Emerging designer Stephanie Saxton is infusing the essence of Athenree – population 672 – into a range of activewear and swimwear. She shares some reflections on the design process, body confidence, and the importance of getting your toes sandy every day.
Now 24, Saxton came from her hometown near Vancouver, Canada, to New Zealand in 2012 for a boy: her partner Buddy Harwood. She says she’s always had a passion to create “something of my own, something I was proud of, but also something I could use as a vehicle to give back and do something positive in the world.”
The Saltysea collection had to be activewear due to Saxton’s love of comfortable clothing. The range is made in Bali by local artisans, and will be showcased at New Zealand Fashion Week on August 28.
We asked Saxton some questions about Saltysea’s path so far.
Tell us about your journey taking Saltysea from idea to market.
I personally went to my manufacturers in Bali to get to know them, and ensure that the whole process was being done ethically and to the standard I wanted for Saltysea. I was then introduced to my amazing photographer, who is now a good friend: Georgia McNeil.
Georgia was able to capture every single bit of life and emotion allowing the story of Saltysea to be shown to the world via social media. I now have an amazing Saltysea community, and my business is continuing to grow. The hardest part of the experience so far was definitely the beginning stages: finding the perfect manufacturers and ensuring my whole collection was of a high standard.
The process was not unexpectedly easy, but it was exciting to see how fast and easily a little Saltysea community was formed with like-minded people all living an adventure-filled lifestyle.
The Ulu swimsuits are a bolder cut than many Kiwis will be used to seeing in public. How do you expect everyday New Zealand shoppers to respond to the idea of daring to bare that much skin?
I think it’s very important to start by saying swimwear doesn’t have to be scary. Previously, society has portrayed such a cut to be something sexual and frowned upon, whereas I’ve designed the Ulu suit to purely honour the natural curves of a woman’s body, and celebrate the fact that every body is beautiful and there is nothing to hide.
Obviously there will always be people that don’t agree with the way I have designed the Ulu suit but I have had an amazing response from women that would never have worn a suit in this cut before and have gained confidence in themselves because of it.
What would you like to see Saltysea become within a year?
I am extremely happy with how Saltysea has grown over the last six months and I am super excited to see where I will be this time next year. I am hoping to release my second collection within the next six months, and by then I am on track to sell out of my first collection. With our upcoming show at New Zealand Fashion Week I am also looking into the possibility of taking on some wholesale customers in the near future.
I see you’re running Saltysea out of little Athenree in the Bay of Plenty. Tell us about how you’ve gone about building a business while based outside New Zealand’s main business centres – have there been any unexpected benefits?
Living in Athenree has been a huge source of inspiration for creating Saltysea, the most important aspect of running Saltysea is personally living the lifestyle I’m projecting to the world. It wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t get my toes sandy on the daily. Living in a small town, word gets around, and I’ve been blessed with the support of this amazing little community.
Do you think of Saltysea as a regional business? How would you characterise its relationship with the Bay of Plenty?
Yes, I do think of Saltysea as a regional business, the Bay of Plenty region really epitomises the values of Saltysea. This region has produced a huge amount of sales and I feel like that is a reflection of the kind of lifestyle we are all living in the Bay of Plenty.