Making a ‘slow fashion’ splash

Fashion’s considered a very wasteful industry, so sustainability is front of mind for two friends who have just launched a business selling towel ponchos. Reassured their ponchos ‘‘never judge how many beers you’ve had’’, PHILIP CHANDLER talks to marketer Lilia Rossana and sewer Pamela Bramwell about Starfish & Moss

Two Queenstown friends have started a nature-inspired ‘slow fashion’ business selling hooded towel ponchos.

Starfish & Moss partners, Lilia Rossana and Pamela Bramwell, of Brazilian and Chinese-American descent, respectively, met in 2016 when
they volunteered for local wellness festival, Biophilia.

Rossana, a yoga teacher, and her husband, Jacob Macak, later finished building their tiny house on Bramwell’s property.

After Macak died of cancer, aged 34, in 2020, Rossana says she used cold water swimming as a form of therapy — ‘‘I found solace in the discomfort, conditioning my mind to embrace challenges’’.

Knowing Bramwell had taken up sewing again during Covid, she begged her to make a towel poncho for her birthday to cover herself after swims.

Bramwell went shopping but couldn’t find one she liked — they were all ‘‘quite boxy’’.

So she reshaped one into ‘‘a kind of interesting half-moon shape’’.

Rosanna loved it, and friends asked if they could get one, too.

‘‘I said, ‘Pamela, people love it, we should do it as a business’, and she said, ‘I’m just going to do it if we go together’.’’

They then spent a year looking for the right material before choosing a range of thick, fast-drying 100% organic cotton Turkish towels which
are technically sold as blankets.

Walking on Dunedin’s St Clair beach, they hit on a business name encompassing both the sea — starfish — and rivers/waterfalls — moss.

Rosanna says they’re trying to run a ‘fair trade’ business — ‘‘the towels are made by a Turkish fair trade supplier and Pamela makes them to order’’.

She says they questioned whether the world needs more fashion items, especially as it’s considered to be a very wasteful industry.

Their ponchos could be considered fashion, she admits, but she argues they’re meant to last a lifetime while also creating and inspiring adventures and memorable experiences.

‘‘Our goal is not to go really big, it’s to keep our principles, our core values throughout the process.’’

To prevent wastage, Bramwell reuses off-cuts for poncho wearers to stand on while they get changed on the beach or side of the river — or to sit on in a sauna.

And the ponchos are designed to look good enough to wear when you go get a coffee after your dip or hot yoga session.

Bramwell: ‘‘You can wear your [normal] surf poncho on the beach, the minute you leave the beach it’s a little bit awkward, it’s kind of like going to Pak’nSave in your dressing gown, would you do it?

‘‘We’ve created this thing, like, it’s much more versatile, so if you never want to go into the water, that’s fine, it still works as a top layer.

‘‘One of our customers has been wearing it while she’s pregnant and hasn’t been swimming — she says it works great as just a throw-on top

Following feedback, the garment also comes with hidden zipped pockets.

For packaging, the women recycle shoe boxes.

‘‘We are trying think outside the box, in every single way,’’ Rosanna says.

They’re also planning to donate 1% of profits to charity.

Just two months after launching, they’ve sold ponchos from their inaugural West Coast-inspired collection as far away as Costa Rica and the
United States as well as Australia and locally.

Buyers have been the likes of swimmers, divers and surfers as well as local yoga teachers.

Rosanna admits, at $395, they’re quite a bit dearer than you’d find in a store, ‘‘but when people see the poncho they understand’’.

‘‘It makes me really question how people can sell a towel poncho for $60, it doesn’t make sense.

‘‘We are trying to do ‘fair trade’ from the beginning to the end.’’

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