Finished product . . . Tess McCone with some of her garments. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

From North Otago farm girl to New Zealand fashion designer – Oamaru Mail reporter Gus Patterson finds out more about Auckland-based Tess McCone, who has just launched her own fashion label, Su’mar.

Q Tell me about your upbringing in North Otago.

I grew up on a farm in Enfield with my mum Sue, dad Marty, sister Kara, and my grandparents just down the hill on the same farm. Growing up on the farm was incredible, there are so many beautiful country memories I will cherish forever – biking to and from school on quiet roads, sitting in the harvester with dad, swimming in the river, packing a backpack and going off on an adventure on the farm with my sister, watching a Highlanders game in the shed on top of the hill, the list goes on.

Q What did you start off doing when you left school?

I went to Dunedin and studied a bachelor of fashion design. After graduating, I moved to Wellington, but it was really overwhelming entering the industry and hard to find a job. All I had in my head was “get your foot in the door with a brand you admire and work your way up”. That opportunity eventually popped up and I started working for Zambesi, where I stayed for eight years.

Q Have you always wanted to be a fashion designer?

It has been my dream since I was about 13 when I became really obsessed with the idea of making my own clothes. Mum thought it was just a phase, but when it did not pass by she took me down to see my aunty Jill one school holidays and she taught me how to sew.

Q Why did you decide to launch your own label?

It was always the big goal to have my own brand, but I knew there was so much involved that in order to achieve this I needed to learn as much as I could before starting out. My degree gave me good practical skills and helped develop my own design style/process. During my time working for Zambesi I had various roles which gave me an overview of what it takes to have a brand, and also a business. I also took some time away from the industry; I actually came back down to Enfield and worked as a roustabout. In hindsight it was a pretty integral move to get where I am now. The fashion industry can be quite intense, and moves very quickly from season to season, so taking time away from it all really cemented my passion for it and inspired taking that next step.

Q What are your goals for Su’mar?

Su’mar is and will always be first and foremost about the clothes. That sounds really obvious being a fashion brand, but each piece I produce celebrates the craftsmanship that goes into it. I definitely want the brand to grow with time, but its really important to me that these core values never fade away through mass production or by trying to keep up with a trend. The clothes are designed to be trans-seasonal and timeless; combined with high-quality fabrics and manufacturing, they are designed and made to last. I have always

Creative . . . Su’mar founder Tess McCone sketches out some new ideas. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

been intrigued by the boundary between art and fashion work explores combining artistic elements with classic tailoring and pattern cutting. For my first collection I worked with my boyfriend’s mother who is an amazingly talented glass artist, she created these beautiful one-off glass buttons to go on a jacket. This is something I had in mind from the beginning with Su’mar, to work and collaborate with local artists and crafts people.

Q Where does the name came from?

I wanted the name to have meaning for me personally and to represent my design philosophy, but also not be too defining to a certain style or thing. So after much consideration and help from some good friends I landed on Su’mar. It is actually my parents’ names combined – Sue and Marty.

Q Who or what have been your biggest influences and inspirations?

My biggest inspiration for making clothes is how a piece of clothing can improve your mood, change how you feel or lift your spirit. It is such a simple thing but so powerful. My inspirations are changing often and can come out of nowhere. My family has always had a huge influence on me at different stages in my life. My grandad Stan was such a handyman. In his retired life he was always drawing and would make something out of anything, even in his older years he was learning to paint. I loved how creative and open-minded he was, that passion for making and always being curious to learn new crafts definitely inspired and influenced me.

Q What would be your advice for today’s school leavers?

When it comes to tertiary education, don’t feel pressured. I think if you know what you want to do, or have a real passion for something then go for it, but sometimes you just need time to figure it out. It is never too late to educate yourself and studying later in life is always an option, or maybe study is not for you at all. I just think every single person is different and unique and the most important thing is to find what’s right for you; it may take time and that’s totally OK.

  • Su’mar is dedicated to the slow fashion movement, with sustainable and conscious practice in mind. A strong focus on craft and detailing is always present and all pieces are manufactured in New Zealand. It is available online at and it is also stocked at Housekeepers Design in Oamaru.

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