Behind the Seams with Rie Savage - hej hej’s perfectionist pattern maker.
The perfectionist fingers behind hej hej’s designs, the namesake of Babydoll Savage and a like-minded lover of all things linen, Rie is our talented pattern maker. Born and trained in the home of Toyota - Nagoya, Japan, it was the New Zealand lifestyle that drew her to our land and two friendly mothers that landed her a place in our crew.
We had a powwow with Rie in her lovely Hamilton home to chat about where she came from, her training, lovely family, what it’s like working with two crazy ladies and her take on the hej hej collection she expertly helps us craft each season.
First thing’s first, where did you grow up?
I grew up in a working-class neighbourhood in a Japanese industrial city called Nagoya. It’s not that well known, probably most famous for being the home of Toyota. It is also near where the Japanese apparel industry has been based since feudal times, so there is a huge amount of fashion work there.
I had wanted to work in the apparel industry since I was a little girl. I still have an essay I wrote when I was eleven or twelve where I set out my plan to grow up and live as a designer in Paris. This definitely was not the usual ambition for a girl in my neighbourhood.
Tell us about your pattern making training in Japan?
The Japanese school system is really good for technical subjects like design. I was lucky enough to go to a high school that has ‘fashion culture’ as a subject, which was about a thirty-minute bike ride away from where I lived. There, we did traditional subjects three quarters of the time, then fashion and culture study the rest. This meant that I already had some knowledge by the time I graduated high school.
After high school, I went to a fashion technical college and did a three-year degree. In the second year I had to choose to either major in design or pattern making. The course was comprehensive, and we really got an understanding of the fundamentals of how clothes work.
My first job out of college was working for a small company that specialised in making affordable clothes that were similar to very high-end pieces. This sometimes involved me having to take a piece of clothing and pull it apart so I could reverse engineer a pattern. This taught me a lot about how different designers and pattern makers think and the tricks that they use. It has also proved useful for making my boys replicas of pieces they love.
My second job was in a very large clothing company, producing for mainstreet fashion labels. It was high volume work, making up to fifteen patterns a week year-round! All of the work was done using the CAD system, which is so much more accurate and fast.
I worked there for about seven years and this really honed my skills. Especially as the standards there were so high. The company would be making up to around five thousand pieces from any one pattern, so we couldn’t get anything wrong. All of the CAD data would go through to the grading department and data management department, where they would check all our outputs were correct and let us know if something was wrong.
How did you meet your husband Jesse?
Jesse and I met taking the train home. One night there was a typhoon and the train was delayed so we got talking. The rest is history.
When did you come to New Zealand and how did Jesse convince you to make the move?
We moved to New Zealand in 2010, after I left my job to have my first child, Noah. Jesse and I decided that New Zealand offered a better lifestyle choice for bringing up kids, so we packed everything up and made the move into the unknown.
I had reservations about leaving everything behind and moving to a strange country where I didn’t even speak the language properly, but I could see that Jesse wasn’t fulfilled in his career and that New Zealand would offer such a better life for our kids. In the end, I thought for better or for worse I had to give it a try.
Tell us all about your gorgeous little boys.
They aren’t always gorgeous! Noah is our oldest, he is a serious boy and a lot like his dad. He likes to analyse things and loves knowing all the answers and random facts. Louis is a much more free-spirited boy, always turning cardboard boxes into race cars or making up funny songs.
How did you find hej hej and what do you do for us?
I found hej hej through fate. I was looking to get back into the industry after the kids were old enough and Alice was looking for someone to do some pattern making. Jesse’s mum and Alice’s mother are friends, so Alice was nice enough to give me a chance.
What did you first think of Kiki and Alice when you met them? Be honest now.
When I met Alice, she had baby twins. I was so impressed with how she was able to set up and run a business. I thought hej hej was really cool and I was so excited to be a part of it. Alice’s drive and eye is still something I really admire. Before I met her, I was so busy with kids that I had forgotten how much I love this work.
Unfortunately, I haven’t met Kiki in person yet, but we email all the time. Even by email, I can see that she is a lovely person.
What do you love most about linen?
Nothing can beat linen clothes in summer. I especially like natural shiny and silky linen, like hej hej uses. In Japan, the summers can get up into the mid thirties so keeping cool is important.
What does it feel like to see each hej hej collection complete?
It’s always the culmination of so much work, so when I see all the products on the website I feel really proud. Especially when Alice and Kiki named some of the coolest pieces after me (like the Babydoll Savage). I feel really happy, not only because I’m back doing the work I love, but I’m doing it with such a cool local brand.
We hear you’re a perfectionist - what’s your process?
It’s the Japanese in me (lol). But seriously, I think a big part of it is because I grew up in that system. The Japanese Garment Association even has a strictly enforced code of rules about how clothes are finished, which I still follow today.
What do you love most about working with the ladies of hej hej?
I love the moment when I hear that they are happy with the first sample. I’m always nervous about whether I have managed to accurately translate their vision into a pattern. Working with two people who are passionate and inspired can’t help but motivate you to do your best. I also love working for a small company run by women taking on the world.