Natalie Procter of Kiwi label Mina is a young up-and-coming designer whose sustainable and timeless garments have been making waves in the local fashion scene. We caught up with Procter ahead of her show at NZFW '19 to talk setting up your own business, teleportation and her life-changing trip to India.
Can you tell us when your love affair with fashion first began?
I think my mum had a big influence on my ‘creativeness’. My mum was one of those mums when I was growing up, who when there was a dress up at school, mum would make my costume. I remember feeling embarrassed that mine was homemade and everyone else's was rented. I look back now and without mum’s creative hands, I probably wouldn't have mine. We have always had a ‘crafty’ room in our family home (this is now the Mina HQ) so we would spend a lot of time down there whether it be scrapbooking, mosaics (mum ran mosaic classes for the local kids in our area) and of course teaching me the basics of sewing. I guess the lightbulb moment where I knew I wanted to get into fashion was only really when I got to Massey University in Wellington. I had a tour through the fashion block which was full of older students working on their final year graduate collection. It was manic. I had never seen such a cool, creative environment like this and it made me feel like, yes I want to be doing this each day.
You went on an ethical fashion trip to India which is how Mina came to be, can you tell us what you experienced on the trip?
Yes! India was such a game-changer for me. At the end of my fashion design degree I won a scholarship to go to India with 20 other girls where we spent six weeks in India following seed to garment. We visited organic cotton farms, natural dye houses, weaving studios, ethical silk farms and finishing at some of India's boutique fashion houses where the words ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethical’ was so foreign to them as it was just ingrained in the way they worked. I have been lucky to have travelled a fair bit after high school that I have seen that not everyone lives a life like we do here in NZ. The trip wasn't as such an experience that shocked me of our fashion industry but more gave me the motivation to create a business model that both supports people, creates a community and promotes a conscious lifestyle.
How did you first get your label off the ground?
It feels so long ago, even though it’s only been 18 months. I came back from India, moved home, got a part time job and began designing and working on the brand in the downstairs of my parents' home. I decided to produce this collection with no stockists so quantities of stock to produce was really just a guessing game. I made an amateur online store and then launched in December 2017. I managed to get my first stockist in Wellington halfway through launching the range. I look back now and I’m not really sure how we sold the entire range but we did!
You say that in order to buy clothes you must understand their story. How do you pass on the story of your garments?
For me it’s really important to be as transparent with my customers about our supply chain as I think customers need to create a personal and emotional connection with their garment to really cherish it. I use our social media and website as a means of teaching my customers about our local supply chain, how many hands touch each of the garments and all the stages involved in producing a garment. I think our customers do really want to know about their garments and I am always looking at ways of storytelling.
Mina’s style is essentially defined by simple cuts and clean lines. Can you talk us through the design process that your pieces go through?
I always start my design process by looking at fabrics. My designs are hugely driven by fabrics and what's available locally. We use ‘deadstock’ fabrics which are essentially end of line fabrics from big international brands. It’s equivalent to op-shopping really, we buy fabrics that already exist instead of producing new ones. It’s great as it keeps our environmental footprint down and the fabrics are small in quantity which means our garments stay niche.
I design for the way modern women live, work and spend their time. Understated silhouettes that are designed with intention and made to last. I am lucky enough to work with my mum, which has been hugely beneficial for me in the design stages as we are two different age demographics. I will design a range and Mum will give her feedback whether she would wear certain styles or not, and if not, for what reason. This process has meant that we are able to cater to such a wide range of women that isn’t confined to a certain shape.
Is there much editing after the toile stage or do you stick to your vision from the start?
There is ALWAYS editing! Fit and shape is essential for us so if a style just doesn't work with the body we take it out. Some designs are easy wins where the first toile is perfect, but most toiles often need reworking, whether it be the fabric isn’t working or maybe the silhouette is not following the shape of the body right.
How have you found running a business with your mum?
I think it surprises both of us how well we work together. As the brand has grown we have definitely come to know each other's strengths and weaknesses within the business and we just make sure we are both working to our strengths. I don’t think either of us would have imagined working together but we’re here and I think we're both super proud of us as a team and how much we have learned in such a short period of time.
You’re showing at NZFW for the first time, can you tell us what we can expect from your collection?
Yes! Very excited and full of nerves. As you may know in fashion, designers present their collections to buyers almost 6 months in advance so this year I am presenting Autumn Winter 2020. This collection called ‘Walking the Bushveld’ was inspired by a recent trip back to South Africa to visit family. The collection draws on landscapes and colours of the South African woodlands. More relevant is our soon-to-be-launching Spring Summer 2019 range which launches in-store and online on 8 September. This collection boasts beautiful warm earthy tones with fresh blues and crisp whites. Each season I develop as a new designer find my path and this season really captures my identity as a designer.
Mina eschews polyesters and other synthetic fibers. What’s your favourite natural fabric to work with?
Tencel! It’s a wood pulp fiber made from the eucalyptus tree and has such a beautiful weight and feel to it. The fabric has this cooling touch on the body so it's an incredible fabric for the summer. It’s hard to source here so when we find it’s like finding gold.
What’s been the biggest fuck yeah moment of your career so far?
Picking up my first stockist in Wellington, ENA. Felt like my first step into the industry.
What would you like for the future of Mina?
Oh so many things! I would love to expand into the Australian market soon! I would like to head back to India to reconnect with some of the amazing NGOs over there as well as looking at sourcing some of our fabrics. I would also love to bring on another member into the Mina team at some point. Something I am continually working on is how our seasons can become less confined to a certain season and be a necessity all year round. It doesn't make sense to me that we pack away half our wardrobes at the end of the season to only bring it out again the following year. We are working on something a little different for next Autumn Winter 2020.
What advice would you give young designers following in your footsteps?
Relationships are everything in this industry, be yourself, be genuine and treat your entire supply chain with kindness and respect.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Teleportation—take me to the sun any day.
Fave café for the morning after?
Kokako (now called The Postal Service) in Grey Lynn—they do a killer black garlic mushrooms.
One thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
I’m a test-tube baby.
Cats or dogs?
What was the best movie/series/book/gig you’ve enjoyed lately?
I went to Dermot Kennedy at the Powerstation last month, amazing.
Thanks Natalie, good luck for your show at NZFW!
Image Credit: Supplied