WORDS Kim Newth PHOTOS Sarah Rowlands

Christchurch fashion designer Shannon Thompson couldn’t quite believe it when she received an invitation to this year’s Vancouver Fashion Week.

In brand terms, Shannon’s Out of Comfort streetwear label is very new. The official launch party was held at Christchurch’s Anchorage Café only a year ago. Her first collection, Long Time Come, was imagined and created out of her nana’s sewing room at Hanmer Springs.

Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 11.52.26 AM.png

What a leap to go from quiet mornings bent over a sewing machine in rural Canterbury to the runways of Vancouver!

“The organisers noticed me through social media and my website and got in touch,” says Shannon, who was on the eve of flying out to Vancouver at the time of writing. “The entry fees were huge but I thought ‘well, I’m going to give it a go and try and get there’ so I started a Givealittle page and also did my own fundraising. As the only Māori designer invited, I also saw this as an amazing opportunity to represent my culture on an international platform.”

Teaming up with Apparel Magazine got her the rest of the way, making it possible for Shannon to debut her Long Time Come menswear collection in Vancouver. The collection’s name references Sam Cooke’s famed song A Change is Gonna Come but also reflects Shannon’s deep roots in design and her long held aspirations.

“From the age of five, I knew what I wanted to do. This has been my path since I was little. When I launched Long Time Come, it was like ‘now it’s here – it’s the beginning’.”

Shannon grew up in Arthur’s Pass and, throughout her childhood, spent a lot of time at her grandparents’ Hanmer Springs’ home, particularly in her grandmother’s sewing studio.

“Nana [Margaret Thompson] is a seamstress and taught me everything. Her work is incredible. I have loved spending time at her side, learning from her. My grandfather, a photographer, taught me a lot too and gave me that eye for detail.”

After leaving school, Shannon studied fashion design at the Auckland University of Technology before spreading her wings and taking up an internship with a menswear designer in London. She remembers getting to Heathrow Airport and suddenly realising she didn’t know a soul.

“I took an hour to breathe and calm down before I was ready to go forth!”

The small London design firm happily made the most of Shannon, and she was soon fully immersed in the business of modern menswear, travelling to Paris to source fabrics and attending top fashion events such as Première Vision in Paris and London Fashion Week. She also got to tick New York and Los Angeles off her bucket list.

By October 2016 she was ready to return home and start her own brand. New York street culture of the late 1980s, as photographed by US photographer Jamel Shabazz, helped inspire the look of her Long Time Come collection.

Self-expression, authenticity, sustainability, comfort, quality and longevity are words that fit her vision, translated using 100 per cent wool, cotton and denim into her trademark streetwear of classic silhouettes with defined detail.

Shannon is already working on her next collection for Out of Comfort, with plans for a 2019 release. The talented 27-year-old is in it for the long haul and hopes her journey will encourage others’ aspirations, particularly young Māori like herself.

“Go after your dreams – they’re never too big!”

FeaturesJoshua Brosnahan