Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
A Māori-owned clothing rental business is paving the way for change in plus-size fashion for wāhine.
Kahu Henare is the 24-year-old business owner of One Fit Hire, a clothing rental service providing quality, event-worthy garments ranging from sizes 6 to 26.
Not only does Kahu run her own business through a Newmarket shopfront and an online platform, but she’s also a full-time occupational therapist working in mental health.
The young entrepreneur is very passionate about both her lines of work. To Kahu, these two jobs aren’t so different from one another and believe they go really well together.
Bringing what she’s learned to the practical side of her business, Kahu sees the crossover between mental health and plus-size fashion all the time.
"I see it in everyday people coming in. I think seeing the girls' confidence and even girls coming through and being like “oh my gosh, I was just having a breakdown at home and now I've found this dress and I feel so much better”... I always make a really big deal to the girls about how amazing they look because I've only met them for half an hour, I never know what's going on for them. As long as they've had a lovable experience finding a dress".
Kahu started OFH five years ago after having a bad shopping experience trying to find a school ball gown.
"I grew up always a big girl since I was younger and I grew up with girls who were smaller than me. I didn't really think it was a big deal until I went to my school ball in year 13 and I couldn't find a dress".
But even the rental shops were a failure. Kahu wasn’t able to find a dress that fit her body type and was made to feel inadequate because of it. With the experience etched in her mind for the next couple of weeks, Kahu had the realisation that “oh wow, these shops aren't really catered to my body. I’m like 17 and if shops aren’t catering to my body at this age then what is out there for people who are bigger than me?”.
With the lack of good quality plus-size options in New Zealand malls or by other clothing rental companies, Kahu’s mum suggested that she should just hire out the clothes she already had to help out other women like her.
A huge motivation for Kahu is seeing how other people treat women who are over size 16. She believes that women tend to get misread in terms of what they wear.
She also thinks that there’s a stigma behind that if you’re over size 16 you shouldn’t wear things that show a bit of skin.
"I try to incorporate pieces that are very “risqué” to encourage other wāhine to feel like they can wear whatever they want, it looks good and they feel good as well. We talked about how options available in the shops don't really reflect what women should be wearing so if I can be that person that has a few things that women would like to wear that's a bonus for me".
Now the company has over seven thousand followers on Instagram and has grown nationwide.
Kahu acquired a shop space earlier this year through Facebook Marketplace on Newmarket’s Broadway alongside many popular boutiques. She says getting the shop has changed everything about her brand as she’s now able to appeal to more people.
To go from fittings in her bedroom to a shopfront in one of Auckland’s most popular shopping destinations is no easy feat.
A long-time customer and model of OFH Angel Lerm says that it’s changed her life and has taken a massive weight off of her shoulders.
"As a curvier girl it isn’t always easy to find your size in every shop you go to or even just something flattering for your body type… She’s (Kahu) saved me from the constant loops around the mall on the hunt for something to wear to an event, she’s saved me from ordering something online and being disappointed because it doesn’t fit right".
Lerm says these types of businesses are important because we’re not all built the same, their inclusive range has provided a platform to remind women that “we all deserve to feel good about ourselves and have confidence with whatever body we’re in”.
Kahu made the move from Wellington to Auckland before her business started up, and says that access to great quality garments for women may be much harder in other places around New Zealand, especially rural areas.
Tiana Foua, a customer and owner of her own online plus-size rental clothing business Curvy Girl Hire, says that where she’s from in Lake Taupō, there are not many stores that cater to bigger women.
"I always got anxiety going into a shop looking for something to try on just to walk out with nothing because I couldn’t fit it. It shouldn’t have to be a struggle to hire dresses as a plus-size woman, we need more shops that do what One Fit Hire and myself do, we need to be catering to all shapes and sizes".
With OFH’s Instagram filled with photos of customers looking ecstatic in their hired outfits, Angel says that it makes a huge difference for people to see the dresses on a real body instead of a professional model.
Kahu says that social media can have a huge effect on people’s mental health and has the ability to change people’s perspective on themselves. She tries to incorporate a lot of body positivity and self-love messaging on the company’s social media pages because of it.
When asked what change the country needs to make to see the impact that she’s creating, Kahu says that retail stores need to be more accessible, not just online and they need to offer dresses that have the capacity to fit a range of sizes, not just one. They need to be more affordable and offer good quality options in terms of styles and colours.
"I believe fashion is a true expression of yourself, what you stand for and how you're feeling and like, if people aren't getting that then that sort of translates to self-confidence, then your mental wellbeing, and it all just comes back to mental health again, you know?".