Hej-hej is one of my favourite words (it’s Danish for ‘Hi’- I learnt it from watching the Danish political thriller Borgen) and, more recently, it’s also one of my favourite labels.
Hej-hej is the brain-child of two young women, Shanghai based Kiki and Auckland based Wellington raised Alice. Kiki and Alice believe fashion should be fun, not intimidating, pretentious or have a negative impact on the world. Their belief led them to create hej-hej; a collection of distinctive, colourful designs that are easy-to-wear, made from premium fabrics that don’t cost the earth. This nimble yet sharply focused label are ones to watch. They have a winning formula where they’re able to target an informed audience of women who want more from their clothes than the high street or ASOS has to offer. They have strong relationships with their Chinese manufacturers and operate the New Zealand based-ethically-made-overseas model.
Though one gal is based in Shanghai and the other in Auckland, the pair’s love of linen and noodles keep their business and friendship bonds strong. This season, the ladies of hej-hej are celebrating the sisterhood, something we can all support. I met Alice at their recent Wellington pop-up at the Neighbourhood studio, grabbed some snaps and a knit for myself, before emailing her with my burning questions for the coolest linen brand around.
Lucy Revill: Where were you born?
Alice: I was born in Auckland.
LR: What subjects were you most interested in at school?
A; Graphics, photography, classics, and art history!
LR: Was fashion always an interest for you? If so, why?
A: Yes, I have always loved fashion. I am at my best when I am surrounded by fabrics and bouncing ideas around about new things to create.
LR: What are some childhood memories that resonate?
I grew up in Auckland, Sydney and then Wellington. I have so many amazing friends from different places so my memories are based around my family and friends.
LR: How did you and your co-founder of your label, Hej Hej, Kiki meet?
A: We met at university and were at the same hostel, Unicol. We then flatted together.
LR: What was your first university experience?
A: I remember walking into my hall of residence with one of my friends, Alex, and feeling pretty overwhelmed! My memories of university are all based about the people I met and the amazing friendships I created.
LR: How did you find studying fashion?
I didn't initially study fashion. I started a Bachelor or Arts in Film and Graphic Design.
I decided half way through my BA that is wasn't what I wanted to do - so I quit university and moved up to Auckland. I started working, and then signed up to study pattern making.
LR: What did you do when you finished your degree?
A: Once I finished my pattern making course I started working for a couple of kiwi brands Beth Ellery (who still has an amazing label) [LR: I totally agree!] and then a brand called Charade that doesn't exist anymore. I started in the warehouse at Charade and then worked my way up to design assistant.
LR: Describe your career progression?
A; After working in Auckland I moved to Sydney and started working at MARCS. I began as the menswear design assistant and then I moved into the womenswear team, working my way up and working on all categories (wovens, knitwear, accessories).
It was around this time that my partner and I decided to do some travel around south and central America and then ended up living in Hong Kong for six months.
We eventually moved back to Sydney and I returned to MARCS as one of the Senior Womenswear Designers. A few years later I moved to Sportscraft where i was the Senior Women’s Designer.
I fell pregnant with my twin girls and we decided to move back to Auckland. While I was on maternity leave, Kiki and I started talking about starting hej-hej.
LR: How did you find the aesthetic for hej-hej?
A: Kiki and I just started making clothes we liked. Things we wanted to wear!
Kiki was getting clothes tailored at the markets in Shanghai and we fell in love the fabrics and colours we could find at the markets in China. We wanted to create styles that lasted for a long time, we are less about trend and more focused on stylish pieces that are versatile.
LR: How do you and Kiki work together?
A: We are on ‘WeChat’ all day long, chatting throughout the day, everyday. Kiki tries to come out to New Zealand a few times a year and I head over to Shanghai a couple of times a year.
As a team we bring different strengths to the brand. We both have a similar aesthetic and when designing we have fun bouncing ideas and looking at fabrics. Kiki has strong technical and planning skills. I love sketching and working with our pattern-maker and being based in New Zealand I do a lot on the sales and distribution side of things.
To me, Kiki is the perfect partner, she makes me laugh, inspires me and is my best friend! What more could I ask for! [LR: Awwwww]
LR: How do you find time for motherhood and your business?
A: It is a massive juggle! Every week is different and full of new challenges. I have an amazing husband that has supported me every step of the way.
My Mum, Dad and extended family all pitch in and help me whenever they can. It takes a village! All these people make hej hej possible for me.
It can be incredibly hard some days, you feel like you are failing your kids and not giving them what they need. I have learnt that I have to separate my time and when I am with them, I am 100% focused on them. Everything I do is for my kids, I want them to be proud of their Mum.
LR: What is your advice to women wanting to make an impact with a business or social enterprise?
A: Just give it go! Jump right in, work hard, don't give up and if you can, bring your BFF along for the ride!
LR: You've worked with bloggers from New Zealand. What makes you attracted as a business owner to certain people and how do you find ambassadors?
A: Instagram is such an important part of our business. We love the idea of being able to connect with real people that are authentic and relate to our customers. We find them on Instagram of course! (haha...!) It’s a mix of them finding us and us finding them.
LR: What are your favourite pieces from the latest collection?
A: That’s like asking which of my children I like the best! Haha! I literally love everything. But the ‘Babydoll Savage’ in all the colours is worn a lot.
LR: What's next for Hej Hej?
A: We have been developing new knits for NZ winter and really excited to launch them soon. We just want to keep making product people love!