INTERVIEW: MARS DESIGNER HOLLY MARBECK
The challenges associated with being a young, emerging fashion designer are plentiful: financial backing, the support of influential press and buyers, fast fashion alternatives and authenticity.
So I spoke with talented young designer, Holly Marbeck (Solange Knowles and Nadia Fairfax are fans), to discover what the fashion landscape is really like for the home-grown talent right here in New Zealand.
Hi Holly! Firstly, congratulations on completing your final year at AUT and producing such an incredible collection at the AUT Rookie Show. What was your final year at AUT like? Was there a sense of excitement that you would soon be out in the real world pursuing your passion? Or a greater sense of fear?
Thank you! It was quite strange really because there is so much pressure and excitement leading up to that final third year. You think of that third year as your “final” collection and you want it to be the best thing you have ever produced and you put all kinds of pressures on yourself to create something extraordinary, but in reality it’s just your first collection. In a few years I’ll probably look back on it and think “What the hell was I thinking?” .
Approaching graduation is definitely a mixture of excitement and fear. University is like this weird little bubble and it is so unlike the “real world”. You are constantly surrounded by 46 other “designers”, which is a pretty unrealistic scenario, and that can either push you to be great or really hinder you due to constant comparison and self-doubt. Then when you are out in the real world you’re not only competing against those 46 designers but also every other design student from New Zealand, for jobs and exposure. It’s quite daunting.
What have you found to be the biggest challenge associated with the fashion industry today?
I think it’s the pressure. Everything is so fast paced and so instant. We’ve become accustomed to this consumer culture where we don’t want to wait for anything. Designers are now expected to churn out four collections a year – only for their designs to then be copied straight from the runway and released in Topshop or H&M before the original collection is even released.
On top of that there is the pressure to make a collection that people like and actually want to buy. It’s all very well to make something that makes people think “Wow, that’s interesting”, but if they don’t want to wear it, then what’s the point? It’s that balance between commercial viability and making something special so that customers don’t just resort to buying something similar from Topshop for $20.
People have lost the attachment to their clothing and when you can buy a dress for the same price as a burger it’s easy to see why. The amount of work that goes into a single garment is pretty crazy. I think we need to become more aware of our purchases and spend less money on fast fashion and more money on wardrobe staples and statement pieces from local designers and then fill in the gaps with second-hand pieces.
Do you think New Zealand supports creative industries like fashion? Not just those at the top, but also those just starting out in the industry?
New Zealand is small so it’s tricky because we don’t have that same level of wealth that some of the bigger countries have, and so the level of support for fashion is probably less. However there are some really great scholarships for young designers which offers some support.
I think the trouble lies more within the fashion industry. The industry seems to be very selective of who they support, it’s kind of like “Oh cool you’ll do NZ Fashion Week? Okay we love you!” and then “Oh you’re not doing NZ Fashion week but you’re doing something international that’s even better? Nah sorry we don’t like you.”
I do think that taking the step from university student to young designer needs to be bridged. I’ve been lucky enough to have industry contacts and have learnt a lot from working in the industry, but there seems to be a lack of connection between the industry and university. So many designers leave university and don’t know where to start in terms of putting a collection into production and launching a label.
For such a young designer you have already had some exciting moments like seeing your Mars earrings on the likes of Nadia Fairfax and Solange Knowles. How did that feel? Is jewellery something you still want to pursue?
Both of those were pretty surreal moments. Nadia Fairfax contacted me just days after I launched Mars and she bought five pairs. I didn’t even have a lookbook at the time so I was emailing her terrible iPhone pictures of the earrings laid out on my kitchen bench!
Solange’s stylist contacted me on Instagram when I was at uni late one night and I thought it must be a joke so I looked on her Instagram and website to see if it checked out. The stylist had seen Mars in a Grazia UK article and showed Solange. She ordered five pairs! Until I actually saw Solange wearing them I still thought it was a hoax. It was completely insane.
I’m launching a new collection for Mars at the beginning of December – just in time for Christmas! I’m really excited about it. I’m using resin this season instead of clay and there will be some familiar Mars shapes but also new styles such as the hoops from my graduate collection!
Whose careers have you been the most inspired by?
Definitely my boss Georgia, of Georgia Alice. I’ve been so lucky to work with her over the past two years and have learnt so much. She is such a powerhouse and has had amazing success over these past four years. Seeing Georgia Alice grow from what it was when I first started working there and seeing what it is now is something kind of magic! Working in the industry and having that real world experience and knowledge helped me with university so much. I can’t recommend industry experience enough to anyone wanting to study fashion – it helps put everything into perspective.
What does the future of the Holly Marbeck brand look like?
Good question! I want to continue growing Mars and see where I can take it – I just sent off an order to my first ever international stockist! It’s an amazing boutique in London called Modern Society which is pretty crazy! As for clothing – you’ll just have to wait and see!