Full Figure on the runway


Lice Movono-Rova
Sunday, June 30, 2013

JAN and Christine Evans loved the 1970s, because that's when they were growing up and some of their fondest memories are from that era.

Of all the happiness of their childhood, the images that stayed with the Evans sisters are that of a fashionable and some would say eccentric woman, whose larger than life personality and dress sense stood out in 1970s coastal town Australia. That image is captured in the name Huudaverti.

"That memory, of a fun and fantastic woman from our childhood conjures up happy feelings from our childhood and those feelings have stayed with us to this day," Christine explains in the middle of kids toys, frills, silks and skype sessions.

The Evans' childhood had a lot of sewing influence beginning with their nanna, who taught their mother who ensured it also passed onto the three Evans girls, the two who own and run the Huudaverti label, and their New York-based older sister, Lorisa.

This family labour of love for sewing is second only to the family's amazing work ethic, largely attributed to the sister's mother.

As Christine describes their mother's dedication and support, it's tears all around. The story goes that the two had approached a local factory about producing locally and were told they could have some of their production here but only if they had proper patterns.

"Mom had made our patterns for FJFW but they were a small number and small run and we had intentionally designed easy wear. Mom did great for FJFW but it's another level to take it for something that's going to get into factory production. So I came back and told Mom."

That same night, the 74-year-old, spring still in her step enrolled with TAFE, Australia taking "Technical and Further Education", qualifications she would need to produce the complex patterns needed for commercial productions. That was months ago and she continues to go every Thursday night from 6-8pm.

"She has the fortitude and strength of the strongest person you could ever imagine," Christine struggles to say through smiley tears.

"Its so inspiring. She is incredibly confident and outgoing. Here we are with this incredible opportunity to do with her something that she loves.

"She is not a pattern maker by trade but she is making it her profession at 74 years old. For a long time now, she has said she was not going to New York but we have managed to convince her to join us there to see all her efforts of the past months actually there on the runway in New York."

With those key positive family traits, supportive children and selfless husbands, excited seamstress friends, fashionista colleagues the sisters gave their dreams a chance and debuted at Fiji Fashion Week 2012 showing a children's collection and a women's line.

"FJFW 2012 was a wonderful experience for us, it was very challenging and our poor families hardly ever saw us but the entire experience was so empowering and motivating," Christine said, "It told us what we needed to know, that there was a market for our work and that people liked our taste."

Fashion is a multi-billion dollar global industry and their short experience with FJFW taught the sisters that if they worked hard at it, there was also a lot of money for the making, especially in the area of full figured fashion (FFF).

"There is very little out there for the full figured woman, the colours are bare, the cuts not so flattering and our style provides a trendy option for those on the plus size, like us," Christine said.

Post FJFW, the sisters' research gave them impetus to tap into the Australasian market and so they got working. Fate, chance and many hours of internet surfing later, Christine happened upon the New York-based Full Figured Fashion Week.

Given that FFFW was similar to FJFW in size among other things, the two decided to give New York City a go, entered an application and waited.

They had almost forgotten about the application until a couple of months later when Aussie-based Jan was over with her family to holiday with Christine's family.

"It was wonderful because we were together and with our families at Leleuvia just enjoying some family time when the message came through that we were accepted," Christine explains. She ran half way around the island to relay the message to an equally excited Jan.

The sisters' happy-go-lucky almost hippie-like excitement is infectious. Hearing the two describe their journey from moms and career women to fashion designing is a rather fun ride on its own.

When one walks into Christine's family, you're quickly enveloped by the eclectic wonderland that is her home. You've the wide open resort style atmosphere littered with carefully placed Pacific decorative pieces and with no warning you find yourself surrounded by sequins, chain fabric, fake hair and exotic fabrics.

"Huudaverti is our personal style, we believe that fashion should be for everyone. For the moment, most fashion is for the smaller person and we appreciate all types of fashion but why should your size restrict what you wear," Christine says.

For Jan, clothes are about personal style and personal feeling.

"When I put on something I have designed and go to work, I will often get comments from friends asking where its from and whether I take orders," Jan says excitedly via Skype.

"I like how I feel when I wear our clothes. To make one feel fabulous, that's what clothes should do and so we design with that in mind."

When FJFW visited Huudaverti, their team was just putting finishing touches to the new collection they were taking to New York. It was a dream of a journey but when it came down to practicalities, they were faced with the harsh realities that Fiji Fashion Week has been working on improving for local designers.

"It does cost a bit of money to get a collection together to go into a fashion show. It's been a bit of a disappointment to not be able to pursue locally what we need to locally in order to grow our business," Jan said.

"I imagine that every other designer who was there (at FJFW) must be in a position like us, where you work hard to put your collection together and to reach that stage and then not being able to take the next step.

"You think to yourself, all right now I have done this and now I'm going to go and start to put my name out there further only to realise: no you can't do it (locally)."

The ladies then have had to keep production in Brisbane and Fiji is only an artistic base instead of the operational base they had hoped it would be. Having lived here for several years, the Evans were committed to doing business in Fiji.

"Fiji has got so many great possibilities to capture that small emerging designer market. In Australia, the legislation around factory workers has changed so its very expensive to produce there as well. So a lot of designers in Australia can't work with those conditions and are taking their work to Indonesia. Indonesia is a lot further to get to then Fiji so, there are real opportunities here," Christine says.

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