Fashion

How did she do that? Shjark’s Amber Gardner on becoming a fashion designer

Amber-Gardner

In our new online series, Fashion Quarterly editor Sally-Ann Mullin talks to successful women about their careers and how they have got to where they are.

When we came across the beautifully cut suit by Shjark we knew immediately we’d found the cover look to embody our pro female, empowerment issue. I wanted to know more about the woman behind Shjark, a new New Zealand brand in its infancy who is already making waves and producing beautiful collections of forever pieces. Shjark founder and designer Amber Gardner shares her career story below:

Amber Gardner

Owner/director/designer of New Zealand-made womenswear brand, Shjark.
Location: Auckland
Single, married with or without kids: I live with my partner Robert and our Tonkinese fur baby Cash.

Can you explain your career path to date?
I studied for a Bachelor of Design at Massey Univerity in Wellington and Nottingham Trent Univerity in the UK. My career started in menswear as designer and pattern cutter for Murray Crane at Crane Brothers. Responsible for the numerous brands under his umbrella at the time, including infamous label Little Brother, and naval heritage line Gubb & Mackie, where a love of tailoring, and fascination with utilitarian and vintage clothing really developed the base of my design psyche today. From there, I moved to Workshop, designing both the men’s and women’s ranges, and my passion for denim began; for me, nothing beats a rich, natural indigo dye, and the nature in which it evolves with its wearer. A shift in focus with a move to Gregory Limited, as designer for newly acquired, but well-known brand Ricochet, saw me hone my skills in womenswear, but always honouring my menswear background, and the distinct rock’n’roll edge of both my previous positions. Last year, in a reaction to the shifting tides of the market, and a real desire for a move toward a less is more approach, I launched Shjark with a Summer 2016-17 collection. It is a modular wardrobe of timeless building blocks, designed for purpose and as versatile as the woman who wears it.

What do you love most about your job?
I enjoy the satisfaction that comes with working on my own brand. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing all your hard work come together on a photoshoot, or hearing how much someone connects to the brand and enjoys wearing the clothes.

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
I wish someone told me to start saving 10-15% of my income, from the very first paycheck – I would have been in a much better position, financially, to step away on my own sooner.

Has anyone ever said to you, “you will never be any good at that?” Was it helpful advice?
Fashion is a tough industry. All the way through my career I have had people telling me I must be crazy. They are probably right, but I always think to myself – ‘watch me’.

What’s the best piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Everything will be just fine, in fact, it will all be pretty amazing. Enjoy it.

Tell me your biggest accomplishment at work – or a moment you’re most proud of?
After over a decade of working as a fashion designer for other labels, starting my own brand was a big step for me. I’m proud to have had such an amazing response to Shjark from the very first season, and incredibly grateful for all the support of the media, my lovely stockists and amazing customers.

The one beauty product that keeps you looking fresh?
I swear by NZ owned and made, natural products by Tailor Skincare.

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What’s the outfit that makes you feel POW!!?
I tend to keep things understated. Simple, strong, clean lines always make me feel good. Beautiful modern tailoring worn with just a hint of the feminine for evening.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing women in the workplace?
I feel we have come so far, yet it shocks me how far we have to go. I’ve chosen to take control of these issues by creating my own company/reality/workplace.

Top 3 tips to landing a job in your industry
Leave your ego at the door; roll your sleeves up, and bring with you passion and loyalty.

Do you think women have the ability to juggle kids and careers?
Of course they do. Nobody’s saying it’ll be easy, but sometimes we have to remember that it takes a village…

How do you relax away from work?
I love this beautiful country, and re-charge by making the most of our local parks and beaches. Balance is difficult at the moment with a new business, but spending time in nature always centres me.

In another lifetime what would you want to be when you grow up?
An architect. That was my first passion as a child before my mum started buying me Fashion Quarterly and Pavement magazines!

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Exactly this! A fashion designer with my own brand – it’s been a long time coming.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
These days I get to bed when the last email is sent, and get up around 6am intending to exercise, but I usually get distracted and don’t quite make it to the yoga matt…

Who would you most like to be stuck on a desert island with? Why?
My partner Robert – that’s already our plan for the future.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Shjark.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
Preparation is the key to success. Lots of hard work, persistence, patience, and passion.

What motivates you?
Meeting and hearing from people who connect with Shjark is amazing, and always reminds me why I’m doing this.

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What is your life motto?
Wabi-sabi; Limit everything to the essential, but do not remove the poetry.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Work hard and be kind.

What do you believe is the secret to success?
Preparation, persistence and passion. Particularly it this industry – we are all doing this for the absolute love of it.

What are your favourite traits you are drawn to at work or when hiring?
Honesty, respect and grace.

You have already achieved so much, but what’s next for you?
I’m about to launch an online store for Shjark which is exciting – to give the brand a proper home base. I get a lot of interest offshore and plan to open it up for stockists internationally very soon too. It’s a busy time for Shjark and I will be growing the team soon, with a beautiful new workspace later this year.

Words: Sally-Ann Mullin
Photos: Supplied

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