Last year Jane Sutherland wowed us in Athol with a fashion show at the Hide. It had everything you’d expect: sleek hair, sexy make-up. Lights, music, models — go-getting locals rocked the gorgeous clothes on stage. What a night!
Jane’s known for her signature style. That’s top-quality fabric and timeless design married with hand-made metal jewellery. More than anything I craved the white coat. Wish I didn’t spend half my life hunched over a laptop and the other half with kids or on the farm.
I know zilch about fashion. So my questions tumbled out when I met Jane at her Kingston studio. After 20+ years in the fashion biz, there was a lot to talk about.
The Jane Sutherland Brand: Starting With T-Shirts
Jane’s been experimenting with fashion design for years. And it all began with a humble t-shirt.
Her brainwave came when she attached her own metalwork to plain t-shirts. You think that sounds simple? Think again. It took absolutely ages to hand-make all the tiny metal screws she needed.
But the t-shirts looked great. So, despite being a complete fashion novice at the time, Jane decided to sell them.
Down she trotted to Dunedin’s iconic store PLUME to offer them to Margarita Robertson. Jane had no idea that Plume was the home of NZ fashion label NOM*d.
It was probably just as well. If she’d known that she was talking to a designer legend Jane might have kept her t-shirts in her bag. But she didn’t.
It was such a thrill when Margie bought all five.
Talent Runs In The Sutherland Family
Jane had been making metal jewellery for years. In fact, her earliest memory is of going to art class with her dad when she was only five years old.
I went off to do pottery and things and he did the jewellery class.
Over the years Russell Sutherland experimented with all sorts of metal art. He’d make anything from earrings to sculptures. Surrounded by creativity Jane learned that there are many ways to be an artist.
Dad’s influence didn’t stop there. A few years later he introduced his daughter to the owners of Fluxus, in Dunedin. She couldn’t believe her luck.
They had master goldsmiths working there, and a gallery for display. And they never took people on. But I got in there and spent 8 months working with Georg Beer, a German master goldsmith. It was fantastic.
Surely, this is what gave Jane the confidence to walk into Plume that day.
And then came another twist of fate. Jane’s partner, Dwayne, decided to buy the Kingston Garage. So Jane and Dwayne came to live above Lake Wakatipu.
No-one really believed that you could run a fashion business from a sleepy, rural village. But Jane decided to give it a go.
Where Can I Work?
The first major problem was finding a studio to work her magic from.
Behind the Kingston Diner was an old tunnel house. “What do you reckon?” Dwayne asked his Dad, the builder. Earle took on the challenge and converted it into Jane’s first fashion and jewellery design studio in Kingston.
Jane was grateful – but conditions weren’t exactly ideal.
It got up to 50 degrees in the summer, and in winter it was like a wee igloo.
You can’t work in those extremes forever. So eventually they built the studio next to their house, where Jane works today. And it’s great to work in comfort, but what actually happens there. How does Jane create her clothes?
A Jane Sutherland Design: From First Inspiration To Customer’s Delight
Jane never knows what will spark her imagination.
“I do a lot of sketching. Ideas just come from anywhere. You can be watching a movie, walking outside, you might see a shape or colour that triggers my inspiration. I jot it down in a notebook so I don’t forget. Phones are great for taking photos so I can get those images.”
That is only the beginning. There’ll be many changes and edits before Jane finally gets the look she’s going for.
The Pattern Makers
Once Jane’s happy with the new design she’ll send it off to a pattern maker to get the first sample.
Pattern makers train and work for years to gain their skills. According to the NZ government job website these talented people:
- Create pattern pieces by hand or on computer
- Cut out the pattern by hand or print it out
- Write garment-sewing instructions
- Help with fitting sample garments
- Adapt patterns for different sizes (grading)
- Know sewing codes and symbols
- Are familiar with sewing equipment and methods
- Understand different fabrics and textiles
- Know how to fit different body shapes
- Study fashion design techniques
- Can use CAD (computer-aided design) software.
