Inspiration to innovation

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When people think of innovation, it is often in connection with  technology and gadgets.But Dunedin fashion designer Amber Bridgman says  innovation starts from a concept or an idea.

Ms Bridgman was presented with the Suzanne Spencer Memorial Business Award at the recent Puaka Matariki Kuma (te Kupeka Umaka Maori Ki Araiteuru) hui in Dunedin, after she spoke about the theme of innovation in her business.

Ms Spencer, who died in 2012, was a mentor, adviser, advocate and supporter of numerous businesses and business people in the Maori community.

Following her death, the Maori business community  wanted an appropriate acknowledgement of her vision for Maori economic growth, and contribution to the local economy through new and growth businesses run by and with Maori innovators and entrepreneurs.

The award was subsequently launched, to be passed on to a Kuma business at each annual hui. Kuma is the Maori business network for Otago-Southland.

Ms Bridgman’s Kahuwai clothing range started as a children’s label but soon morphed into  women’s and menswear with a strong indigenous flavour.

She was invited to showcase the collection  she took to Melbourne Fashion Week,  and talk about it and her inspiration.

The subject for the award was innovation in your business and her whole concept “from the very start all the way through” involved innovation in so many mediums, she said.

Receiving the “beautiful” trophy came as a complete surprise for Ms Bridgman, who did not hear her name read out as she  was distracted by her baby, who was getting upset.

“I didn’t hear my name; it didn’t register. Everyone was looking at me …  I was totally surprised and blown away,” she said.

It was “hard yards” having a Maori fashion arts label and everything was made locally in Dunedin. While others in the industry had things made offshore to reduce overheads, what she was doing needed to be authentic, she said.

It was very important to have mentors and support in business. She felt very fortunate to have been mentored by Ms Spencer in the early stages of her business.

Late last year, there were some major international opportunities for Kahuwai and Ms Bridgman was unsure how to navigate her way through.

She contacted Kuma and, without the support of Karen Roos, she would not have had the success she had overseas, she said.

She was heading to back to Spring Fashion Week in Melbourne in September and said there were “heaps of amazing opportunities”.

She had been invited to London Fashion Week but turned that down, saying it was “heavily fast fashion”. Melbourne was very creative and a “good place to be”.