MONNI: The Story behind the sustainable fashion label - Tea & Tonic Matakana

MONNI: The Story behind the sustainable fashion label

MONNI : The Story

When I was a little girl I remember just loving fabric.

I loved how it moved, how it caught the light, how a piece of fabric could be transformed into something beautiful or interesting.

I have a memory of taking a golden coloured silk sheet and wrapping it around my body to make a dress. My small frame was swimming in it, but that was okay. This dress had a plan. In front of our house was a very old, very tall tree. From its highest branch hung a giant swing. I took my golden silk gown outside to the swing and as I soared as high as I could, I watched the fabric dance on a trail of wind caused by my momentum, watching the ripples, seeing it come alive in the light. It was just so beautiful to watch!

I would dress my three little sisters up too, and photograph them in our garden — little did I realise that these were my first collections and attempts of styling. We spent hours and hours playing dress ups, making outfit after outfit and modelling them outdoors, or up and down the hallway.

Eventually, my eldest sister taught me how to sew. I grew up with 7 siblings, and there are 20 years between Angela and I. When my mum needed a break, my older brother and I would go to stay with Angela. In some ways, she was like another mother to me. Thanks to Angela’s teaching, I was making my own tailored clothing by the age of 10. This was a blessing growing up, as things were tough at times. As someone who creatively expresses herself through clothing, it was wonderful to have the freedom to create pieces I loved to wear.

In time I developed an interest and love of traditional Japanese fashion — the kimono was a favourite for its lines, its simplicity. Perhaps this was because I always saw my mother looking so beautiful in her kimonos, which eventually made their way into the dress-up box, and then into my hands. On one particularly memorable day, I found a Japanese dress while climbing into a charity clothing bin with one of my friends. I could not believe my luck. Let’s just say that my South Island farming family looked at me a little strangely when I arrived at the dinner table in that dress and began to eat mashed potatoes and peas with my chopsticks.

By the age of 13, I had decided I was going to be a designer. It seemed logical — I was always drawing, creating, making, and entering every design competition I could get my hands on. I achieved a lot through my school years and won a scholarship to study fashion design.

But sometimes life will show you that you are not quite ready to take the path that you thought you were prepared for. My life took a turn and spat me out at 20 years of age. I was left with a lot of healing to do. Carrying a list of mental, emotional, and physical “growth opportunities” as long as my arm, I set to work. My dream was never far from my thoughts.

During this time I met my yoga teacher and Louise Hay life coach. She was really the first mentor I bonded with as an adult, and her teachings had a profound effect on me. It was after one of her “You Can Heal Your Life” courses that I realised how much I hated myself — my self esteem and self worth were in desperate need of tending. I realised that if I treated anyone how I treated myself, I would have no friends. Who would love me then? It dawned on me that first I needed to learn how to love myself, and so began the journey.

In the years that followed, I worked in hospitality, which taught me how to be with people. I worked in the trade industry, which taught me how to manage projects and people. I worked as a teacher, which taught me about the brain development of children in certain environments, in turn giving me a deeper understanding of my own childhood. I started a charity which ran events and donated 100% of profits to worthy causes. This taught me that there are so many amazing people in the world, people who are loving, supportive, and generous. It amplified the very thing I knew in my heart — the importance of love, love for others, the environment, and most importantly myself. With my heart as my guide and love as my driving force, I was ready. I hadn’t forgotten that I wanted to design, make, create, play, and bring my joy and love to the world.

We all have a past, a story, some kind of healing to embark on. If I can help anyone by sharing and teaching, then it has all been worth it.

When my day finally came, I handed in my notice and set out to become a designer. I went to work for a lady who owned a factory that sewed collections for New Zealand’s top designers. I spent time with her, dealing with designers, running errands, working on the floor, and getting a feel for how things worked.

One day I was greeted by her head pattern maker — her words flowed out to me: “Where is your rack of samples? Where is your collection? If you were a designer, I would see it. I see nothing!”

The biggest lump began to accumulate in my throat.

I was sure I was going to cry.

Then, all at once, everything kind of slowed down and became clear. All I could do was look at this woman, smile, and say thank you, for it was at this moment I realised that I was already a designer. I had been designing my whole life.

From this moment, the concept of MONNI was born. I wanted to design and create a label that was simple and elegant, yet one that would match my values of love for myself, others, and the world around me. My vision was to build a sustainable brand, supporting less consumerism with only one collection a year, using only end-of-mill natural fibres and fabrics, and made right here in New Zealand.

So that was exactly what I did. You can shop my collection at online at Tea & Tonic or instore. 

Monni from MONNI Label

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1 comment

I cried not becos your story touched my spirit. Your words of life gave me meaning to continue to inspire, encourage and support other ‘women’ from all walks of life.
We each have a story to tell and the stories that we share can bring life.
So thank you for your amazing story!
I am looking forward to seeing your designs… and I will be honoured to wear them.



Janet Filipo

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