Wow! This job combines artistic flair and technical expertise. No wonder that Jane says a great pattern maker is like gold. So she treasures the ones on her team. They’re the people who translate a design into the pattern that eventually becomes a Jane Sutherland coat, top or well-fitting pair of trousers.
With all that work in the design and patterns, the sewing has to be equally perfect. So the next vital links in Jane’s team are the machinists.
Jane’s machinists work from home and they live all over Southland. Some have sewn for top suiting labels in New Zealand and others have worked overseas too. Jane treasures them for their skill and patience, and their willingness to work so far away from her.
Because it’s tough on everyone working so far apart. In an ideal set-up, they’d all be under the same roof. That’s how it is in the big city-based fashion houses. Jane counts distance as being her number-one difficulty. It makes for a lot of extra to-ing and fro-ing.
Bucking The Fast Fashion Trend
Fast fashion is all about quick turnover. It’s here-today-and-gone- tomorrow clothes, made with cheap fabric and even cheaper labour. What’s more, the fashion industry has a bad reputation in eco-friendly circles.
So how is Jane Sutherland bucking this trend?
- Quality Fabric.
“My fabrics are top quality — NZ merino and English wool. I use a lot of organic fabrics too. Dwayne’s uncle is Alan Cross Tailor from Invercargill. He’s just retired and I’ve got all his old suitings and wools. That’s nice for doing small runs of things and one-offs. It’s incredible the quality of that fabric.”
- Made In New Zealand
“My pieces are made to last and they employ New Zealanders too. The pieces will last for years. That’s the nice thing about NZ-made. Like a lot of designers here, the pieces will last forever. ”
- Clothes Across The Seasons
“The fashion industry works on seasons. So each season you bring out 30 or more new pieces which can be quite difficult. Most people in the industry are now planning for next winter. Or maybe have even already designed that collection.”
Jane used to work like that too, but not anymore. Now she designs her clothes to wear when you feel like wearing them.
Metal Jewellery Is Jane’s Point Of Difference
Jane still makes jewellery in her Kingston studio, and her Dad’s still contributing pieces too. you’ll still find it on most of her clothes. Some people are particularly attached to their metalwork.
To this day, people will bring back clothing that they bought ten years ago and ask me to put that piece of art on a new garment.
Where Can I Buy Jane Sutherland Garments
Nowadays there are two main ways to see Jane’s collection.
You can browse her website, select the garment that speaks to you and then it’ll be sewn. No “off the rack” clothes here. Your choice is made especially for you. Sounds cool eh!
And if you’re after the personal touch you can make an appointment to visit Jane in her studio. She loves helping people choose the clothes that suit them best.
Yes, after all these years, Jane still gets a thrill from seeing people wearing her designs.
I remember seeing the very first thing I made in Queenstown. I was standing behind them in the bank. And that was a fantastic feeling.
Like many artists, Jane loves to explore new mediums. She adores photography and that’s a direction she’d love to take.
She loves the buzz of fashion shows too, especially the organised chaos behind the scenes. Whether it is Dunedin ID Fashion Week (she’s been there 8 times) or another local event, I’m betting that Jane hasn’t finished with shows and pop-up shops just yet.
I can’t believe the huge amount of work that goes into the Jane Sutherland brand. Jane’s got a fantastic team and an eye for fashion that makes her clients look truly fabulous.
Do you have a Jane Sutherland original yet?
Kingston’s Known For Its Innovators And Artists.
Like furniture maker Kim Patterson: The Cusp: Graceful Furniture Designs”
And her equally innovative husband Gary who’s the brains behind “The Great Rides App.”
Political embroidery artist Amy Baker stitches incredibly detailed portraits. “Amy Baker: Many Stitches In Time.”
And between Kingston and Garston you’ll find Aaron Abernethy of Starlight Metal Art.
There are so many more talented locals in Kingston. Who else would you like to see featured on Time of my Life?