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Brand profile

Penny Sage

Photography by Tracey Creed
Words by Tracey Creed

Published October 26 2023

With the vigour of a fashion-obsessed teen, a large dose of responsibility and a deep appreciation for collaboration and craft, Tāmaki Makaurau-based designer Kate Megaw is running Penny Sage as one of the most invigorating and contemporary brands around.

Kate Megaw has been building on the definition of her brand for almost 12 years now—and it feels like she's just hitting her stride. "I started Penny Sage with a small start-up grant and ran it solo for a number of years. In 2018, I hired my first employee to assist with the day-to-day running of the business, and by 2020, we were a team of five." And while the pandemic was super challenging for many playing the capitalist game, it was a community of like-minded people, with Megaw's ethos as their oracle that acknowledged pressing pause on business as usual could promise much needed change. It allowed so many of us to take account of what we value in our lives. And that making overconsumption aspirational is fuelling the destruction of life on Mother Earth. Today, business is buzzing.

With a considered aesthetic that has a quiet, genuine interest in utility and construction, Megaw's fashion journey started in childhood." My mum taught me how to sew at a young age, so growing up, I spent a lot of time making my clothes. I left high school early to study fashion design, and I decided in my first year of university that I was going to create clothing for a living." While successful in crafting clothing, you would wear on high rotation, garments like her Maryse shirting, 70s-inspired two-pieces, wide-leg denim and cord trousers, it's always been more than that. Today, Penny Sage is a true community of like-minded people, inspired by the amazing women who are a constant in Megaw's life with whom she collaborates. This season, the Coastal Shirt is a contemporary reimagining of the modern classic style crafted in 100% cotton, featuring a standing collar and front patch pocket embroidered with small red flowers, designed by textile artist Marta Buda, called our attention.

All the garments are made in Aotearoa, New Zealand. "We make sure the people who make our garments are compensated fairly for their work, and I manage the waste from the production of our garments. We are always looking for ways to reduce our waste and improve what we do with every resource." The truth is that it is vital to protect ourselves and the planet more now than ever. There is a rationalisation to all Megaw's choices—fashion supply chains are complex and obscure. "It's really important to me as a designer and business owner to know everyone making our clothing. It is fundamental to Penny Sage as a label. Everyone I work with takes pride in what they do. It's a special industry, and I really care for it."

Obsessed with making clothes, the designer describes daydreaming about shapes, colours and ways of putting a garment together. Her approach, in a lot of different ways, is rooted in the interest in simple garment detailing that exists for function and construction. Ultimately, there is a desire for Penny Sage clothing to be well-made and universally flattering, that it should benefit the wearer and make them feel good. Megaw's goal has always been to create pieces that her friends—and herself, would love to wear. When talking about her brand, Megaw always speaks to the love and support received from friends and family, showing how her appreciation of fashion runs deeply and derives from a sense of collaboration, an uninhibited need to express herself through clothing.

The brand's website does not outline sustainability practices. A major part of Penny Sage lies in a sustainable outlook on fashion, with Megaw admitting that she never wanted a fashion empire and has always been very cautious of growth as a business. Her current efforts are focused on localised production and figuring out how to ship less in the process. Megaw practises sustainability through textile choices, compositions that break down at the end of their long life as a garment. "I love natural fabrics and primarily use wool, linen, silk and cotton in my collections." Deadstock fabrics are incorporated into collections to reduce textile waste.

Brand sustainability efforts vary considerably, and social standards come with labelling yourself as sustainable and the connotations that people have with the look of sustainable fashion. It can put a brand in a box. "In terms of sustainability, we prefer to show rather than tell and don't feel a need to profit from greenwashing. Our products are made carefully from start to finish, so we hope the design and craftsmanship will speak for themselves." Sustainability is not a marketing strategy. It's something that's innate to the brand. It's almost the opposite of greenwashing, just being sustainable and not having to label it. "I mostly wear Penny Sage, so I design things I want to wear," states Megaw. If you cannot stand behind your clothes, wear them and be your biggest brand ambassador, how can you expect other people to?

View the Penny Sage SS24 collection ~ Love Song online.

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