On responsibility and care. Q&A with Matt Nash of Matt Nash Uniform

On responsibility and care. Q&A with Matt Nash of Matt Nash Uniform

by Charli Cox

Inspired by 1980s workwear, utilitarian designer Matt Nash began producing in 2014 and today is exploring legacy on very personal terms. Redefining how we look at the uniform, all pieces are custom-made in Aotearoa, pairing longevity with the sustainable mindset, which is so necessary for now. Matt also made our aprons.

You launched in 2014. Could you tell us how you started your brand?

Matt Nash Uniform started itself! I have a background in tailoring and menswear and have always worked in hospitality to pay the bills. MN was the intersection of my two interests. I studied honours at AUT, and my collection was based on recreating photos of workwear taken by New Zealand Photographer Glenn Busch in the 1980s. A friend who had a restaurant spied the aprons that were part of this collection and wanted me to produce them for her restaurant. The ball started rolling from there, and within 15 months, I was creating custom workwear full-time.

Why uniforms? And what have been the opportunities and/or limitations of manufacturing onshore?

I love the utilitarian nature of a uniform. Designing something to have longevity, be fit for purpose and enhance the wearer's experience thrills me. Most of my work is custom-made, so each project is a collaboration with the business owner. I find working in this way invigorating. 

The fashion industry is limited in NZ at scale. We don't manufacture fabric, trims or any garment components. For example, trims like leather and wool grown here are sent offshore for processing from their raw state and then returned to incorporate into garments. So, with making things in New Zealand, you're working with 'what you can' rather than having the perfect shade of green in your head and being able to find that colour. Manufacturing onshore brings its own set of opportunities, though; it means I can create small batches to test ideas, take on feedback and then iterate the product to suit my market. This small batch approach means I don't have to commit to substantial offshore minimums and carry large amounts of stock, which reduces stock wastage and the need for gross discounting to move excess. My favourite part of local manufacturing is working directly with incredible makers and skilled craftspeople. 

Please tell us a bit about the experience of setting up your studio in Whangārei and what prompted your shift.

Whangarei offered me the opportunity to get a great, sunny, spacious and affordable studio where I could be closer to my family and enjoy the beautiful Northland region. I lived in Auckland for 15 years and found myself taking on work that could have been more creatively fulfilling but necessary with the escalating cost of living and doing business in the city. A big prompt to return home was a health scare in my family, and it cemented my knowing that the right place to be was in Whangārei. The fit-out for my studio and my manufacturing capability has evolved. Northland has a tight community of makers and machinists, some with excess machinery and others looking to pass the baton on and give their machinery a second life. When I first set my studio up, those makers and machinists were excited to meet someone who valued the machines as much as they did and planned to continue local production. 

Photograph of sewing machine in Matt Nash Uniform studio.

Your focus is on limiting your environmental impact. What are your strategies?

— 'Made to Order' business model We only make what we sell. We don't produce anything in excess, which means nothing gets thrown away.

— Packaging All our packing is paper-based and compostable. My business clients often receive random-sized and branded boxes as I reuse boxes from local businesses.

— High-quality construction All my aprons are made from high-quality fabrics and solid hardware - resulting in simple things like the ability to soak your apron without the hardware rusting. Double-turned and topstiched seams mean the garment is resilient, can be laundered and worn hard, and keeps going strong.

— Garment repair and maintenance We offer a valet service where we can fix and repair damage to aprons (like a burn). We keep scraps for any future patching required.

— Efficient pattern-making techniques This makes material and economic sense. Efficient laying of the fabric means minimal fabric wastage.

Furthermore, my business model is moving toward using organic and fully recycled fabrics. 

You have collaborated with some incredible people. Who are some of your clients?

I've worked with so many amazing clients over the years! Some of my more recent project collaborators include, Cazador, Serato, Halcyon Days, QT Hotel Group, Gemmayze Street, Pasture, Ozone Coffee.

What is your personal uniform?

Pretty much all year, you'll find me wearing shorts, a tee, sneakers and my revolving rage of work aprons. I'm on my feet at the cutting table most days, so comfy shoes are critical. I'll wear boots during the winter months and throw on one of my over shirts if needed. 

What is your vision for the fashion industry—what systemic change would you like to see and why?

My vision for the fashion industry is a push to buy less, buy well, and mend and repair. Buying well doesn't have to mean buying new. I think the rise of the demand and desire for preloved clothing is hugely significant in reducing the massive wastage of the fashion industry. 

Photograph of mood board in Matt Nash studio.