We chat to WOW wardrobe administrator Sally Florance, 35, who’s the first port of call for designers from all over the world.
How did you get to work at WOW?
I had been living and working in London for eight years in an executive search firm, helping grow a small business. I was there for about four years, and then we decided we wanted to come home. We moved to Nelson for no particular reason, and I was concerned at first because there weren’t very many job opportunities for me here. I saw this role at WOW and the rest is history. This is my second year of the show cycle – I started in April last year, and I’m very glad I got the opportunity to work here!
What do you do day to day?
I’m the first port of call for most of the designers, so I get a lot of emails saying “Oh Sally, help!” as well as general queries about entering the competition. I manage the online entry process, so if anyone has issues, I’m the person they call or email. I assist with freighting through our partners Mainfreight, and deal with any queries over how they get their garment here, including packing them and rescuing those stuck at Customs. My background is completely different from any sort of creative profession – I have a strong administrative history, with a degree in Human Resources Management, so that helps. At the moment we’re receiving lots of entries so when they come through the door I’m the person who signs them in and sends an email to every designer to let them know their entry has arrived.
That’s a lot of emails.
Yes, I send out thousands! We’re getting two 40 foot containers of entries over the next couple of days, and I have to handle every single one – record them, stack them on pallets, and then the team go through the process of cataloguing them.
Do garments ever get lost?
They do sometimes go missing but we’ve managed to get them back every time. One got stuck in Mexico but we managed to get that back out. We haven’t had anything lost forever yet – touch wood.
What do you like about this job?
You can see that WOW has come from humble roots and I like that it’s central to Nelson, and even though they had to move the show to Wellington they’ve still kept its heart here. This is Suzie and Heather’s home and it really does feel like a family business, and people who work here are really passionate about WOW – I just don’t think you could work here and not be, it’s such a unique company.
I also love how there are loads of different things going on all the time. It’s such a fun environment to work in. We have a great team here and we obviously get to be a part of something pretty special that’s unique to New Zealand and the rest of the world. I like seeing the amazingly creative entries that come in through the doors and I’m just blown away by how clever and creative the designers are.
Yes, you’re entrusted with the care of some amazing works of art
There are just so many entries that blow your socks off. I also get the privilege of being able to see what we already have in the historic collection here from right back in 1987 when we first started, and it’s so cool to see how the entries have evolved. You get to see something new every single day. We are already seeing some pretty incredible entries coming through the door this year and it’s so exciting.
I’m personally more of an admin kind of person – I’m not creative, I can’t sew or anything like that, so to be up close to all of this is amazing. In some of these garments every single aspect is hand-crafted – they don’t just go buy bits and pieces and put them together. It’s incredible, the time and effort and energy these designers put into their works. A lot have full-time jobs and can still create these garments in a matter of months.
Do you get to hear much of the detail behind the garments?
The designers tell me stories about what process they have gone through and how hard it’s been for them and how much time it takes. When you watch the show, you don’t get a sense of that because you don’t know those details, but I get a behind-the-scenes view of what goes into crafting these garments. WOW means so much to a lot of people. Sometimes they have a lot going on in their lives and making a piece helps them through these dark times. They may be dedicating it to a lost loved one or they may be going through some kind of treatment and they’re doing this so they have something to focus on and it’s helping them with processing hardship. That’s obviously not everyone, but you do read some of these stories and they’re really heartwarming and put a lump in your throat. They may not get into the show, but it’s still a valuable process for them.
We’ve got an entrant right now who has been going through some health treatment and healthcare professionals recommended that she shouldn’t be doing this because it was quite hard and taxing on her. But she wanted to put her mind to something and complete it, and it’s been a satisfying process for her. It’s helped take her away from the other trauma going on.
How would you encourage potential designers who haven’t quite got around to making and entering a garment yet?
We’re more than happy to encourage people and we have an amazing team of technicians here who are very knowledgeable about a lot of aspects of the industry. It’s just a matter of getting inspired by what you’ve seen and if you have an idea in your head just to give it a go. Even if you don’t succeed in getting into the show, then keep trying again. Come and see the WOW museum in Nelson and see what other people have done. People don’t have to be proper sewers or professional designers – WOW is open to everybody.