For the more discerning gentlemen in NZ, choice of snappy local fashion has been a tad limited over the years. While there has been no shortage of streetwear brands popping up on a monthly basis, tailored menswear has been disappearing into the background. That is until a Christchurch husband and wife design team decided to indulge their love of tailoring and bring some classy quirk back into the lives of the kiwi male.
I visited Ra Thomson and Mickey Lin a few weeks ago in the back blocks of suburban Halswell, just on the outskirts of Christchurch. With the address located I ran through the drizzly murk to the front door, but before I could knock Ra popped his head around the corner and waved me into the garage. This was a well finished, comfortable 2 car garage with utilities and an electric door opener that any homeowner would be proud of. It had now been fitted with clothing racks, industrial sewing machines and a large cutting table to become the post earthquake HQ of clothing brand; MisteR.
Ra and Mickey first met in class studying fashion at Christchurch Polytech. Ra, born and bred in Canterbury, was only 16 years old on his enrollment, graduating at 19. Mickey had arrived in the garden city with her family from Taiwan in time for high school and then on to CPIT. With a blossoming romance on their hands, they decided to stay on and look for work locally on their graduation. Mickey with work in the fabric department of Ballantynes and Ra designing for Jockey Kids at Pacific Brands.
But the big smoke (and even bigger smoke) called and the pair set off on their fashion adventures. Ra packed up and headed for Wellington, taking up a spot in the Starfish team and then cutting his teeth in mens tailoring with the now ceased; House of Hank. Mickey skipped the country on a mission for New York where she had enrolled in summer school at Parsons School of Design studying graphic design and design management. She then landed on her feet with an internship for a fantastic womenswear designer who shared her own love for a classic and tailored aesthetic.
But NZ called and Mickey was back on a plane home, this time taking her own turn to work with the Starfish team. Meanwhile, Ra had honed his technical skills and was now “cutting” for House of Hank, Starfish, Robyn Mathieson and others. After two years with House of Hank the designer decided to wrap up his business so despite his freelance work, Ra found himself with a lot of time on his hands as any full time positions were slim on the ground.
At this point Mickey did a short stint designing swimwear ( which she very quickly realised was not at all up her alley!) then moved on to find a fantastic position with Robyn Mathieson.
Essentially, the two young designers had garnered much experience and it seemed like this was the ideal time to start something for themselves. So the evenings were spent with brainstorming the bones of a tailored menswear brand and by 2006 they had a small, sharp collection which they sold exclusively through iconic menswear store; Marvel.
Over six months they produced and sold jeans, jackets and shirts with great success and completed their first full range for Winter ’07 which was stocked by Marvel in both their Wellington and Auckland stores and the Contemporary Lounge in Christchurch. Their stock consistently sold out and in 2008, with their business looking good they decided to relocate back South where rent was a bit cheaper, there was a great manufacturing base and their support network of family and friends.
They set up in a space in central Christchurch (got married!) and continued to build their MisteR brand with two collections per year. They had no qualms in packing their stock and hitting the road to show potential new stockist their wares which earned them some great results and a growing group of quality retailers.
Then…the ground went nuts under their city. On the day of the February 2011 earthquake Mickey and Ra had initially made plans to meet with a property manager to check out some cool, rustic, industrial spaces that they imagined they might be able to combine as showroom as well as workroom. But with some last minute discussion that morning, they decided that perhaps that wasn’t the right direction for their business so cancelled their meeting and drove out to grab a bite at a cafe in New Brighton. There is no doubt that their late change of plan may have kept them safe as they were uninjured during the quake and were able to make their way to check on Ra’s grandparents in the sea side suburb (despite a pothole induced flat tyre and extreme liquifaction). They initially attempted to get into the city to gauge the damage to their building, however, being just one block from the collapsed CTV building this was impossible. For weeks following they would gather at the cordon almost daily until finally they were given just 5 minutes to run in and rescue patterns, laptops, fabric, scissors…anything they could fill their arms and those of their 5 army personnel helpers with. Their sewing machines eventually followed however to this day, their landlord is still waiting on a report as to whether he can re open his building or demo it.
So in the mean time it was pretty evident to me that MisteR is doing JUST fine from its suburban base in the garage of Mickey’s parents. Despite the earthquake they forged ahead to show at the 2011 NZ Fashion week and also launched their womens range. They remain extremely passionate about NZ made and take huge pride in using local manufacturers to connect the dots of the different parts of their business. While the lure of manufacturing offshore can be strong they believe that by spending their own dollars on producing clothes that are then sold in NZ, they are simply helping the money to continue circulating around our own NZ economy.
I like it. In fact. I liked pretty damn much everything about these two.
All photography by Julia Atkinson for Studio Home
WHAT I LEARNED FROM MISTER:
There is definite credit in spending the time learning your trade. Learn from the best. Learn from many. And squash it all into a skill set ready to help you realise your own dreams.