This month's guest is Frances Lowe from Loclaire, a local Kiwi Fashion Designer that's leading the change in Fashion. I first came across the idea of Made to Order from Frances and it's the way forward to tackle fast fashion and waste that comes from it. I've known Frances for awhile, we met through a mutual friend back in 2010. It's been so inspiring following her journey to creating Loclaire. She switched from Architecture to fashion (she worked at some pretty cool places) to now being behind the label of Loclaire. So I'm excited to introduce you to Frances and to get to know her a bit better.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I’m a second gen Kiwi Chinese, born and bred in Auckland. I have a hunger to pursue many different creative paths (forever my strength and my downfall), but currently most of my energy goes towards running Loclaire – my made-to-order womenswear brand. As my first-born she demands a lot of attention, so when I do get a break you’ll find me off the grid at Mangawhai Heads or spending an entire Saturday cooking up a feast from scratch.
I know the feeling of pursuing different creative paths, it's good to pivot and you can never be on a straight path (at least in this modern world). You’ve gone from doing architecture to fashion designing, what made you make the great leap?
I think changing paths needs to be more normalised. When I finished school I still had no idea what industry I wanted to work in, I only knew it needed to be creative – I fell into studying architecture because I thought it made sense from my school subjects, and also my subconscious told me this would be an easier proposal to my Chinese parents over something like art or music school.
I realised pretty soon into my architecture degree that it wasn’t for me. In my final year I found myself getting more into sewing – a skill taught by my Mum. I bought singlets from The Warehouse and customised them, took apart old clothes to see what the pieces looked like flat and separate, and enrolled myself in a pattern-drafting course. Once I made sense of it – making or altering my own clothes became pretty addictive. I don’t see architecture and fashion as so different - they both deal with creating evocative spaces for bodies, and like all creative endeavours, have the extraordinary power to tell stories through art. My parents have been the biggest supporters of Loclaire since day one – so I guess the joke’s on me!
That's so cool! I love that you took the learning from your mum and dived straight into it. What does Loclaire mean and how did you end up creating your brand?
Loclaire is a mix of my last name Lowe and my middle name Claire. My partner Adi and I lived in Shanghai from 2016 – 2018, and Loclaire was born upon coming home. At the time I was at a bit of a crossroads in my career – I had spent the past couple of years learning some ugly truths about the state of the fashion industry (and the world at large) and felt like I either had to leave it altogether, or create something myself that I could be in complete control over.
Who or what’s your greatest influence for starting Loclaire?
In the beginning, it was very much about leading the change I wanted to see in the fashion industry – taking ownership over more responsible design, fibers and production. Alongside this and just as important was taking customers with me on this journey – education has always been paramount to creating long lasting change, and the more aligned brands and customers can be towards a shared vision, the better for everyone, and for our Earth.
Whilst this is absolutely still our North Star, another purpose has come into play recently – where I have felt my Chinese heritage more and more intertwined with Loclaire’s identity. When we launched, Loclaire existed very much to fill a gap for our customers; I have always been a bit of a people pleaser and I felt like Loclaire had to fit in culturally to be accepted. I’m a bit embarrassed even saying that out loud now. Several things have shifted since then and the change in me has been like the flick of a switch. One day I just woke up with the epiphany that Loclaire had not only an opportunity, but a duty, to advocate for the Asian community. We (myself included) have a lot to unlearn and learn to be truly anti-racist.
These two things get me up in the morning, and are a part of every decision I make for the brand.
That's very insightful, and I love that you are involving your heritage into your identity. What’s a typical day in the life of Frances?
The joys of being self-employed – no day is ever the same. At the moment I am in the middle of lots of production – which means hours at my cutting table listening to podcasts, running around to see my suppliers, QC-ing and hand-finishing garments, and dispatching. It’s the very hands-on, less creative part of my job but I get huge satisfaction seeing the beautiful end result and of course receiving such kind messages from my community when they receive their special piece. I am looking forward to wrapping this lot up though so I can have more space for creating again – I’m feeling the buzz!
If there was one thing you want your customers to take and feel when purchasing Loclaire, what might it be?
Very unsexy answer – but I recently started sharing transparent cost breakdowns of our garments – so you can see exactly what has gone into our retail pricing. After ten years in the industry I more or less know this like the back of my hand – but I sometimes forget that to our customers this can be so foreign and somewhat shocking. Fast fashion has completely poisoned our opinion of what clothing ‘should’ cost – it is so terribly skewed and messed up – if you just think through all the elements that go into even just the fabric of a t-shirt (growing, harvesting, cleaning, spinning, dying, weaving, finishing), how can it possibly end up selling for under $10? There is a huge disconnect here that I think is so important to talk about.
In my mind, learning about basic pricing will lead to a larger appreciation, and ultimately a bigger emotional connection to our clothing. Hopefully it means you make more thoughtful purchases, wear it with more love and respect, keep it in your wardrobe longer, and care for it like a friend.
I definitely feel you are leading the change, your post on sharing the costs was impactful on social media. Sustainability is a huge issue for the fashion industry, what’s some advice you can offer to someone who is trying to be conscious about fashion waste, but also conscious about following the trends?
Two quotes best sum up my advice –
“Everything we make returns to the Earth, either as food or poison”, and
“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want”.
So - buy quality over quantity, and where you can - buy natural, organic, or low impact fibres. Look after your clothes and they will last a very long time. Ask questions of your favourite brands and hold them accountable!
Yes voting with your wallet is powerful! Brings me to my next question - If you can dress 5 guests, who would they be?
Definitely Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen - to live out my childhood dreams.
Gemma Chan – not only for her acting but for her work against anti-Asian hate.
Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast – would love to dress her shows!
And then maybe a wild card to @bettyshanghai, a food blogger that I became obsessed with in Shanghai. I can’t with her lifestyle - if you know, you know!
Great choices, I knew Gemma Chan would pop up - I LOVE HER. Of course we have to ask this question. What’s your first memory of matcha and what is your favourite matcha drink/dish?
I have a terrible memory so this probably isn’t my first – but my most standout matcha memory would be on an earlier trip to Japan, of course. We were in Osaka and decided to splurge at the Kani Doraku, the restaurant with the big moving crab on the outside. For our dessert, the waitress whisked up a shot of hot matcha at our table, and poured this over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was sooo velvety smooth and delicious.
For every day I am more of a purist - I love the ritual of Thea’s organic matcha powder whisked up as a traditional hot tea in the morning. I’m not big on breakfast, so I like that it’s not too sweet or too filling.
What’s on the horizon for Loclaire?
Loclaire is a pandemic baby – we launched just before the world closed up, and now 2 and a half years later – we’re emerging as a toddler! This year is about checking in with our intentions and purpose, and finding calm amongst the chaos.