In the rural surrounds of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island, Michaela George, a 26 year old primary school teacher had a dream that began and ended with fashion. Learning to sew during her high school years, little did she know a skill she had little interest in at the time would set her on the path she was ultimately destined for. Four years into her academic career, Michaela turned her dream into a reality and The Sapphire Club was born.
Fondly recalling childhood memories of playing dress ups, Michaela notes there were particular items that mesmerised her, thus sowing the seeds for her adult sartorial pursuits. “There was a yellow tutu with red and gold sequins, which my ballet teacher had. At the end of class we were always allowed to dress up in the special costumes and I was always so desperate to wear that tutu. I never did get to!” she laments.
“I remember a party dress my Mum made for my sister, which I eventually got to wear. It was long sleeved, and black with tiny pink roses on it. It had lace on the cuffs and these little pearl buttons which I just loved,” she says. Her seamstress mother is undoubtedly one of the great influences in Michaela’s life, “Now, she is my go-to for how to do something new that I’m unsure of, and she is my official quality control,” says the designer, “she does a final check on all my Sapphire Club items.”
Citing Instagram as one of her key motivators for starting her business, Michaela was inspired by the plethora of talented self-made designers and realised there may be a place for her right beside them. “I knew how to sew, and I saw a gap in the market for beautifully handmade, affordable pieces for girls aged 2-12,” she says. Opening for business as recently as March 2015, Michaela wanted to create opportunity for young fashionistas in New Zealand to shop locally and shop small, something she herself is a great advocate of.
With a design aesthetic that is steeped in the beauty of nature, Michaela explains that her inspiration devolves from the everyday, passing someone with style on the street, beautiful images online and places she’s been. “My latest collection was inspired by a place, Barrhill,” she says. “The photoshoot for this line took place there. A location is often the first part of my design process as it sparks new ideas and styles and allows me to imagine my pieces in that context. I guess it’s like a real-life mood board.” As for her upcoming line, Michaela has drawn inspiration from her time spent in Methven, in Mid Canterbury, “the landscape there is beautiful; the mountains, the Rakaia river, and of course a lot of farmland.”
Not wanting to exclude seasons from her range as she considered her brand’s worldwide appeal and the need to create clothes befitting both the Southern and Northern hemispheres, Michaela strives to incorporate versatility within all her collections that straddle the middle ground between summer and winter. “That is very important to me. From there, I’ll source patterns and fabrics and make samples, gather feedback, and refine my designs.”
Sourcing her materials and fabrics largely online, specifically from US suppliers, Michaela explains her thought process behind her designs. “I like to create items that complement current trends, as well as classic pieces that will be able to be worn again and again,” she says. “I love retro style and the way that some of the styles I wore as a child are now popular again.” Professing a love for trims and lace by way of features in collections to come, Michaela confesses “I’m loving anything detailed and textured right now, so you’ll see more of that feel and look appearing in the near future for The Sapphire Club.”
Like many of her small business peers, it is the designer’s dream to pluck her creative processes from the lounge in favour of a dedicated sewing room, however Michaela acknowledges her good fortune in having such a supportive family. “I include them often when I need a sounding board or an honest opinion.” Balancing her design pursuits with her teaching commitments, Michaela is educator by day and seamstress by night, “I love creating new pieces for The Sapphire Club, and though I know it sounds cliché, it really doesn’t feel like work!”
Not one for playing favourites with her pieces, Michaela does admit a certain affection for her peasant blouse design, “The print is just gorgeous and reminds and the colours are beautiful. The style is so versatile too and suits girls of all ages.” Having recently selected a beautiful band of brand reps to model her line, the designer is excited to see how her clothes fare in the real world. If her own childhood was anything to go by, we could be in for some wonderful sartorial adventures. “As a child I was totally obsessed with horses,” says Michaela. “I used to run around everywhere like a horse. I even had different speeds for the different gaits. One day I made myself a whip out of a little wooden stick and I remember colouring it in. I carried that everywhere. So, I’m not sure if I was the horse…or the jockey? My parents must have been glad I grew out of that phase.”
One aspect of Michaela’s horsing around has translated into her brand ethos of going the extra mile for her customers, “I make sure each of my packages has a personal touch,” she says of the handwritten notes and beautifully wrapped garments each customer receives. “I believe that is really important.”
Look out for the new range from The Sapphire Club being released this month and other exciting happenings in the world of Sapphire, from celebrating its first birthday to undisclosed prospects which Michaela hints to but can’t reveal just yet. I think we’ll all be staying closely tuned to find out!
When she’s not sewing, Michaela confesses to being somewhat hooked on the exploits of the designers featured on Project Runway, and a certain Pop Princess. “I am a huge Taylor Swift fan!” she admits. “I love her music and have been to many of her concerts. She has great style and I’ve never seen her make a fashion faux pas. She always looks well put together and classy. I would love to design something for her …preferably something she’d wear on tour, so it could go around the world!”
Well if we’re in the business of granting wishes, what does the young designer most desire should a genie ever pop out of a lamp and ask? “Good health, good company, and good fortune!” What more is there? All we can do is wish this talented young lady GOOD LUCK!