as the communications director for MAC Cosmetics and recently with Zambesi for the brand’s 2023 show, Savage is part of the fabric of NZFW.

Founder and Director of PR, brand, and creative direction agency Savage Society, Tatum Savage

“Some of my best memories of my career have been spent backstage,” says Savage. “Not only does [NZFW] provide a global stage for our talented designers to showcase their collections and bring them to life in a creative way, it also employs a myriad of talent from producers to models to make-up artists to hair stylists, and the list goes on and on,” she says. “It is a fabulous platform for current and emerging designers, and it’s also a source of inspiration for our new generation of talent coming through… Additionally, the energy that a fashion show brings to a collective of people is inspiring for all who participate in it, whether they are guests seated at the show or those working tirelessly backstage.

Even brands who did not intend on showing at NZFW this year are feeling blue. “It’s def disappointing for the industry, but I wasn’t that surprised given the current state of the economy,” says Marc Moore of Stolen Girlfriends Club. “I’m not sure if people understand how costly it can be for a designer to even do a show, especially if you’re a young designer just starting out. Sponsorship has also gotten a lot harder to secure over the last five years. So it’s understandable that designers are now looking at alternative ways to showcase their new collections, whether it’s digitally or IRL.”

Founder and Creative Director of Stolen Girlfriends Club, Marc Moore

For the last four years, SGC has focused on independent shows, often held around the same time as NZFW. “A formula that seems to work well for us, and we love creating our own noise,” says Moore.

This year, SGC is focusing on its jewellery line, which may not fit its amped-up show format. “Personally, I love doing shows! I think it’s where Stolen Girlfriends Club really comes to life. But I’m not entirely sure how we would translate our jewellery effectively to some type of runway show.”

With NZFW not hitting its stride this year, industry insiders are still holding their heads high. “I dream of being part of that magic again. However, it is not lost on me that the fashion industry in NZ may need to re-look at how fashion week is presented,” says Savage. “What do designers really need from the event, and is the current format serving them? It’s a hard question, and one that I don’t know the answer to. But it’s a question that needs to be asked.”

Savage is already discussing other ways to showcase collections with clients and fellow industry colleagues. “For many designers, theatre and brand experience are part of the very fabric of their storytelling, so for now, it’s getting creative about how we can do that in a different format,” she says. “We can’t stop being creative, we can’t stop telling stories but in order to do this we must adapt to the shifts that are occurring. These shifts go beyond just merely economic ones; tastes and preferences are perpetually changing, so perhaps the industry must change too?”

At Juliette Hogan, a milestone year must be celebrated another way. “We will be focusing our attention towards our 20-year anniversary and look forward to acknowledging and celebrating the people who have been such an important part of our story so far – however that may look.”

Fellow creative (and friend) Kathryn Wilson will put the concepts already in development for NZFW to use elsewhere. “Our brand values for Kathryn Wilson – being playful, innovation and empowerment – are translated on the catwalk with all public events and shows via the music, the styling and the energy from our models,” says Wilson. “We will continue to create magical moments and memories for our customers with other nationwide events planned throughout the calendar this year, and look forward to being part of a collaborative industry event when NZFW returns in 2025.”

At SGC, there is a chance to make a jewellery-related event a shining example. “There are many other ways in which we can present our collections to media, buyers and the public,” says Moore. “We absolutely love every aspect of doing events though, so we will be looking to host something around the third quarter this year.”

Even pre-pandemic, industry insiders have been discussing – internationally – whether fashion weeks are in sync enough with fashion brands, and whether organising the industry to selling seasons is still relevant and sustainable. If fashion brands switch to their own schedule for events, it can help them stand out from the fashion pack, at a time most suited to their commercial needs. 

Yet consider, fashion weeks generate their own news stories and cachet simply for being part of a cultural calendar. Last year, NZFW became increasingly consumer-focused. “[It made] the week so much more accessible and inclusive,” says Farry. “We will be developing these events going forward, as they are an integral part for designers and brands to connect with new audiences. When the dust settles we will take some time to ideate on what those opportunities and changes may be in the coming months.”

For Hill, the skipping of New Zealand Fashion Week makes it harder for her to promote New Zealand designers, models and other creative talent to the world. “It definitely means I don’t have such easy access to beautiful content around Aotearoa designers. It’s so wonderful having a week where I’m able to turn out so many features and have access in that way,” she says. “For me to produce shoots on my own and create that level of coverage and interviews without Fashion Week is really difficult.”

The importance of the platform NZFW provides is front-of-mind for Farry. “NZFW is of benefit to all designers, whether an established brand or an emerging brand, it provides a beautiful moment for designers to connect in real life with their own communities to tell their own unique brand stories. It’s also an incredible celebration of our artist community, our culture and a wonderful time for designers and the wider fashion industry to network with each other,” she says. “There really isn’t anything else like it in NZ. We provide the platform and spaces for designers to realise their creative show vision in a multi-media context.”

For all of the industry leaders interviewed for this piece, the postponement of NZFW is a sign of our tumultuous times. “Coming out of the pandemic, there was a lot of trepidation in the industry and, as we have seen, we rolled over into an economic downturn. For an industry that was already facing challenges of rising costs and the influx of easily-disposable fast fashion, it’s an added layer of difficulty,” says Hogan. 

“It’s a difficult time and corners are being cut in so many areas of the industry. Everyone seems to be trying to do more for less, it’s not sustainable,” says Hill. “I’m not entirely sure the solution, but I do hope consumers are thoughtful with where they do spend their money, for example buying one piece from a locally made designer instead of 10 from a mass-produced label. I also hope the current government sees the importance of the arts and fashion and sufficiently supports our beautiful local industry.”

As a chair of Mindul Fashion NZ, Juliette Hogan also sees this as a time to put on a united front. “We need to lean into how important local craftmanship and creatives are, and how they contribute to, and build, our unique local identity,” she says. “I encourage everyone to support local brands and creators. No matter the medium – fashion, music, art, media, film, etc – if you can afford to, please do. This news of NZFW postponement really underscores the importance of community and how much we need solidarity within our industry, and across industries.”

For Farry, NZFW’s new, slower-paced schedule is sustainable in another sense. “The arts and events just don’t get the amount of support that is required,” she says. “We are a small country, so I think the strategic shift to biennial schedules for many events is a wise one. It gives more time for planning and sponsorship outreach and builds more momentum and excitement. It’s quite crazy how fast the turnaround from year to year is, so ultimately, I think this is a more sustainable approach.”

For now, our fashion industry is clothed with the most coveted aspect any great runway look can create, confidence. “I look forward to the prospect of the 2025 Fashion Week, I’m hopeful we will see this celebration of our industry,” says Hogan. “Extra time before their show date does allow time for brand partners and other industries to support this endeavour and help fund, promote, and support our local industry.”

“I feel for the organisers who had to make this tough decision because I know firsthand the love and passion they have for the industry,” says Savage. “However, there are forces at play outside of anyone’s control and I know they will do everything in their power to be back to support our designers next year.”

“I hope after this long break next year will be bigger and better and the country throws its support behind the important event,” says Hill.

“They can only come back bigger and stronger in 2025, and that is what I hope. In the meantime, our fashion industry still needs our support and we can do that by shopping local and supporting your fave NZ designer!” says Salsa.

Now – for everyone – it’s time to walk the talk.