Nearly every element of the new staff wardrobe has been made, proudly, in Aotearoa. The fabric design was born in Nichola’s studio in Kirikiriroa (Hamilton), printed in Tauranga, cut and sewn in the Fashion Uniforms factory in Papakura, and the finishing touches applied at Arrow Uniforms in Wellington. Even the formal neckties were manufactured just up the road from the Museum at Parisian Neckwear Co., which has been in business in Auckland since 1919.
“It’s a very New Zealand-based project,” says Fiona Blanchard, Head of Visitor Services, who describes the overall goal of the project to create a “cohesive look and feel across the Museum teams, a functional and recognisable wardrobe that is representative of the Museum’s grand identity.” No small ask, it would not only need to meet that conceptual brief, but also be fit-for-purpose, culturally relevant, connected to our collections, well-made, timeless, professional, and “something that our people could wear with pride.”
The working group landed on the design options for the wardrobe after extensive consultation with the various teams who would be wearing the pieces. Staff pointed out that their jobs vary enormously, and so the range was designed to respond to those needs: from laying wreaths in formal commemoration ceremonies to clambering over the Museum roof in all weather; from puletasi and la faitaga for our Māori and Pacific Development team to garments that stretch and bend with our Learning and Public Programmes team as they kneel down to engage with children.
While the decision to produce the uniforms in New Zealand rather than outsourcing overseas was made when the world was still blissfully unaware of the impending disruption that would be caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it has turned out to be a serendipitous choice. The relatively close proximity of each step of the design and manufacture process has also enabled the teams to work closely together, further enriching the connectedness of the project. “This is a collaboration,” Nichola says. “I really don’t feel that I own it. It’s myself, but also it’s the working group, it’s the factory managers, the digital fabric designers, the machinists – we’ve all had a part to play in it. High five, team! We did this.”
Visitor Hosts and Volunteer Guides have had the chance to take sample garments for test runs to fine-tune wearability and have been involved with final fittings, too. Machinists with particular expertise in each type of fabric provided input into how the pattern would fall and where the motifs should land, and got Nichola’s blessing. The whole wardrobe will be blessed alongside the new Te Ao Mārama (South Atrium).
So what does Nichola hope the staff wearing the new pieces will feel? “I hope they feel pride and connection. I’d like them to feel good, to have a sense that the design is representing them as well as representing the Museum. They will know the story; they’ll be able to tell it and share it.”
And what about our visitors? “I hope visitors appreciate it,” Nichola says. “I hope they’re drawn to it and that it might spark curiosity – ‘Why is it made like that? What does this mean?’ I hope it draws them in.” So when you step inside Te Ao Mārama, spare a moment to appreciate our new staff wardrobe and ask a Visitor Host to tell you the story.
Postscript: Kahu Tāmaki recognised internationally
In November 2021, Kahu Tāmaki and the Wardrobe Project was recognised internationally at the Professional Clothing Industry Association Worldwide (PCIAW) Awards. Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum's new staff wardrobe took the award for Best Managed Boutique Contract, and was runner-up for Best Design for Corporate Clothing.