Back in July, an email circulated around some professionals of the fashion industry in New Zealand – it was a search for interest in a massive undertaking of a charity project which became known as Creative Collaboration. Franc Starr, a top hairdresser in New Zealand, had a vision: to unite fashion industry professionals in a fundraising effort for the Child Cancer Foundation.
The Child Cancer Foundation is “the calm in the eye of the storm” of dealing with child cancer; the Foundation offers emotional and other support, financial aid (such as school scholarships) and even provides holiday homes around New Zealand where families can escape the routine of hospital and have a relaxing vacation. Franc Starr, a parent himself, acknowledges the unimaginable impact cancer has on families; “As a parent, I admire people who struggle with the simple everyday living trying to care for these kids and give them hope and comfort to pull through every day… That’s reason enough for us to make a difference in any way we can.”
Franc’s end goal was to raise money for CCF by holding a ‘Fashion for Charity’ evening, where various designers would show collections on a runway. It involved pulling together these designers, models to of course show the clothing, makeup artists, stylists, hairdressers, photographers, videographers, and technical crew to make it all come alive. In the months leading up to the final event (held on the 24th of November), Franc sought out different locations to utilise for ‘Mini-Shoots’; photo-shoots with the aim of gathering images to run as a background during the ultimate catwalk show.
Somehow, I was lucky enough to be involved in this ambitious project. A year or so ago I signed up with a Wellington-based modelling agency, and while all the Creative Collaboration shoots were unpaid work, my agency wanted to get involved as much as possible. And I would never say no to an opportunity to contribute to something I believed to be worthwhile. The first Mini-Shoot I participated in was held at a Porsche showroom in Auckland. There were about a dozen models, the same number of cars, and a handful of photographers with their own ideas and artistic style, two incredibly hard-working makeup artists, a fantastic stylist and of course Franc, who was there to oversee the whole project and lend his professional flare to the hair-styling of the models.
I consider myself a shy girl – but I am nothing compared to how I used to be when I was younger. Kids are mean, and everyone gets picked on about something or other in school: I was no exception. I have fought clinical depression since early high-school, and self-esteem issues probably my whole life. During my teenage years I believed I did not possess a single external attractive quality, and bullies helped cement that idea in my head. Yet years later, the height that kept boys away from me in school (I was a “freak” of course) and the frustratingly fast metabolism that led to people of all ages telling me to “Go eat a pie” and referring to me as “flat stick”, contributed to me being asked to get in front of the camera for some reason that was totally a mystery to me. The first time a photographer friend of mine asked to shoot me, I was completely bemused. Why would anyone want to take my picture? I had never picked up a fashion magazine unless it had been a last resort, I didn’t know the first thing about nice shoes or how to make my hair behave – I worked with animals, wore steel-capped boots and was constantly covered in mud and dirt. I gave up on trying to fit in with the ‘pretty’ people; my work made me happy, and it still does.
Yet now, I find people judge me for different reasons – they might see a glamoured-up photograph, and think that this is who I am. I don’t believe anyone knows the internal, emotional battles I struggled with inside my own head to just try and convince myself that the teasing didn’t matter: I took every negative comment to heart, but I tried so hard to not let it all define me.
The truth is, I am bloody proud of myself that I can stand in front of a camera with even a handful of confidence. I take incredible pride in the work I do no matter the area or industry, and I look back at the skinny, metal-mouthed, anxious girl I used to be and I want to tell her it’s ok to be herself. Confidence develops over time. Somehow I overcame certain hardships, and while a few particular struggles might never be over for me, I can say I possess some strength now.
Still, that first Creative Collaboration Mini-Shoot felt like a big step for me. I was nervous, I didn’t know anyone (representatives of the agency I belong to are based in Wellington and I haven’t actually met any yet), I had never worked with so many professional photographers before, I was armed with a bag full of clothes that we had been asked to bring and I was sure that none of them would be suitable.
I was grateful when I realised the other girls were very nice. I wasn’t the only one who felt new to this sort of gig. The stylist did ask me to wear pieces she had brought along as opposed to my own dresses, but once I got myself into a beautiful gold sequin outfit I suddenly felt like a new woman. I’m not saying it takes an expensive dress to provide artificial confidence, but for some reason I suddenly thought “I can pull this off.” I lost the slouched-over ‘I’m an unattractive giant’ attitude, and held myself with stubborn pride. I felt rebellious in a way – rebellious against those inner demons from my past that didn’t ever seem to shut up.
The shoot went well. All the models looked amazing, and the photographers produced some stunning images. The next Creative Collaborations Mini-Shoot was at another car showroom – this time Rolls Royce. I’ve never been a car fanatic but I could appreciate how expensive the vehicles were – we were constantly being told not to lean on them with too much weight, no kissing them, no lying on them, if you scratch one you pay for it. I definitely don’t have that kind of money!
The next and final Mini-Shoot I participated in was at a place near the Auckland International Airport called Butterfly Creek. I was excited to have this as our location as I had never been there before. It is like a mini-zoo; it has a farmyard with domestic animals for petting, a huge, humid butterfly enclosure that you can walk through while colourful wings flutter about you and fuzzy bodies land in your hair, and more recent additions include cotton-top tamarins (I miss those little guys from my zoo days!), huge crocodiles and baby alligators. For this shoot we had two extraordinary designers – Annah Stretton and Lucy Mae – provide outfits for us to model. Annah’s stylist brought an incredible array of stunning floral dresses that we floated around in with vibrant heels to match, and the Lucy Mae’d brand saw us in tribal, colourful and earthy pieces.
The Creative Collaboration Fashion for Charity final show was held on Sunday the 24th of November – I was unable to make it, but it looked like a fantastic time. Feedback was great, although it did not get the numbers in that Franc was hoping for. CCF themselves called it a great event though, and I think if anything it goes to show that all kinds of people are capable of doing something for a good cause.
A friend from the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand elephant rescue centre recently mentioned that she realised she may have judged people – and me – too harshly. While I was completely oblivious to it, I think she saw me as ‘one of those’ – the superficial, magazine-obsessed girls that don’t care about anything but makeup brands and what to wear. I have such a huge lack in care for fashion sense that I couldn’t imagine anyone in their wildest dreams would ever perceive me this way, but everyone has different life experiences and it all influences the way they view the world and other people. She thanked me for teaching her not to stereotype so badly. I didn’t know what to say. If you’re reading this, you changed my life too.
People are diverse. We grow, we change, we learn lessons, sometimes we forget them, sometimes we don’t develop into better people. I feel like a lyric from The Wallflowers’ song One Headlight is suitable – “Man I ain’t changed, but I know I ain’t the same.” I’ve always had the same kind of heart, the same passion and drive to be a voice for those animals that can’t do it themselves, the same desire and ambition to make a positive impact on the environment and world. But my character has changed so much – before I found it hard to pat myself on the back for any small achievement. But now I am able to look at myself in the mirror and say “Sam, you do good.” And after feeling invisible, afraid, unconfident and timid, I can stand up tall without a hunch and be proud. I’m not saying I am now full to the brim with confidence – I am still one of the most shy people I know, and as I said earlier I still struggle with certain things – but I’m no longer embarrassed to be seen. And realising this, thanks to the help of a huge fashion collaboration (of all things; the world I have been most afraid of), was a momentous turning point for me.