On the 25th of August, a Twitter post announced that official replicas of Chlöe Swarbrick’s vintage Green Party jumper would be available for pre-order. The response was swift, and unexpected. Nearly 800 orders overnight had the supplier worried about sourcing fabric, so orders were paused. They opened again a few weeks later, and sold over 200 in about 10 minutes. All in all, over a thousand sold, in a few hours.
The most sought after local fashion drop of the year was a piece of political merchandise, in a country not well-known for displaying political affiliations publicly.
Chlöe’s original jumper came from Green Party stalwart Danna Glendining, one of her early mentors in politics, and featured player in political documentary ‘Campaign,’ which political junkies can find for free on NZ on Screen.
One night at a Green Party fundraiser hosted by Danna earlier this year, Chlöe offered a $100 donation in return for the jumper off her back. A brief bidding war ensued, and Chlöe left the event a few hundred dollars lighter, with the jumper on. She’s been wearing it to Party events and on the campaign trail since.
“The most expensive jumper I own,” she says; not designer, but a representation of the intergenerational kaupapa of the Greens.
Chlöe began to be photographed in the sweatshirt out and about, and the Party social media team started to take note of the many, many requests for an opportunity to buy it. Her Auckland Central campaign team began a search for a suitable manufacturer, one which could produce the jumpers locally, and ethically, in line with the Party’s ethos, while still being comfortable. This couldn’t be a sweatshop job, for relatively obvious reasons.
Chlöe’s no stranger to garment manufacturing. She started The Lucid Collective with then-partner Alex in 2012 while still at university, studying law and considering a career in journalism and broadcasting, and intrigued by the emergent streetwear culture in New Zealand.
“I’m fascinated by hip-hop and rap, and how that has constantly fed into changing ideas, protests, cultural movements and moments.”
The brand manufactured in New Zealand for three-and-a-half years, so when it came time to produce these jumpers she went back through the manufacturers which Lucid used, and discovered that a number of them had gone out of business - a sad reality that reflects the difficulties facing local manufacturing.
Seabreeze Apparel in Silverdale was still around, though (it also produces for local designers like Maggie Marilyn), and the team got to work, sourcing fabric, developing the pattern, and colour matching the ink.
The result is an instant icon that is beginning to be spotted on the streets of Ponsonby, Grey Lynn and Wellington Central, with more shipping as fast as Seabreeze’s 25 staff can make them.
I have one, and it’s a really comfortable, versatile garment, that will last for years. My initial impressions are that this sweater will become much better with age and wear, and that it will take a beating. Perfect to throw in a tote bag for a long day, or a cool summer evening.
This particular jumper isn’t just a lovely green sweater with a relaxed drop-shoulder fit, though. It's a capital-S Statement Piece that lays bare your political ideals, the way you voted and opens the door to a conversation on all of that with anyone that feels the need to mention it when they spot you. As someone who passes very comfortably without notice in public (read: pākehā, cisgender, heterosexual man), it’s rather a new experience to willingly draw attention to myself in public, and in such an overtly political manner, though so far I’ve just had some lingering looks and a knowing smile from someone in a Party Vote Green T-shirt.
Chlöe sees the willingness of people to wear their beliefs on their sleeve, or chest, as part of a broader generational shift in New Zealanders’ approach to politics. The Green Party’s policy platform lines up neatly with the priorities of the new generation of political activists: climate change, social and economic inequality, issues that have seen young people take to the streets, and the courts to speak up for their ideals.
Those young people, notably including those who’ll be voting for the first time this year, are less hesitant about being overtly political than most New Zealanders have been for decades.
It’s a change Chlöe’s noticed since her first election campaign in 2016. “Politics isn’t something that people are pushing into the closet anymore, but something they realise is a fundamental part of who they are.
“This could be a matter of simply impressing far too much meaning onto one garment, but it’s part of a broader movement of people realising that nothing ever changes unless they’re involved in a bigger community.”
WATCH: The making of the 'vintage' sweatshirt:
You can’t buy the jumper anymore, but if you’re interested in other Chlöe-related merch, you can pick up a “Vote Chlöe” tee, made in collaboration with local label Checks Downtown, at the Checks Voting drive this Saturday October 10 from 12pm, 84 Pitt Street, Auckland.