Human connection key to fusing fashion with full-time study and part-time work

Lexie Etherington graduates this year, and has spent the last three years balancing work, study, umpiring, and getting hot chocolate with friends.

Lexie Etherington, a young woman, stands with her colorful designs displayed on mannequins.
Lexie Etherington is part of the first graduating class of the Fashion Design Technology major at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation.

Lexie began sewing at four years old with her grandmother and throughout her life has wanted to explore costume design. She moved from Auckland to Te Herenga Waka to break out of her comfort zone and pursue something she loved.

“I knew that if I wanted to study design, I was either going to be in Auckland or Wellington, and I wanted to get out of my hometown.”

As part of the first class in what she describes as a very multidisciplinary major, Lexie was able to do many things at Te Herenga Waka that challenged her as a designer.

“We had so much creative freedom. In second year, I sewed with plastic bags—conventionally it looked like a shirt, but up close you realised it was Wellington City Council recycling bags.”

While at the University, she realised what she loved about costume design was telling stories with clothes, something she found she could do with contemporary fashion.

“Costume is essentially glorified fashion. It’s just helping convey a character’s story through what they’re wearing. But everyone puts on a costume each morning of who they want to be.”

It’s this love of people’s personalities and stories that motivated Lexie to return to the University this year to do her Master’s degree. Her thesis will focus on reinventing what genderless clothing can be—tailoring it to the individual, instead of producing an amorphous blob or a masculine boxy shape.

“You’ve been pushed into a box and a social construct of how your clothes should fit you. Everybody else is telling you what you should look like or how clothes should fit… but if you’re the one who’s experiencing it, you should be the one enjoying it.”

Outside of study, Lexie works part time at Fusion Skate in central Wellington, both on the shop floor and in marketing. Here, she loves tying in what she’s learned during study and helping people find what’s right for them.

“So many women come in and say they’re struggling to find, for example, a pair of jeans, because they’ve got a small waist and big hips. And I say, ‘try these baggy jeans’—they hate the concept because they’ve been told that’s not for them, but when they get them on, they’re like, oh, these are perfect!”

Lexie also umpires for local and national hockey tournaments, tutors other students in her capacity as a postgraduate student, works as a research assistant for PhD candidates, and still manages to find time to get hot chocolate with her friends.

“My friends think I’m insane but I’m such a people person. Talking to people and creating a relationship and a rapport… maybe I am a crazy person for doing all this stuff, but I enjoy it all so much.”

The University is taking an alternative approach to its May graduation ceremonies, and Lexie’s family are coming down to Wellington to celebrate with her. She’s blocked out two days for the parade and to get photos in her graduation robes to mark the occasion with style.

Even though her grandmother can’t come, Lexie knows that she’s very proud.

“She loves it, that I’ve done this as a degree. She’s so glad that I can carry on the legacy.”