Shining a light on slow fashion

Russ Haigh and Tania Murray Haigh are embracing life and work in the Maniototo where they have...
Russ Haigh and Tania Murray Haigh are embracing life and work in the Maniototo where they have opened a retail business which showcases their linen clothing and homeware. PHOTOS: PHIL FLANAGAN
A Cromwell couple has made the brave decision to relocate to the Maniototo and open a retail business in the main street of Ranfurly. They explain their reasoning to Otago Daily Times business editor Sally Rae.

They reckon they’ve struck gold in the Maniototo.

Russ Haigh and Tania Murray Haigh have opened a retail business in the main street of Ranfurly, a move which could be seen as bold given the economic climate.

Mr Haigh acknowledged the traditional retail model was struggling but said the different path they had chosen to tread was already working, proven with the interest in the short time Lohi Linen has been open.

Forget fast fashion and the trillions of tonnes of non-compostable synthetic clothing clogging up landfills around the world - Lohi was all about shining the light on slow fashion, homeware and on the wider Maniototo district while also helping educate the next generation about a sustainable circular economy.

The couple moved from Cromwell - where they had been renovating properties - to Ranfurly, Ms Murray Haigh’s old hometown and where her parents still live.

It was also where she had fond memories of visiting the drapery store in the Charlemont St building which now houses Lohi.

The expansive premises had been empty for about a decade before they breathed new life into the building, displaying not only their own upcycled furniture and Ms Murray Haigh’s linen range, named after local places, but also housing products from other small Maniototo businesses - from a jar of peach conserve to knitwear made from wool grown down the road.

"It’s all about the background and the story of how amazingly beautiful the Maniototo is," she said.

"We’re so very, very grateful. And it’s a hoot, we’re having a great time.

"It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. We’re here and loving it," her husband added.

"It’s such an honour that we’ve found a town we can contribute."

Ms Murray Haigh - who, as Tania Murray, won the high jump gold medal at the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games - was 14 when she left Ranfurly to move to Dunedin.

She had loved her Maniototo upbringing but she also wanted to spread her wings and knew she was never going to stay in the district.

A self-taught dressmaker, she had her own label for many years making everything from children’s clothes to wedding dresses.

But her passion for Ranfurly and the wider Maniototo did not diminish over the years, most recently spent in Cromwell.

"It’s in your blood ... I never actually thought I’d be able to come back. It’s amazing to come back ... with an energy and vibrancy and be a part of the community."

For her and her husband, it was about showing what that community had to offer in what was a prime location, and providing a positive experience to visitors.

Many others in the community shared those memories of the store’s former life and felt a sense of responsibility to "do it right" and bring the location back to the community.

The generation of young people coming through tended to research what they bought - they wanted to know its history and they had been taught about the environment and things breaking down, Ms Murray Haigh said.

She was passionate about linen and encouraged people to wear it crinkled, rather than ironing the fabric.

"Embrace the wrinkles," she said, adding that nature was not perfect like synthetic fibres.

Any of her offcuts too small to be made into clothing were used to make "leftover love hearts" which were formed over a recycled metal clothes hanger while anything smaller than that was composted back into the land. Packaging was also made from compostable products.

She was also making wool-filled cushions complete with a metal zipper to ensure they were recyclable. It was possible they were the only fully compostable cushions on the market in New Zealand.

Her sewing machines were on the shop floor so visitors could watch her - and other staff as the business grew - at work.

Young people were getting into sewing, keen to design something original for themselves.

They were also doing thrift shopping and, by using a machine, could change the garments around.

"We want to tap into that cleverness."

She did her own one-off "mash-ups" of clothing and many of her designs were tested on her own children, daughter Jaide, 21, and son Caleb, 19. If she got the tick from them, then she knew they were all right, she laughed.

It was Jaide, who has a background in marketing, that came up with the name Lohi, which is Hawaiian for slow. The family had loved holidays in Hawaii.

Caleb, who plays halfback for Upper Clutha Rugby Club’s premier team, known as the Rams, had been utilised as a model for the Lohi range.

The couple were keen for Ranfurly to be a destination, particularly for visitors from Dunedin and cyclists from the nearby Otago Central Rail Trail, and for Lohi for a place for people "to hang out". A cold-pressed juice and smoothie bar was being added to the Lohi store.

Mr Haigh described the couple as a great team, saying his wife had the visual side covered and - as a self-described jack-of-all trades - he had the "make it happen".

They were looking forward to a fashion show at Lohi on March 1.