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Kiwi fashion brand empowers next generation of talent

Following her internship with local fashion label LEO+BE last year, aspiring designer Ella Cook is excited to see her designs land as part of the brand’s winter collection in boutique stores across New Zealand next month. 

Idealog chats to the university student on the challenges of the fashion industry, the inspiration behind her designs, and what her experience with a brand has taught her.

How did the internship come about?

For my NCEA Level 3 Materials technology project my school (Carmel College) set the brief of working with a fashion brand/mentor to create an outcome that was fit for purpose.  

It was a period of reaching out to brands and being turned down multiple times due to the additional stresses of Covid and many understandably not being able to facilitate internships.

However, I was elated when I received Jenny’s response ‘happy to help.’ It’s been an incredible project to work on and my submission of this project for last year’s NCEA Technology Scholarship led to receiving the top Materials Technology score in the country!

What inspired you to get into design? 

I have always been into fashion design from a young age so naturally getting into fashion design when it became available at school seemed like the perfect thing to do. I enjoy the momentum it brings evolving designs, looking to the past and reinventing for the future.

How is the outfit you’ve designed unique to others in the collection?

The outfit I’ve designed is unique due to the time and deliberation of each key feature. For example, the tie waist on the blazer was designed for versatility in terms of how the garment can be worn.

Then I had to think of how it was going to be hung on a hanger in a retail store and where this tie belt would sit. It is these extra design details created to give the outfit an element of sustainability, an on-trend feel all while being comfortable that I believe set my pieces apart.

What challenges did you face during the internship? 

Trying to produce a theme, three garments and a logo to boot while effectively communicating visual ideas in lockdown certainly didn’t come without its challenges. 

One particular challenge was sourcing fabrics and involved several phone calls to suppliers and a last-minute dash to The Fabric Store to pick up my fabric order before ‘lockdown’ started. Also being a student I had my other subject studies and school commitments to complete on top of this work. 

What consumer/fashion trends inspired your design? 

I began looking into LEO+BE customers through targeted surveys to their customer database. From this came insights into the styles they like to wear and the trends they seem to gravitate towards. Being a shopper of LEO+BE myself I found common ground between my own interests and that of their wider customer cohort.

It ended up being a combination of the survey results, trend research and Jenny’s encouragement to follow my findings that resulted in a casual suiting option for LEO+BE. My love (as I discovered, shared by others) for wide-leg styles and softer shaped blouses also led to my final design.

What valuable lessons have you learned from working with Jenny? 

Working with Jenny has taught me many valuable lessons, many of which can’t be taught in a classroom setting. She had the confidence and trust to give me the reins on the inspiration for the collection and to go the extra mile by putting my work into her label and final collection. An opportunity I don’t take lightly.

I have been so fortunate to have had her be so engaging and excited by this project as much as I have. Not many people my age can walk into a store and say “Hey, I designed those pieces!” So I’m pretty stoked!

What’s next for you? Where do you hope to be in 5 years? 

Currently, my main hustle is full-time university studying fashion design at AUT. In five years, wow that seems like a long time away at the moment! But big goals would be to be working in the fashion industry as a buyer or within a brand on a design team somewhere in the fashion globe… dream big right!

You can check out Ella’s designs as part of the LEO+BE winter collection at stockists across NZ.

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