Set against a backdrop of the incredible exhibition Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki on a cold Saturday afternoon, Layplan designers Lavinia Ilolahia and Talia Soloa sat in conversation with GM of the Arts Foundation Jessica Palalagi to talk through their acclaim and success as Pasifika women in fashion, and the key pillars that have kept them focused and clear headed in their brand vision.
The pair met at Massey University around eight years ago. They’d seen each other around the Massey Association of Pasifika students, but it wasn’t until a chance encounter on a bus that the two became friends. “We bonded over a love for op shopping and skipping classes,” said Talia. “We were not the greatest students, I’m gonna be honest,” admitted Lavinia.
Herewith our favourite insights gleaned from the kōrero.
Sustainability is in their blood. But don’t call them a sustainable brand
“We don’t call ourselves a sustainable brand as I don’t think fashion brands can be sustainable,” they explained. “We call ourselves a conscious brand.”
The duo spent their formative years at Massey scouring the op shops, playing with any fabrics available to them - sheets, duvets, “even a shower curtain”.
These purchases informed their early decisions and led to a future where they work only with dead stock (end of line fabrics surplus to requirements by most) to breathe new life into them.
“For a while we were stuck trying to follow the linear university process of design,” said Talia. “With Layplan we start at step five then go back to step one. Dead stock informs a lot of the process.”
Lavinia and Talia are at pains to point out they are learning along the way. “We’re not perfect. It’s a privilege to be able to have a sustainable wardrobe especially in these times. In reality it’s not possible for many”.
They started making clothes so they could find things that fit them - and found there was a market looking for it.
Lavinia and Talia acknowledge the role that fast fashion plays in providing a commitment to size inclusivity largely ignored by traditional fashion brands.
“Sizing is such a big part of Layplan,” said Lavinia. “We started because we couldn’t find sizing to fit us. We’re tall!”
The brand addresses this through custom sizing. “In our immediate community it’s been important for us to factor in.”
“We want people to wear clothes, not clothes to wear people,” explained Talia. “We know not everything fits the same on everyone.”
The duo believe that extending sizing isn’t just a matter of scaling up. “We’re big believers that people can wear anything, it’s the proportions that change,” said Lavinia.
They struggle with pricing privilege, but know supply chain transparency demands it.
“It’s taken us a long time to be comfortable pricing our garments,” admitted Lavinia. “We always wanted to pay our workers fairly.”
“We can’t get friends to work for mates rates anymore,” adds Talia. “We strive to keep the supply chain transparent and pay people fairly.”
The pair admit that at first, friends and family thought their pieces were “quite pricey” but “once we had some conversations and did a little education around why” they understood.
“Layplan isn’t seasonal,” added Lavinia, “so we also explain we see value down the line.”
They started as an early adopter of Instagram marketing but now seek a showroom as a community space.
The brand started selling as an online only business in the early days of shopping via Instagram, and it was integral to the early success of their business. However they see the opening of a showroom to be a key step in future plans.
“It’s not us to be only online,” they admitted, saying that given how crucial community and storytelling is to all that they do, a space where they can talk with people IRL is imperative. “People can come in and see how clothes are made, and justify the price.”
Their business and success is an ode to a deep and abiding friendship.
“We’ve worked really hard to keep the friendship a priority in business,” said Lavinia. At various times they’ve lived in different cities but always found a way to make it work (both now currently reside in Tāmaki).
Both Lavinia and Talia are designers and each have a style and aesthetic of their own. “It’s taken tests to find the compromise”.
Another key part of the business? The relationships and collaborations they’ve formed along the way. The brand identity, strengthened by its Instagram presence, is the result of some key creative collaborations.
“As young designers we would get frustrated by people who would treat us as dressmakers,” explains Lavinia. “So when we work with photographers and models, it’s important to us they’re treated like artists.”