40 years of fashion

Brittany Pooley talks to Liz Findlay in the midst of fashion label Zambesi’s 40th anniversary.

Brittany Pooley
Brittany Pooley

Hard work, late nights, and a lot of passion and dedication by many people is part of what has made Zambesi one of New Zealand's longest-standing fashion labels.

With 40 years in the business, Liz Findlay, who grew up in Dunedin - one of six children including her sister NomD designer Margarita Robertson - is celebrating with a special show at New Zealand Fashion Week.

The ''Zambesi Since 1979: 40 Years of Fashion Runway'' show is set to help open New Zealand Fashion Weekend.

Findlay and the ''Zamfam'' at Zambesi have been working hard towards the multifaceted fashion curation that will commemorate the brand's history.

The show will be a present-day retelling of Zambesi's extraordinary narrative. It will provide a snapshot of New Zealand fashion history through the lens of one of New Zealand's oldest and most illustrious labels.

Liz Findlay celebrates 40 years of Zambesi. Photos: Supplied
Liz Findlay celebrates 40 years of Zambesi. Photos: Supplied
''We have a massive archive which will be reinterpreted in an eclectic styling mix of key pieces over the 40 years to give a modern take. We feel the show will evoke memories and a sense of nostalgia and pride,'' Findlay says.

''The beauty of the brand is that it doesn't age. A combination of imagination and reality, with a sense of the past - yet feels relevant and contemporary.''

The runway show will be followed by a second NZ Fashion Week event held off-site next week which will parade the brand's latest 2020 collection.

The 40-year anniversary of Zambesi establishes the brand as one of New Zealand's longest-standing fashion houses, a feat that Findlay credits to the fluid nature of the brand and the devotion from the people behind it.

''The world has changed around us and we have adapted, while we remain true to our core values/DNA. We continue to be constant, relevant and wearable.

''We attribute the success of the brand to our loyal following, together with the dedication, passion and creative drive of our family and staff.''

People are an integral part of Zambesi as a brand. The NZ Fashion Week celebrations ahead are just as much for the fashion as they are for the people behind the clothes.

''We will celebrate by sharing the success of the brand with our Zamfam as we continue to move forward. The show itself is a celebration and reward to everyone who is and who ever has been involved in our brand.''

Findlay moved to Auckland in 1969 and met Neville Findlay, an industrial designer, the same year. They married in 1971 and went on to open boutiques together before Zambesi was launched in 1979.

''My right-hand man of course is Neville John Findlay, co-founder and the wind beneath my wings. Neville convinced me 43 years ago to follow my dream. I still have my feet on the ground and my head is still in the clouds.''

Zambesi designs have a loyal following.
Zambesi designs have a loyal following.
Working creatively behind the scenes, the key people aretheir daughters Marissa and Sophie, and menswear designer Dayne Johnston.

''I would love to mention everyone on our current staff who are talented, hardworking and inspire me every day. Love your work!''

For the Findlays it has been 40 years of hard work, a lot of late nights, and a lot of passion and dedication from both family and staff.

''The Zamfam I would not want to be without!''

NZ Fashion Week as a platform for celebration is fitting, as Zambesi has presented its signature collections on the national stage nearly every year since the event's inception in 2001.

''We have always had a very supportive relationship with Dame Pieter Stewart, and we believe in the concept of NZ Fashion Week because it creates opportunities for designers to showcase their collections within the creative community.''

Doing a show is the reward after they have completed a collection.

''We love doing shows! I have found that my connection to the collection is much stronger when we have shown on the catwalk.''

The start of New Zealand Fashion Week heralded a brand new movement in the country's fashion industry.

''It was exciting. Our show at the inaugural NZ Fashion Week was called Birds of Paradox. It was an honour to open the week at the Auckland War Memorial Museum with a powhiri and official welcome. Prominent fashion journalist and expat Hillary Alexander attended from the UK, which was very special.''

Zambesi has performed a wide scope of fashion experiences at NZ Fashion Week since the event's origin show.

Findlay's highlights are dominated by the off-site shows, as they allowed the company to ''fulfil its creative vision''.

''The museum, the show at the St James theatre with live rock band Pluto, The Oriental Markets, Sky City Theatre, and the list goes on.

''They're all unique. Our shows are more than just the clothes, more than just a runway. Consideration goes into everything - it's a marriage of audio/visual coming together and creating an experience. It creates a mood, a feeling.''

The underlying theme of this year's NZ Fashion Week is sustainability, and events include the Socially Sustainable Business presentation, the Sustainability Conversation and the Sustainability Show.

Ethical fashion is topical in the industry with each brand currently critiquing their own practices.

''We, of course, are fully aware of correct practice and have recently become involved with the Mindful Fashion initiative. Creating collectable garments, made in New Zealand is probably our best contribution to sustainability.''

Zambesi's success to date is reflected in its ability to preserve the brands origins, yet shift with its ever-changing culture to thrive in the current market.

As its devotees celebrate the company's 40-year anniversary alongside it, they can expect more to come.

''We believe there is still huge potential in the brand. Zambesi has been ever evolving and will continue to evolve in the future; who knows where that may lead. All we know is the brand will continue ...''

To see

Zambesi 40 Years of Fashion, New Zealand Fashion Weekend, Friday, 8.30pm or Zambesi’s current Spring/Summer Collection zambesistore.com.