Deryn Schmidt’s commute takes a matter of seconds. She doesn’t even have to leave the garage of her Porirua home – the family car’s been banished to make space for bolts of cloth and a sewing machine. It’s in this humble workroom that her elegant, feminine collections take shape. Open the door and you might find her sketching, drawing up patterns or sewing samples while two and a half-year-old daughter Milly plays with fabric offcuts. That’s if partner and full-time dad Carl Fenemor (also the sales and marketing brains of the business) hasn’t whisked Milly away so Deryn can get on with creating next year’s look.
“It’s busy,” says Deryn. “But we’re lucky to be able to see our child grow up.”
Deryn’s passion for fashion showed up early, encouraged by her seamstress grandmother. “From a young age, I’d do something creative or crafty with her every weekend – even if it was just making necklaces from a jar of buttons.”
After leaving school at 17 to study fashion design, Deryn honed her talents at local labels Robyn Mathieson, Helen Cherry and Andrea Moore – but launching her own label had always been a dream. “There’s never a good time to start, just like there’s never a good time to have a child. You’ve always got something else to do.”
That all changed when Andrea Moore’s Wellington office closed and Deryn was made redundant. Determined to work from home, she tentatively produced the first garments for her eponymous label. “It snowballed quickly from there – my first range made it into eight stores.”
Eighteen months on, Deryn’s just had her first outing at New Zealand Fashion Week – a post-war 1940s-inspired collection that won acclaim for her smart tailoring and use of colour.
When it comes to transforming her designs from sketch to mannequin, keeping it local is a top priority. Deryn creates most of her patterns herself, with the rest developed by a friend “on a farm out the back of Masterton”. Her manufacturers vary from one-woman operations producing one style a season to local production houses with up to 30 staff. And Deryn’s keen for the local garment industry to stick around. “You want the next generation not just to design but to learn to sew and cut patterns.”
For inspiration, Deryn heads back to her childhood haunt – her grandmother’s place in Dannevirke. “I get lots of ideas from opening her drawers and cupboards,” she laughs. “In every nook and cranny there’s something to find.” Deryn’s summer collection features a silk blouse based on one she’d made as a teenager from her grandmother’s pattern. “I rang her up and said, ‘Remember the blouse I made?’ Not only did she remember it, but she knew exactly where the pattern was – 17 years later.”