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How kiwi designer became an award-winner after "giving it a crack" one year


WOW Designer, Craig McMillan, is a welder from Greymouth, New Zealand. His wonderful wētā creation won first place in the 2023 Aotearoa Section with his nostalgic ode to the weird and wonderful moments of a kiwi childhood.

With an eye for seeing something interesting and thinking "I'll have a crack at that" which, with great skill and an eye for detail and craft, creates delightful works of wearable art.  

As part of our designer series, we sat with Craig to hear more about his creative process and can-do attitude to designing.  

Was this your first WOW experience?  

2017 is when I first entered, and that was my first introduction to WOW. Before that I didn’t really understand what, it was. We were just up in Wellington once and had seen the show, and thought, “huh, this is not just your standard fashion show. I could have a go at this!”  

So, I went off, made something, entered it and I was at Designers Day, still not really sure what the whole show was. You’ve got all these international designers around you and you’re like, “this is pretty cool”. I progressed from there and learned from that show. Then it took a couple of years before the motivation kicked in again to have another go.

Child·Hood, Craig McMillan, New Zealand

What inspired your creation?

It was YouTube! I had a couple of goes at starting something, and I just couldn’t connect to it, so they ended up in the bin. Then I was scrolling through good old YouTube, and there was a video about cedar stripped canoes, which I thought was pretty cool and something I’d like to try, which morphed into, “how can I do this AND enter WOW?”

The ideas started rolling through my head, and I can’t remember exactly how I landed on a wētā - but I know I had wanted to bring my West Coast to life.  

Thinking back on my childhood, we lived next to the bush and something that did spring to mind was, one day putting my foot in my shoe to go to school and there was a crunch! I look in the shoe, where there is a big wētā at the end of it – and it took me a while to get it out, because I didn’t want to touch it, and they are scary as anything. For three months after that – I checked my shoes every 5 seconds! So that is something that has stuck with me.  

So I had, wood canoe, wētā - that’s all good. I told my dad, and he said a local guy, Ray Thomas, had just dredged this wood out of Lake Brunner, which was logged and underwater for 80-100 years. And this was a lake where we spent my childhood summers swimming, and my dad is a keen yachty, so we had a bach (kiwi term for a summer home) up there for sailing – so all these ideas came together.

{NB: Craig confirms the wētā in the shoe was fine, but, understandably – it did not want to come out of the shoe!}  

Child·Hood, Craig McMillan, New Zealand

INTERVIEWER: I can see the forms are beautifully similar between a canoe and the long body of the wētā.

CRAIG: Yeah, all the processes are sort of the same for the body, and while I didn’t really know what I was doing when I started – and I learned a lot along the way, improving to make it better.  

I am super low tech. I print a wētā picture out, cut it out, take it into the garage, get a torch out, shot a shadow onto the wall, thought, “that’s about the right size”, trace around that – side and top view – boom, there’s your plan! All my measurements came from that. You can go low tech and still make some cool stuff!  

What was it like seeing Child·Hood on stage? 

Yeah, it was cool. The bit that really struck me, was not when it was right in front of me – I've seen it in front of me for years while it was being made – but it was actually when it was on the other side of the stage and there was this red backlighting and some smoke, and I could just see the top of its legs, antenna and its back and I was like, “that’s what makes wētā scary and AWESOME!”

What does being part of the WOW designer community mean to you when you are creating?  

I look at the garments other designers make, and they are amazing. It really gives you a wider appreciation for what is out there, what you can get inspiration from, and it pumps you up to do it all again!  

What would you say to anyone thinking to enter WOW for the first time?  

CRAIG: Have a go. If you like doing it, do it! I’m just a simple guy that likes making cool stuff and anyone can do it, so go for it. Learn from your failures, try not to do them again – or, do fail again, think “you’re an idiot”, and slowly get it right! But, yeah – have a go!

Child·Hood, Craig McMillan, New Zealand

What's Craig working on now?

Currently Craig is working on a stitch and glue sea kayak that he has purchased plans for.  He is hoping to get out and do some camping trips in it over the holidays.  

You can follow Craig on Facebook where it has pics of all his WOW builds and previous projects he has worked on over the years!)  

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