Picasso is credited with saying that, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
It’s an idea that suggests the value of art is not only in its creative beauty but also in how it heals and nurtures our inner most being. To some degree it’s an idea that provides insight into why Zambesi is one of our most enduring fashion labels. It’s not about the physical function of the clothing but the sense of inspiration and creativity that comes with wearing a piece of art that you can interpret in your own way as you go about your day.
Not being a mass-marketed product, in one season and out the next, Zambesi isn’t a brand that contributes to land fill in the way some fast-fashion labels could be accused of. Instead, it has been at the forefront of fashion innovation and a hero of the local industry, producing clothes that transcend seasons and fashion fads. It’s an approach that isn’t about being ‘on trend’ but one that has always been true to its own design ethos. It is sustainability, not merely in the popular buzz sense of the word but also in the sense that the founders, Elisabeth and Neville Findlay, have always cared about the people, the environment and the economics of what they do.
“My mother always works extremely hard and she always stays true to herself. She’s an artist. Zambesi is just the form her art takes. I think it’s because she’s such a purist that Zambesi has lasted,” says Marissa Findlay. Marissa, a fine art and fashion photographer, shoots Zambesi’s seasonal collections, curates shows for Fashion Week and looks after the brand’s media relations. She has grown up with the label and, like her sister Sophie, is involved in the ongoing business of the iconic label.
“It’s never been about creating huge production lines of clothes to sell to the masses,” explains Marissa. So much work and effort goes into each piece, that we only ever make limited quantities.” Zambesi clothes may cost a bit more than most but, according to Marissa, they are designed to last and be worn season after season and there is value in that. By today’s definition, the design, carefully sourced fabrics and manufacturing by a local team of crafts people all adds up to a mindful and ethical business model.
But was this a conscious decision or was it just intuitive? “In retrospect, it was intuitive for me to work this way. I grew up in a time when things were made to last … where less was more. Zambesi’s sustainability was born from these values and our desire to maintain quality and oversee the process. We are proud of the fact that the garments retain their relevance and continue to find a place in a contemporary wardrobe,” answers Elisabeth Findlay.
Zambesi clothes are designed to be kept and worn forever. Each new collection is connected in some way to ones before and loyal customers can confidently add new pieces each season knowing they will still feel current and fresh the following season. There is almost an heirloom quality to Zambesi clothing. “Our clothes aren’t designed to be worn just one way by one type of person,” says Marissa. “There are so many different customers from a diverse range of backgrounds that buy and wear Zambesi and everyone wears it differently.”
So, does Elisabeth Findlay design clothes knowing there is no Zambesi type? “I am not a conceptual designer… my muse is the fabric and I am continually inspired by those with whom I work and our Zambesi clientele. I love the fact that the brand lends itself to individual interpretation,” says Elisabeth.
“We regularly have customers tell us about pieces they purchased 10 to 15 years ago that they still wear and feel great in,” says Marissa. “One lady still wears a piece she bought almost 40 years ago and it still looks amazing.” In an era when consumers are demanding more ethical practices from their favourite global brands, the fashion industry has come increasingly under the spotlight, but for Zambesi this hasn’t meant sweeping changes to their processes. It’s meant being more aware of where and how things can be improved. “Sometimes it’s little things like packaging,” explains Marissa.
"Like every business Zambesi is mindful of it’s carbon footprint and is always looking for ways to improve. What are Zambesi’s goals for sustainability in the future? “As we make our clothes in New Zealand we now wish to express transparency around fabric sourcing as well as manufacturing ethics. To this end, we have committed to working with Mindful Fashion New Zealand (MFNZ) where we will do what ever we can to be the best we can be,” says Neville Findlay.