J'AKE Debut Collection Looks Skyward

Ahead of the launch of new label, J’AKE, we chatted to Waikato-based designer Jacob Coutie about looking to his Maori roots for the inspiration behind his debut collection, ‘Rangi.’

‘Rangi’ a menswear collection by New Zealand label, J’AKE. Image supplied.

‘Rangi’ a menswear collection by New Zealand label, J’AKE. Image supplied.

NK: Tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up.

Jacob: I’m from Waikato. I say I’m from there because 90% of my family were all born there (around Tokoroa, Hamilton, Thames), including myself! Even though the whanau may be spread across the country now, we all grew up there and that’s very special to me.

NK: How would you describe yourself?

Jacob: I think I view myself as adventurous, a little bit awkward, but also very open. I don’t like to take shit seriously.

NK: What kind of music are you listening to right now and do you play music while you’re working?

Jacob: Great question! Music is soooo important and synonymous with creativity. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of folk/singer-song-writer stuff like Amy Annelle, Noah Kahan, The Beach Boys, Tom Misch. But also have been loving Joji, Tommy Genisis, Juice WRLD and Lykke Li.

NK: Your previous collections have taken inspiration from research into your Maori identity - do you feel there are always layers of this to explore?

Jacob: Yes, absolutely. There are so many layers in Te ao Maori. It just happened to be more personal for me. Like any culture, it is complex and can be explored in many ways. I’m always inspired by people. To me, people is what makes culture.

NK: Do you feel like there are enough Maori designers out there?

Jacob: I don’t think there are enough Maori fashion designers out there. Aotearoa is always being exposed to what is happening overseas and forgetting about what is happening here. But in a way that’s what makes us special - we have our own voice. Most of us pretty much know each other as well!!! I keep in touch with most of the designers from New Zealand Fashion Week and have met a few more Maori fashion designers and labels.

NK: You’re about to launch your very first collection as an official brand. What aspects have been the most challenging to get your head around?

Jacob: Business! I am more of a business manager at this point than I am a designer. I studied a few business papers at Uni, but I honestly believe that you actually have no idea of what you are doing until you come to do it. I’ve always believed in practice over theory, and it turns out that I was right.

Starting a fashion business isn’t cheap, so the financial side is a challenge. It takes a lot of mahi (work) and planning to be smart with cash flow. Also, getting people to take me seriously [as a new young designer is challenging]. For me, it was difficult when I had to jump in the deep end and put myself out there to manufacturers, funders, etc. People see a young graduate and are either quick to judge that I’m too naive, or that I am brave!

A sneak peek of Rangi, by new label J’AKE. Image supplied.

A sneak peek of Rangi, by new label J’AKE. Image supplied.

Where did the inspiration for your latest collection come from and how many pieces are in it?

Jacob: I don’t want to give away too much of my references for now, but the name “Rangi” comes from the atua, Ranginui and translates to “sky”. But it’s a humble body of work and was designed as more of a capsule collection. I’ve had to be smart to start off with.

NK: I imagine the process has been fun and creative, but also stressful. How do you deal with stress and what’s your favourite way to unwind?

Jacob: Boxing! And hanging out with a good group of friends.

How would you describe the aesthetic and have you had to think more carefully about who the customer might be?

Jacob: I had a friend describe the aesthetic as ‘Army Dreamer’ which I think I’ll stick with. I draw inspiration from both military wear and relaxed tailoring. Somehow that’s fused together to create an aesthetic. With that being said, I think my customer will vary depending on the pieces they buy. I imagine that my customer is a keen traveler and enjoys finding new things.

NK: What are you most excited about in this collection?

Jacob: Just to show my friends and whanau what I’ve been working on. Definitely the concept has been the most fun. I went down to the Wairarapa for the photo shoot and seeing it all come together really gave me a burst of excitement.

NK: You traveled for almost a year with your OE, what inspired you most and what threads of that have inadvertently been woven into your collection?

Jacob: Adventure! Positivity! My journey overseas actually made me feel more proud than ever to be a Kiwi. I felt like a true individual going to a new place as a foreigner, and I hope people wearing my clothes feel the same way.

NK: You’re doing an independent runway show in Auckland - do you have a theme or particular approach to the styling and presentation, and how important do you think these things are?

Jacob: It’s so important! My aim is to tell a story through clothes! All of the details communicate that story. With the styling, I want to show my journey and where I come from. It’s scary because the first collection should ideally encapsulate my label as a whole and give people an idea of what could come next.

NK: You’re also planning to show this year at NZ Fashion Week. How different is this collection from what you plan to show there or are you likely to expand this collection?

Jacob: I’m aiming to enter the Miromoda [Indigenous Maori fashion] section again this year. I can’t guarantee that I’ll get in, but I have so much confidence in my next collection!

NK: What do you want to bring to menswear that doesn’t already exist?

Jacob: I’m not trying to bring anything ‘new’. I don’t think that’s my aim. I just want to make something honest that happens to be a very unique perspective. Something genuine.

NK: What is your vision for the future of menswear?

Jacob: I don’t want to get political about it, but menswear varies from place to place. The world is very connected now. I think we will see more collaborations between designers, and in the long term, less product being made. The customers are making smarter decisions.

J’AKE debut collection launches Thursday 28th March, 6pm-8pm.

1 Cascade Street, Freemans Bay, Auckland.

To find out more head to: Instagram @jake.studios and @jakestudiosnz on Facebook