Michael-Louis Barlow, Whitecliffe

Barlow spent his childhood and teenage years in Thames, fairly sheltered from the world of fashion. Barlow found his passion for sewing in fabrics class at Thames High School under Raewyn Grey. Throughout his school years he made many garments but was particularly drawn to creating coats and jackets. 

In 2017, Barlow packed up his life and headed to Wellington to start his journey at Whitecliffe. During his first year, he had the dream that many fashion design students had – to start their own label. Buying custom labels for his assessments and toyed with the idea of starting his own label. However, he realised that he ultimately wants to just sew and create, sans the business-side of starting a label. Thus, although starting a label is not on the cards at the moment for Barlow, it does not mean it’s not something he will look into again in the future. 

Through his three years of study at Whitecliffe, and now working with Wellington designer, Zowie Dee, he has learnt the most important thing in this industry is to be adaptable. 

“Things don’t always go to plan, and there are times that you have to find creative solutions to a problem. Sometimes the path ahead is clear, and other times it is not, and being adaptable can save your skin.”

In Barlow’s first year, Zowie Dee offered him a sewing trial, and then eventually a job in her workroom. Zowie Dee has been Barlow’s mentor and has given him the opportunity to hone his skills with bridal dressmaking, altering and tailoring. 

“Under her guidance, I have been able to grow and expand my skills, and, we have exciting plans for the future.”

Barlow has always thought of breaking into the fashion industry as a challenge, but now he feels like he has the potential to break into the industry, he is just in no rush just yet. 

“When the time comes, I want to have experience on my side, and experience only comes with time, patience, practice and most importantly, perseverance.”

For Barlow’s final collection, he designed a seven-pieces, three outfit menswear mini range under the name ‘Invasive Action’. 

“This was a military-style range, made because it was important for me to be true to myself, and to create looks that I would whole-heartedly wear myself.” 

Menswear and tailoring are where Barlow’s passion lies. 

“Military-style spoke the word ‘confidence’ to me and that’s what I have worked for; to be confident within myself, my own skin, and my abilities.”

2021 will be a year of reconnection for Barlow. Reconnection with his culture, his Whakapapa, his creativity, Te Reo and Te Ao Maori. 

“To start along my reconnection journey, I have been learning Te Reo Maori through books and other resources and have enrolled at Te Wanaga o Aotearoa next year.”

Barlow hopes to bring more of his culture into his work and designs. The first step is to learn and understand the significance and meaning behind each idea. 

“I would never want to do a disservice to anything my ancestors believed in and practised. We all have a journey in life and mine is only just the beginning.”

Photography by big mark & co.