Field Notes

People in Production: Machinist at High Society

6 July 2017

Posted in: Good to Know, Industry, H&F Presents, Fashion Thinking, Opinion

Hawes & Freer presents ‘People in Production’. An insight into the people, brands and roles in the production side of the New Zealand fashion industry. 
We talked to Bev Traill, a sample machinist at High Society about her role with the company and the skills and qualities required to become a machinist.
Bev Traill at High Society
Bev Traill - Sample Machinist at High Society

What part do you have in the NZ fashion industry?

I am a sample machinist for High Society and work specifically with designers and pattern makers to ensure the structure of the garment is well put together and looks and fits right. This then makes it easier for the manufacturers who then will make the bulk range of the collections for High Society. 

How long have you been in the industry for and what role did you start in?

It is coming up 50 years that I have been in the industry. I started when I was 15 years old and had an instant love of fashion. I did an apprenticeship for JP Palmers, which was in the Strand Arcade at the time. Believe it or not, we did everything by hand, like putting in zips and sewing up side seams etc,. Very different to now where we mostly use our machines.  

Who taught you how to sew?

My mother and grandmother didn’t sew but my neighbor next door taught me how to sew and this is where it sparked my interest in fashion. After that I went to Unitec and learnt the basics of pattern making and machining, but I learnt everything through my apprenticeship.

What does a typical day involve at High Society?

A typical day involves lots of sewing! Every garment and day is different. We may do 4 or 5 samples a day, which is good because it doesn’t mean you have the same product, it is always something new. 

What skills & qualities do you think are important for machinists and why?

You really need to have a good attitude, almost be a perfectionist as you want to deliver your product at a high standard and overall you need to enjoy and have a love of sewing and creating. 

What advice would you give to people starting in fashion?

Definitely the skills and qualities mentioned above. But also that not everyone will be a designer. You have to accept that and be willing to learn. You need to think outside of fashion, we have really great film companies here who are ALWAYS looking for machinists. 

I also think that everyone should have an understanding of the basics of patterns and sewing – this is likely to be taught in universities etc, but I think there should be an emphasis on good sewing skills. 

Lastly, don’t limit yourself, you don’t want to narrow your perspective, be broad instead so it gives you more opportunities and you are open to the experience. Keep an open mind as you may get into costume rather than ready-to-wear fashion.

If you could be doing any job in fashion what would it be and why?

I was able to go along to the photoshoot for one of the collections recently. I really enjoyed this as I got to see the finished product on the model and how it was going to be marketed. If I were to get into another area of fashion, I would like to give the styling/photography side a go. 

To end with, what do you think is the biggest challenge the industry faces?

Definitely imported products and the quality of the garments. 

High Society Logo

Who is High Society?

High Society is one of New Zealand's most successful and commercially savvy fashion companies. They have four brands called Catalyst, Chocolat, Obi and Travellers where they design seasonal collections.

Bill Hall started the business 65 years ago and later on his wife Robyn Hall, joined the business and is still the managing director of the business to this day.

High Society started as Society Fashions which had several queens stores throughout New Zealand. In the early 1990s society fashions changed to High Society and focused on building our own wholesale brands, starting with Catalyst in 1990. Then in 2001, Obi was launched - as an edgier label full of pieces Robyn herself would wear. Chocolat was launched in 2003 and was one of the original labels targeted at the plus size market - one of the original voices in the industry calling for body positivity.

High Society makes up a very important part of the NZ fashion industry because it was one of the first fashion businesses in New Zealand to export into Australia, paving the way for many others. They also have an ongoing passion and commitment to continue making products in NZ, supporting a wider industry of suppliers, cutters, manufacturers and many others. 

For those wanting to get into the industry it is good to know that many former High Society staff have gone onto to create their own enduring fashion labels, which include Loobie’s Story and Augustine by Kelly Coe. 

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