I studied fashion. It was hard. I did some postgraduate studies in an attempt to reconcile myself to the difficulties of correlating this industry with the world in which we live. That was even harder. I spent time in India teaching women to use overlockers. They spoke next-to-no English (more English than I did Bangla), but the interactions we had via every other form of communication were so memorable that on homecoming, I considered how I could kind of just keep “travelling.” This led to connections with refugees in the city we share—Auckland—which have been evolving since.

Displaced people may bring little with them physically, but on arrival they carry knowledge—a distinctive understanding of their craft—unique to each culture of origin. This craft has formed the basis for our collaborative practice: facilitating friendships and narratives, generating employment opportunities, and celebrating diversity, is the ambition as we, together, create.

It’s not a grandiose thing. It is a fun thing—moments of excited storytelling accompanying show-and-tell; located in just-down-the-road state homes that, on entering, teleport you instantly to Ethiopia, or Afghanistan, etcetera.

material scarves yellow blue
magazine person enterprise scarves
99 100 scarves enterprise

Vintage scarves with prior lives are gathered and embellished in the hands of migrants. That which is lost in translation—like requests for instructions—ensures surprise. This practice—called Company Per se—has its origins in the contemplation of fashion functioning as social enterprise. These are early days (let’s call it an “R&D phase”), but the intention has long been financial self-sustenance pivoting around honouring people—a “social business,” by my definition.

The scarves, squares of fabric, can be hung on a wall as one does a painting, can function as samples of skill, or can be worn—daily, as most of the women do, or on occasion, as I do (albeit differently).

In June we had an exhibition of sorts in a stairwell—an intimation of connection. Included were two sets of ten scarves, and 100 handmade publications corresponding with each series, journalling the journey.

blue scarves in wind and tree

The crowd was diverse. It was a kind of street party. Hopefully next time it will be more so on both accounts.

I am currently adrift in the South Pacific; craft exploring. The intention upon returning to New Zealand is to invite Pacific migrants into our collaborative endeavours.

Tomorrow I’ll visit artists working within the medium of Tapa; calling into question terms like “tradition,” as generational knowledge founds contemporary practice. The interplay between creating objects and broadening paid employment possibilities for the youth in their village, grounded in the memory of what has preceded, is an integral consideration.

Yesterday I found myself in a room full of women, most younger than me, taught by their mothers and grandmothers; out of this collective understanding, generating new things of beauty—together.

Migration can be lonely. I have had conversations with those so profoundly alone that leaving them—regardless of how long—leaves me feeling pretty bad.

scarves detail pearl beading

But,
Maybe working together, being together;
Maybe identifying the worth gathered here in collective tacit memory;
Maybe exploring notions of home, and of belonging via making;
Maybe facilitating encounters, on both figurative and literal levels between creators and customers, especially those now living in close proximity,
…are valid responses.
Maybe.
On that basis, we each have a solid reason to join the myriad others seeking to weave community within the framework that is social business

Kareen Hillenaar F&S

Kareen Hillenaar

Kareen Hillenaar is an Auckland-based creative who is passionate about designing processes that have good social ramifications and beautiful outcomes. She has a Masters in Art and Design in Fashion from Auckland University of Technology, and her recent exhibition, “Silk Scarf Series,” is the result of working with the migrant community to create garments using craft techniques from their native lands. She completed an internship at Maxim Institute in 2010.

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