JUAN ZARAMA PERINI
Laurie Foon is Wellington’s new deputy mayor and has a background in the fashion industry.
Laurie Foon might be Wellington’s biggest fan, but she’s such a big fan of everything that it’s hard to tell.
The capital’s new deputy mayor is known for her enthusiasm over subjects that put others to sleep – like changes to the sludge treatment system or the council’s procurement rules.
She believes Wellington can be a great, internationally-recognised city. “I really want to see Wellington elevated more as a global leader and that people are looking to us for: how are we doing it?”
The fashion-designer-turned-councillor is surprised she’s ended up on council, describing herself as an entrepreneur by nature. “Business ideas are what naturally form in my brain.”
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Foon grew up in Wainuiomata, where she loved getting out in nature, but started to feel the pull of the city early on. “Once you realised there was life over the hill [in the city], all I wanted was to get over the hill.”
She started in what she describes as the “rag trade” by working in a “cut, make, trim” shop on Willis St, where they would fit women for suits and coats. “I just remember feeling so happy with my life and where I had landed.”
On her OE in London, Foon kept going in the rag trade and being “entrepreneurial”. She was deeply inspired by Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop, who used her platform in business and as a founder to raise environmental awareness.
“I came home with the feeling that I can do something really interesting in Wellington. It felt like it had been a very boring blank canvas, but being inspired – I think a lot of Kiwis do this – they take what they see overseas, come back and want to bring that here.”
She returned to the Wakefield Market, selling retrofitted second-hand clothes through her brand Jive Junkies.
Within two years she was ready to open a physical shop and start a fashion brand. Her new shop – Starfish – was the beginning of what she describes as her “fully-fledged fashion journey”.
It did not begin as a sustainable fashion label, but evolved into one as she reflected on the dyes and fabrics the brand was using. “It started to not feel right that we were churning out the clothes.”
The brand is now recognised as a pioneer in the sustainable fashion space, paving the way for brands like Kowtow and becoming the first eco-fashion show to open New Zealand Fashion Week.
She loves to see sustainable fashion now – the shoes she’s wearing had a carbon offset option when she purchased them. “I just about died. I was dreaming of systems like that back then, wondering how do we help our customers to understand what this garment costs in environmental terms.”
Fashion companies like Shein have come under fire lately for how their workers are treated – so how do we shop more ethically?
After Starfish went under in 2013, Foon went on to work as the manager for the Sustainable Business Network. It was there she started to interact with the council and realise its influence over sustainability. “There’s only so much individuals and businesses cannot do without that that change coming from within a system that we live in.”
The need to push for sustainability and reduced emissions inspired the Green Party candidate to run for council.
“You know that climate change is an issue. But it’s when your children in bed at night go, ‘Mum, I’m afraid’ … you have to stand up and you do something about it.”
She needed a push again when offered the deputy mayor role by Tory Whanau, thinking the offer over carefully. “It’s not what I was craving. It’s not what I was after.”
Foon came on board after seeing it was a way to continue her work from the previous term, in a different sense. As deputy she will support the mayor and the council – a role where she believes her natural enthusiasm and positivity will be an asset. “That’s a good place to invest my time.”
She walks the talk in terms of reducing emissions. She buys mainly second-hand clothes (and often has to stop herself from re-buying Starfish clothes). During the first lockdown her family of four, including two teenage daughters, threw away just one Wellington City Council rubbish bag.
Foon is an advocate for cycleways and a long-time cyclist. She describes riding around Wellington while “fully hapu” (pregnant) with each of her daughters, but thinks it has become significantly more difficult for cyclists with the increases in traffic over the past 20 years.
She wants the council to really sell Wellington’s points of difference. “I love our lifestyle, our uniqueness, what we’ve got. I live in the city, but I can walk out of my front door and be in the bush on top of a maunga with the best view and back home in time for tea, half an hour. That’s such an asset.”
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