I Want To Be… A Fashion Designer!

Ana Steele

My friend Ana Steele is one of the most amazing, intriguing people I’ve ever met. Our paths crossed at a goth-themed photoshoot (yes, really) for Pulp magazine where I was a model & she was the stylist. I was instantly drawn to this mad-looking girl with Tank Girl tattoos, wearing a faux-fur wig! We became fast friends & have shared many fun, bizarre evenings! All of that aside, she’s also an incredibly talented fashion designer. She whips up magnificent pieces with alarming regularity & is always trying something new or different, so she seemed like the ideal person to ask about making it in the fashion world!

Ana says, “I have a cynical disclaimer… It’s ALL TRUE! Do not be scared… I love my job…”

Tell us about what you do.
I am a fashion designer based in Auckland. NZ. I design my new collection every 6 months (Summer/Winter). I am still a ‘one lady’ band. I design, make patterns and samples, do sales trips, take orders, do costings per garment, manage production of orders, write and read countless emails, pay heaps of bills all while trying to stay sane and hopefully make some art and possibly have a life outside my workroom! And feed cat with meat… While I am designing a new collection, I am in production stage of the past season — so essentially, 2 jobs are happening ALL the time! Eek!

How long ago did you start on this path?
I have been in this industry — in some way or another — for almost 9 years! Eek x2!

How long were you doing it before you made it into your career or primary form of income?
I worked as an ‘apprentice’ for a small boutique in their workroom, part-time, for 5 years, learning about garment construction and production on a small scale. Yet did not prepare me at all for what I have gotten myself into now as a ‘producer and wholesaler’ of goods.

Did anything significant happen to get you to that point, or was it a series of small steps?
I entered a competition that was run by a new business searching for young fashion designers. I did well. Out of us 9 section winners, the judges chose 4 to work with the company and develop collections for Winter 2003… We were filmed over 3 months for a documentary screened as a TV2 episode. It was during this process I made wicked friends with fellow designer Michael Pattison, and we have since opened a workroom/retail space together. He is my bestest fiend xx.

Do you think official qualifications are important for someone entering your industry?
Not so much… But, I believe that years of study and determination does bring one an invaluable sense of work ethic — which I have never had. It has taken me 2 years of being in business to finally understand how much effort one must put in to achieve anything significant. And when you work for yourself, it’s never enough… I have started to wake up way too early, thinking about what should have been done yesterday!

What do you think is the best thing about working for yourself?
I am so fortunate I get to do what I want! I can make my art! Dangerous schedule but all hour, any hour!

What’s the worst thing?
I have to do it all by myself and make money somehow in a highly competitive industry… I am not so savvy in ‘business’ and to be an ‘artist in business’ ? Hahahaahahaha (2 worlds collide)… Crashing!

Rate how happy you are with what you do out of 100 (100 being the best, 0 being devastatingly awful) on an average day.
Today = absolute rats. Though still smiling! About 36.
Yesterday = creative funday and my ‘Sunday’ and hung out with a great friend. About 81.
In one month, aka fashion week = 100 fuckin’ percent, 1 minute after the show!

Would you call yourself a workaholic, & if so, are you alright with that? Do you think that’s normal for your industry?
I want to be a workaholic so much! I really need to be… but alas for me, I am a dreamy artist. The fashion designers that I know, who are successful, are total workaholics… Being around them pushes me to get more ‘flashness’ done faster!

What would your number one suggestion be for someone who wants to do what you do?
Don’t! Haha… Gosh man… Seriously think about it. Work in the industry with switched on folk and get an in. Starting up from scratch is so damn hard. Marketing is essential. And one needs some money — at least in NZ. I have to outlay all production costs with no deposit, a massive risk!

…How about number two?
Get a PR company and/or agent. It will be a costly monthly expense to your business, but if no one knows about you, you will make more money on the benefit.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out?
I wish I was born with a twin who is fully functional in all realms of business, who can interpret my wishes… Why does an artist want to care about spreadsheets and invoices?
Hell, I just want to make amazing clothes, draw pictures and spray paint mannequins xxx
Find a sweet, fashion savvy accountant, who you can pay in glorious clothes xxx

Are there any major misconceptions about your job or industry?
I guess that depends on who asks.
My industry looks glamorous from the outside. As explained earlier… ‘Tis not the case. It is a touch lonely, as you are working a lot — especially at the crucial times.
If you like to travel, why not try a sales trip? 2 weeks in a van thing… Totally fun, but do you like trailer parks?
If you enjoy glamour, try a fashion show! You will spend time putting masking tape on the soles of borrowed shoes while shooting a ‘lookbook’ of your designs at the last hour, making appointments, styling the show, not enough ears for phones. There is no time no more… wishing for that overdue holiday… it may not happen! Maybe next year?

What motivates you to keep doing what you’re doing?
My crew.
I have mentioned my workroom space with Michael. He is from Space. My fiend…
We also have the amazing Eunis (our sample machinist), and the ‘flash as Lara’ (Michael’s assistant) burlesque actress beauty.
We sing and dance heaps while ‘enduring’ each others company!
Each month brings a ridiculous new turn of phrase…
This month = SPRING BREAK! it must be exclaimed in THE MOST exuberant fashion one can fathom… We have convinced people from Korea, Amsterdam, China and Grey Lynn that this is a most exciting couple of words to screech at the opportune moment in time.
For example: A friend walks in the door announcing we should take a 10 min coffee hiatus… !!!! SPRING BREAK! !!!! YEA!
Or anything… I just finished my task! … SPRING BREAK! Depending on the day… Use this information wisely of course. Say it loud + lewd xxx