Senorita AweSUMO Flies the Flag for Dunedin Eco Fashion

Recycling has been a hot topic in the media lately. For Fiona Clements, designer of the eco fashion label Senorita AweSUMO, it’s a way of life. As we blog, she is busy preparing for NZ Eco Fashion Week in Lower Hutt next month. She still found time to talk to us about her aesthetic and what she likes about Dunedin.

You grew up in Waitati, on the outskirts of Dunedin. Tell us about your upbringing. 

I grew up outside, playing at the beach, having adventures, cooking on hobo stoves, making huts and staying out all day. Surrounded by nature, barefoot, sun-filled days, Mum’s veggie garden, home preserves, baking and chickens. Waitati is a great community and my best friend (11 days older than me) lived just through the neighbours’ paddock up the back.

How did this environment influence what you do?

The environment has influenced me because I am a creature of the earth and need to be closely connected to it. I love textures, ripples in the sand, clouds, colours of the sunset. I know that being close to the earth is better. I prefer organic, sustainable living. I’m a very sensitive person; my body reacts badly to toxins and I believe that what you have and are as a being should always be honest to yourself and earth alike.

What prompted you to become an eco-fashion designer?

I got sick from working in the sign-writing/graphic design industry. I lived in the realm of Headachia for 6 months, then got fired. I knew I needed to change my life for the better so I moved back home with my parents as I was too ill to look after myself. I entered Novadown Fashioned Feathers competition and won in 2008 with my entry ButterFly Free. This made me realise I could do the polytech course and applied. I never thought I’d graduate from something like that. I’m happy I proved myself wrong.

Do you have any qualifications in fashion design?

I have a Bachelor of Design (Fashion) from the Otago Polytechnic (passed with merit) in 2011.

Many renowned fashion designers leave garment construction to others. Are you handy with a sewing machine and if so, where/when did you learn your skills?

Handy with a sewing machine is an understatement. I’m a third generation Dunedin sewer! I have a very close relationship with my machines. It’s necessary as the way I design and make my garments is very different to ‘normal’ fashion designers. I have to know the capabilities of my machines so I can push the boundaries. I learnt to sew from my family; my maternal grandmother was a tailoress and had a shop in North East Valley, Dunedin. I still treasure her sewing things and use them daily. As a child, my mother made most of my clothes.

2012 iD Dunedin Fashion Week. Photo courtesy of Chris Sullivan/Seen in Dunedin.

Tell us about your ‘Te Warewhare Whakapau’ collection.

‘Te Warewhare Whakapau’ is a collection of pieces to show consumers that the waste they throw away is still beautiful and useful. It highlights that the other side of ‘quick turn around fashion’ means that people throw away beautiful useful things in pursuit of the next new thing. This collection is your waste, DUNEDIN!

You find your recycled materials in landfills and op shops. How much time do you spend looking for materials?

Currently, I’m not spending a lot of time searching for materials; I’m still working my way through bags I’ve collected over the last 2 years from commercial places. Ideally, I’d like to be collecting from recycling centres weekly, but am only managing monthly visits at present because of storage space constraints. I can only do so much; I’m only one person!

Do you have something in mind when you are searching or do the materials you find decide the direction you are going to take?

I keep an open mind when searching; you never know what will jump out and hit you in the face! People throw out some pretty amazing trash, and I have a vivid imagination!!!

You are showing your collection at New Zealand’s first National Eco Fashion Runway Event at The Notre Dame des Missions Arts Centre at Sacred Heart College in Lower Hutt. How did you get involved with this?

I found the event online while searching for New Zealand eco fashion. I researched the concept and the person behind it and decided to get involved. We need to build a collective to move forward. It’s a great opportunity. I am now linked nationally with other people, all of us doing the same thing.

Tell us what you expect to happen at the event.

The runway show will be in the evening. During the day there will be show rehearsals and a shwop and style event. It’s like a shop where you swap clothes and get styled at the same time – a great opportunity to meet new people and see new looks! I’m really looking forward to meeting some faces behind names at the inaugural designer dinner on the Friday night.

You showed a collection at iD Dunedin Fashion Week in 2012. Do you hope to show there again in the future?

If I can get some funding to show, I’d love to for sure. It would be amazing if they included a sustainable eco section at iD Dunedin Fashion Week, to better highlight some of New Zealand and Dunedin’s great eco talent.

Where can we find your clothes in Dunedin?

My clothes are in The Cuckoo’s Nest Ethical Boutique. Most months I’m at Market 22 on Vogel Street. I’m working on my website. I’m on Facebook, and I write a blog. I’m also looking into finding some studio space in town, so watch this space!!!

The retail industry is changing rapidly with an increasing presence online. Do you intend to start an online shop?

I’m in the process of setting that up. The internet is the only way to go now!

Where do you see Senorita AweSUMO in 5 years time?

Future Senorita AweSUMO will be epic. It will have employees and be collecting fabric waste from suppliers regularly, creating clothing in a more holistic manner and creating a closer relationship between designer, process, machine and consumer to eliminate waste.

Are there any particular national or international eco designers or advocates you admire and why?

Orsola de Castro, Timo Rissanen, Holly McQuillan, Julian Roberts, Alexander McQueen, Gary Harvey. I heart all of these people; they are amazeballs!! Total inspiration and hope givers.

You now live in Port Chalmers. What made you choose to live there?

Port Chalmers is ace! After living in Waitati with no supermarket and no pub, I’m living the high life now. Yehaa!!


Fiona Clements in the 2012 iD Dunedin Fashion Show Finale. Photo courtesy of Chris Sullivan/Seen in Dunedin.

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