Natalie Newlands has always been a dedicated fashionista.
“I always knew that was what I wanted to do.”
The brains and creative talent behind the New Lands label, Newlands grew up in Incholme, near Oamaru, the youngest of four children and still calls the family farm home.
Her brother John (Snow) Newlands has taken it over, and she visits often with her three young children.
Newlands describes farming and fashion as yin and yang.
“It’s so funny that farming and fashion are like polar opposite, but it’s good, you know.”
As a high school pupil, Newlands would raid Oamaru’s second-hand shops in her lunchtimes and fill up a bag for $2 with “cool fabrics or quirky prints”. She would cut items up and rework them.
“Mum and Dad were so patient. I think one time I counted and I had 52 T-shirts.
“They never conformed me into … ‘you have to wear this thing’.”
She remembered a particular pair of velvet, green pedal-pushers she made.
“I stitched tinsel around the hems – and Mum and Dad let me wear them. They were just like, ‘whatever’.”
“So I was always into like, reworking, creating .. so I knew I wanted to go to fashion school, which was cool, because not many people did know what they wanted to do,” she said.
After finishing high school in Oamaru, she gained a bachelor of arts degree in design, majoring in fashion, from Otago University.
Her first job after graduating was working for Margie Robertson at Nom*D, where she was mostly on the shop floor at flagship store Plume, an experience she described as “integral” to helping her with her designs and learning what sells.
When a position came up in the design room, she jumped at the chance.
Newlands worked for Nom*D for about four years, through her early 20s, before heading overseas at 25.
On her return to New Zealand in her late 20s, she worked at Moochi, which was a contrast to the “creative space” of Nom*D.
“More trend-driven, commercial. Kind of a fast fashion. They’d smash it out, test the market, repeat styles. Totally different from Nom*D.”
Although she had preference for the creative process at Nom*D, she also learned a lot from her experience with Moochi.
“The thing is, the Moochi thing taught me that inside that fashion umbrella, there’s so many ways it can be done.”
They would find what worked and keep churning it out, which some brands needed to do more often, she said.
After two years at Moochi, Newlands then bought Queenstown clothing boutique Angel Divine, from her friend Emma Taylor, who was then sick with leukaemia and has since died.
“It felt cool taking over that legacy from her, and also keep it going.”
While she was running Angel Divine, she noticed a gap in the market for good quality basics.
“Just general things like some slips, and some sequinned T-shirts.”
A turning point for her New Lands brand was when she designed a pair of leather pants which were the “best selling item in Angel for all time”.
“No-one was doing them, they were a different market.”
She used her knowledge of that market and tailored her wholesale collections to suit. Those pants are still part of her line-up.
But, after having three babies in three and a-half years, trying to run a business and build a house, she decided to take a step back from the wholesale market and sell her label just through Angel Divine.
It meant she could be more flexible with what she made and when, and the designs were made nearby in Invercargill.
“I didn’t have to conform to dates and deliveries and invoicing. It was just tidier. But it was good and people were really into it.”
In September last year, it was time for Newlands to close the door on her time with Angel Divine.
She sold it in order to put her focus back on her brand, and with her mind free from “shop admin” she has had a resurgence in creativity.
She started branching out into knitwear last season and is loving the new challenge.
“I wanted to create knitwear that was affordable, because quite often knitwear can cost just as much as a coat.
“I want my knitwear to be cosy – not itchy, but also kind of light. I wanted to design knitwear that I wanted to wear.”
She described some of her designs as a “little bit farmery” and oversized, but made from plush fibres such as alpaca and mohair, and in bright colours.
“With the brand, I’ve tried to make it functional, which means comfortable to wear, good fibres, but also a bit playful.
“You know there’s things in your wardrobe, and you’re like, I totally love it, but I never wear you. What do we always go to? It’s functional, I feel good in it, and it kind of empowers me, because it’s practical.”
Newlands said in her photo shoots for her clothing, she always tried to use “strong” footwear.
“Because I feel like it’s grounding. It empowers that woman to kick some ass.”
The New Lands label now has seven retailers and will be available in Oamaru for the first time this month, at Housekeepers Design.
The launch of her online store New Land Studios, was another step forward for the business, and alongside the clothing, the designer has had a “play around” with drawing faces and selling the artworks.
She said the orders had been “going bananas”.
“Which is awesome and I didn’t expect it.”
For her spring/summer collection, she has put the faces on sweatshirts.
“My idea is to bring some playful stuff into clothing.”