'Nope': NZ Fashion Week debut for sexual assault survivor's empowering message of consent

Brit Cosgrove and sister Johanna will feature in their first ever New Zealand Fashion Week after launching their line NopeSisters to ignite conversations about consent and other social issues.
Brit Cosgrove and sister Johanna will feature in their first ever New Zealand Fashion Week after launching their line NopeSisters to ignite conversations about consent and other social issues. Photo credit: Supplied / NopeSisters.

At the end of August, Brit and Johanna Cosgrove will take their label NopeSisters to New Zealand Fashion Week for the first time. 

Their clothing line says 'nope' to social issues they want to see changes in, including consent. Their NOPE t-shirt conveys the message 'no means no' because Brit was sexually assaulted at 13 by a group of males.  

They filmed the attack, and then distributed a video of their indecent actions to their mates.  

She never went to the police as she says she felt intimidated by the teenagers and their families about speaking out.  

"You're already a traumatised young human, adding to anything on top of that is just no good," Brit told Newshub.   

Only about 10 out of 100 sexual abuse crimes are reported in New Zealand and three of those get to court - when one in five Kiwi women experience an assault, HELP Auckland told Newshub. 

One of those is likely to get a conviction.

The sisters were first inspired to use fashion as a statement when their mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

The Mastectotee (right) that saw interest for Brit and Johanna's (left) creative flair soar, giving them a platform to launch NopeSisters to raise awareness around social issues.
The Mastectotee (right) that saw interest for Brit and Johanna's (left) creative flair soar, giving them a platform to launch NopeSisters to raise awareness around social issues. Photo credit: Supplied / NopeSisters.

Brit created a T-shirt with an embroidered scar across the right breast, symbolising the mark that's left behind for many breast cancer sufferers who have tissue removed. 

It drew an overwhelming response after Johanna shared it on social media and Nope Sisters was born in October 2016. 

The Wellington-born pair knew immediately which prevalent issue to tackle next - a design in response to Brit's traumatic sexual assualt.  

"It's common for men to claim 'victims don't say no' and it was like what if she said 'no thank you, na, nope' or resisted. It still means no," she says. 

Flashbacks of the groups horrific advances and its aftermath rattled Brit years later and their effect was profound - she suffered from eating disorders as well as alcohol and drug abuse. She also tried to take her own life.  

In a better place at 22 after confronting therapy sessions, she didn't think twice about seizing a small way to make a huge stand against what she went through. 

One in five Kiwi women experience an assault but only about 10 out of 100 sexual abuse crimes are reported. Only three of those get to court and just one of those is likely to get a conviction.
One in five Kiwi women experience an assault but only about 10 out of 100 sexual abuse crimes are reported. Only three of those get to court and just one of those is likely to get a conviction. Photo credit: Supplied / NopeSisters.

They are now joined by thousands proudly wearing four letters across their chests; the one word that she never got to say to the young men as they forced themselves on her. 

"We thought we absolutely need to use our position of privilege to leverage this other important conversation that needs to be happening," Johanna says. 

Initially, Brit was afraid of putting the NOPE design into the public eye because she hadn't told her friends about what she had been through.  

"It was my way of letting people know this is something that has affected me and something really important for me to stand up against without having to go up and start talking about it," she says. 

Now, she says, she's been amazed by the response. 

"Unfortunately it is so common and it happens to so many people," Brit says. 

The sisters will debut their collection in the Sustainable Show at NZFW on August 31.
The sisters will debut their collection in the Sustainable Show at NZFW on August 31. Photo credit: Supplied / NopeSisters.

The dynamic siblings now have eight designs on their label, each one pertaining to an issue they're passionate about supporting.

Each embroidered garment has a matching charity and carries a simple word or logo designed to initiate thinking and invoke awareness.

Their work opens up conversations around the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence against women in New Zealand, period poverty, eating disorders and more, while donating money directly to those helping victims on the frontline.

"I think that's the thing that really has got us to where we're at now," Johanna says. "People can really sense if something is authentic and genuine." 

That's not to say it was easy; for both women a lack of business experience lead to a massive learning curve. The sisters had to teach themselves enterprise nous while still developing fashion and design knowledge. 

"It was teaching ourselves all of that, and doing our own marketing and sourcing our ethical suppliers, and embroidery factories." 

On August 31, their collection of up-cycled vintage jackets will be shown at NZ Fashion Week’s Sustainable Show.

Newshub. 

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