When Finance Minister Grant Robertson stood to deliver the Budget last week in Parliament, he did so wearing a burgundy tie hand-crafted in Waipā by Claire Nieuwoudt and gifted to him by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Earlier that day, in a Facebook Live seen by more than 10,000 people, Ms Ardern thanked Stitched for the tie and told her nearly two million followers to “buy New Zealand made”.
Claire was thrilled when she saw her boutique Cambridge business had just gone global.
Making ties is a labour of love for the South African emigrant who settled in Cambridge last year with husband Gideon after falling in love with the town’s blooming magnolias and cherry trees. She had also always wanted to live in a town with a chiming clock tower.
Claire learned to sew from her grandmother and started her own business sewing hair accessories for weddings when she was 22. The first tie she made came when a bride she was making a veil for asked for some ties and braces for her groom and groomsmen.
“I just said yes. So, I pulled apart one of my husband’s ties and figured it out from there. Since making that first tie, I’ve completely fallen in love with them. The process is slow and requires all your focus, but it is also repetitive and meditative. Just follow each step carefully and the result is a beautiful, wearable piece of art,” she says.
“The tie came under a lot of criticism this year. It’s seen as something that belongs in the past. I see ties as a way for people to express themselves.
“A tie brings a pop of colour to an otherwise bland, formal outfit. It can be a talking point for things that matter to you, and an excellent ice breaker. A handmade tie is honestly the happiest tie you can buy,” she says.
So, what about the pressure of producing a tie ordered by the Prime Minister for her Finance Minister?
“I was standing outside Cambridge Town Hall when I got the call from the Prime Minister’s private secretary. She wanted a tie as part of a special tradition she had of presenting the Finance Minister with a tie on Budget Day.
“We had just finished up going over the brief for the design and we ended the call just as the fire siren went off. I was so relieved that I’d finished the call just in time,” said Claire.
Grant Robertson’s tie, like all made by Stitched, was made from New Zealand fabrics.
The tie inners are made from bamboo and cotton lining from a supplier in the South Island and then hand-cut into tie shapes using specialised machinery by a small business in Auckland.
The labels and flyers with care information are printed by two businesses on the North Shore.
They all come together in Cambridge where Claire sews the pattern pieces on a vintage Bernina machine and then hand stitches the tie seam.
The ties, which cost between $49 to $69, are then boxed in locally made, recyclable cardboard boxes and couriered in compostable sleeves.
Claire has handmade 150 ties in the last year.
“My biggest dream for my business is to see a tie revolution amongst men and even women,” she says.