Lying very still flat on her back for seven weeks after a horrendous car accident gave Bex McNeur time to consider her life. More importantly, what it was she wanted to do with it, given her second chance.
Now almost four years on, Bex has embraced her passion and has launched her ethically created fashion clothing line for women. Virtue of Seven launched online in October 2018. That month marked International Anti-Slavery Day and Bex is passionate about bringing attention to the use of slave labour in clothing production.
The 37 year old EIT Ideaschool fashion graduate says that her accident was “in a way both the very worst and best thing that’s happened to me”. While she waited to see if her severely crushed and broken neck would heal, she reflected that although she was enjoying her counselling studies, it was ethical fashion that she was “100 percent passionate” about. “I just hadn’t had the courage to do anything about it.”
Armed with her new outlook, Bex found the courage and EIT’s fashion programmes to augment her already considerable sewing expertise. After graduating in 2016 with a Certificate in Fashion Apparel, Bex was part of the inaugural cohort of New Zealand Diploma in Fashion that EIT began to offer in 2017.
“The support and guidance I received at EIT was phenomenal. I’ve learnt so much. I couldn’t pattern make before I started study. Now I really enjoy being able to work out how a garment will fall and what makes sense on a body.
“And we covered so many facets during my two years that I’ve been using since to establish my business – like digital design and business skills.”
Bex designed the Virtue of Seven logo and is actively promoting her brand on social media.
“I feel so excited and a bit terrified to be finally realising my dream. This ethical clothing label for me is really a leap of faith that combines my faith values, creative nature, love for fashion and fairtrade, and my desire to create real change.
“It’s said that if your dream doesn’t scare you then you’re not dreaming big enough. I’m pursuing this with a definite sense of purpose. It’s 100 percent what I’m meant to do and what everything in my life has prepared me for.”
EIT Fashion apparel tutor Cheryl Downie says that Bex’s move to set up her own label is the way the fashion industry is going, especially in the provinces. “Not everyone is in the position to move to Auckland or overseas to be immersed in the industry. And with the cost of living in Auckland, it’s not that realistic either. We totally encourage our students to develop their business skills and knowledge so they can set up a business. Using the networks they establish while at EIT is also valuable.
“With ethical and sustainable at the heart of everything she does, Bex has established her point of difference.”
Bex’s idea for her label and her desire to produce sustainable fashion garments percolated while she lay in traction with her tablet the only source of entertainment.
Her accident happened on the 7th of July. The seven virtues include purity, humanity, fortitude, justice, faith, hope and charity, which Bex says are all bedrock in her brand and business.
“And it’s taken a world of fortitude and faith for me to get to this point. My hope is to make a difference to humanity by supporting the fight for justice both for people and the environment.”
Ironically, Bex left hospital seven weeks after her accident, and seven months later picked up her new vehicle and started to drive again.
During her recovery, Bex spent months in exhaustive online research. She located suppliers around the world for her ethical organic cotton and linen, the buttons, sustainably made from 100 percent natural corozo (often referred to as vegetable ivory), and zips made from recycled plastic bottles and polyester otherwise destined for landfills.
It was while she was researching that she also decided that $17 from each garment’s purchase price would be donated to Tearfund’s Project Act, which funds the work of Lift International, Hagar and Share & Care Nepal.
“I decided that I can’t be outraged about the injustice of modern slavery and do nothing about it. I’m compelled to act. Maybe it’s the Scottish warrior genes within me.” Bex’s great grandparents hailed from the Scottish highlands.
The inaugural Virtue of Seven spring / summer 2018 collection is entitled Hiraeth (pronounced ‘here -(roll the ‘r’)- ayth ). It’s a Welsh word that has no single English word equivalent but expresses homesickness, nostalgia or longing for the places of your past or ancestry. For Bex, that longing is for Scotland, a country she has never visited but evokes in her a strong connection of belonging.
It’s also quite fitting that two-thirds of this season’s fabrics have been sourced from a Welsh supplier.
Her love and hiraeth for Scotland has inspired the choices of colours, design elements and details on each garment. A thistle print, designed and hand crafted by Bex and pleating and lattice work inspired by tartan kilting, feature in the range of three tops, one cropped pant, and a shirt dress.
“I love detail. I’ve aimed for clever detailing without being over complicated.”
Sizes range from XS to XL, and all are sewn by Bex, who is striving for minimal waste. Any larger offcuts are to be developed into a sub-collection while smaller pieces will be used for other creative projects. “Nothing is thrown away.”
And if it should be, that’s no issue as all her fabrics and cottons are totally compostable.