Caitlin Crisp started her fashion label by saying, ‘No.’
It was ‘No’ to an “incredible” job offer with a top New Zealand label.
The 24-year-old former Christchurch resident is talking on the phone from her Auckland studio in Parnell, when she recalls the significant moment last year.
“I realised that if I am going to be doing this for someone else, I may as well be doing it for myself. I called my parents and said, ‘I can’t take this job, I’m going to do it [start my own label].’ They were stoked,” she says.
“Mum had always said, ‘I know you are going to do this, but I'm not going to push you, because it needs to be you that says go,’ ” says Caitlin.
So, Caitlin turned an old farm shed on the Kumeu property she lived on with partner Josh and some friends, into her studio, and got to work creating her label Caitlin Crisp.
Fashion and design have always come easy to Caitlin and it may well be because it is in her blood. Her grandmother was a seamstress, and her great-grandfather a tailor.
Caitlin taught herself how to construct garments using the sewing machine her aunty bought for her. Her first design was a fetching blue dress made in poly crepe.
“I became really good really quickly. So, before I had even studied fashion I had made fully lined clothes including ball gowns and jackets. I look back now and think, ‘How on earth did I know how to do any of that?’ ”
She didn’t know much about patterns then. Instead, she would design by pinning things to herself or copy existing garments and adapt them.
In her final year as a boarder at Auckland’s St Cuthbert’s College, Caitlin became ill with glandular fever and returned home to Christchurch where she was bedridden for six weeks. The only thing she could do was sew. Her then-boyfriend and his friends asked her to make clothes for them.
“So, at around 16, I started my first label and put it into production in Christchurch. Opening accounts had to be under my boyfriend’s name because I was too young to have one myself,” she says.
Working on her first label, Miles & Snicket, gave Caitlin the clarity she needed that it was the industry for her. Then, in a chance meeting on an airplane, her mum Karen sat next to the woman who would become Caitlin’s fashion dean at Ara Institute of Technology, Nicola Chrisp.
“I was so convinced I was going to study in Auckland or Wellington. But Mum was like, ‘I think you should really go talk to this lady. She seems really onto it.’ So, I went and talked to her and wore one of my jackets.
“And she just picked the jacket apart. She didn’t at all praise me, but she pretty much said, ‘You need to learn a lot more.’ She was absolutely amazing,” says Caitlin.
But after finishing her degree Diploma in Fashion Technology, Caitlin decided to take a break and moved to Auckland where she worked in retail.
“I knew I wanted to be in the industry, but I really lost the motivation. I wasn’t pattern making, I wasn’t sewing, I just stopped.”
But when she saw auditions advertised for the New Zealand version of Project Runway she decided to give it a go. She was accepted and did well on the show, nearly making it to the semi-finals. Her exit before the semis also meant she was able to show at New Zealand Fashion Week 2018, a remarkable achievement for the young designer.
“I did everything exactly how I wanted to and it was beautiful.”
Since then, her momentum has been building. And then the Covid-19 lockdown struck.
Caitlin was left in two minds about what to do. Her new collection Second Season had just been released.
“I called mum and said to her that I had no idea what to do. I asked her if I should go home or stay in Auckland. And she just replied, ‘Well, if I were you I would just stay in Auckland and make it work.’ ”
And so she did.
During lockdown, Caitlin released three patterns for sale with construction kits, so people could make their own garments at home.
“It has gone so well I had to take it offline so I could catch up with orders, because I was so overwhelmed. It was amazing,” she says.
There is no doubt the young designer has traversed many ups and downs, but it seems one thing has remained constant for her: a strong sense of self-belief, which has remained her guide from the beginning.