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Here, we have spoken with Caroline Lawrence, owner of Design Emporium, to hear about her career and inspirations. 

Where did your career in fashion start?

I’d have to say high school! I had a fabulous teacher who really encouraged me to follow my dream. From there I went on to do a Diploma in Clothing and Textiles at Wellington Polytechnic and that really cemented the idea that I wanted to be involved in fashion.

What was your first job in the industry?

My first role was as a junior pattern-maker for a leatherwear brand in Christchurch, which expanded into pattern-making and machining before setting up my own leatherwear company in Wellington, called Carrenzi.

Who have you worked for?

After taking a year off to travel, I moved to Auckland, working as a pattern-maker for some of the fashion industry’s most prestigious brands – Jag, Peppertree, To-a-T, Rage Menswear & Vamp.

I really learned a lot from some of New Zealand’s top designers and fashion icons. After being made redundant many times due to the 1990's change in tariffs I needed a stable job so I worked for Deane Apparel where I learnt a lot about business. They sponsored me into the Benson and Hedges Fashion Awards for two years running and was a finalist in both years 

When did you move to Hawke’s Bay?

I moved to Hawke’s Bay in 2001 to be closer to family. I had a young baby, Billie, and she was my inspiration for starting Billie R Designer Kidswear. Fashion and Design must be in her blood because Billie helped me to start running the social media for Design Emporium while holding down a full-time job! 

After my son, Alex, was born in 2003 I worked as a Designer for MacKenzie Country and then set up a Manufacturing plant in Napier, offering design and pattern making direct to clients.

Caroline Lawrence is an established brand, what made you change your approach?

I started the Caroline Lawrence label in 2012 offering new designs, dressmaking and alterations from my studio in Westshore. The Caroline Lawrence brand has built up a loyal following with repeat clients, which is amazing given that all the clothes are made to last.

2020 changed everything though. Suppliers were struggling to get interesting fabrics, and the available material didn’t deliver the variety I’d previously been able to offer. That led to a rethink in the way we do business. The label was streamlined to showcase our best-sellers - Linen and Basics - which has now led onto using other natural fabrics and we will be approaching other brands as well! 

What was your inspiration for setting up Design Emporium?

After 2020, I wanted to have a business that could operate from anywhere. 

As I have been going through Menopause, for 10 years now, wearing garments made from natural fibres has been a life-saver (see why in the fabric care tips…) and often paying more for quality items helps to support slow-fashion. 

With an idea from a friend and quite a bit of brainstorming help from my business and marketing friends, I was able to launch Design Emporium at the end of 2022. That was definitely a 'champagne' moment.

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