Sewing sustainability with love


A love affair with sewing has turned into a social enterprise teaching sustainability for Raglan-based, keen upcycler Sarah Lancaster.

Known across the country for her colourful bum bags made from repurposed fabric, Sarah,  like many young entrepreneurs uses social media as her main form of marketing.

“If I was to share some tips for businesses wanting to make the most of online platforms, I would say, be authentic, be consistent, add value, and try to have some fun with it.”

She spent several years raising her profile at the various summer festivals around New Zealand.

Despite the cancellation of many festivals during the various Covid lockdowns, Sarah says the hard yards she put in at the beginning held her in good stead.

“My online shop was a lifesaver and sales tripled during this time. It was awesome to see the increase in supporting New Zealand made products last year and I am grateful to be able to continue my sewing business.” 

Making the most of social media strategies, like Instagram reels, Sarah engages her followers with fun snippets of her sewing life and promotes upcoming online pop-up shops.

“I value the authentic connection with my customers, albeit virtually. I hope many more feel inspired to come join this fun journey of reuse and repurposing,” she says.

Originally from Thames, Sarah had dreams of being a drama teacher when she left high school and headed to Auckland University to do a degree in theatre studies.

An OE beckoned and Sarah spent six-months backpacking in South America. Inspired by the resourcefulness of the South American people, she changed track and headed home with the dream of starting a social enterprise.

“It opened my eyes to small business and social enterprise, and I realised that you can literally just have an idea about helping the environment or your community, and you could live off your passion.”

When she returned to New Zealand Sarah worked for a while in admin jobs but her heart was set on a creative endeavour that promoted sustainability.

While still working, Sarah completed a certificate in small businesses at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and wrote a business plan, which involved setting up a space for people to come together to sew and craft.

“One of the things that came out of my SWOT analysis was that I didn’t feel confident enough in my sewing abilities to be able to teach others. So, I quit my job and did an intensive one-year garment construction and pattern making at New Zealand fashion tech.”

It was ten years ago when Sarah started her first outreach sewing workshops in community houses around Auckland. She was at the beginning stages of finding out where sewing would take her.

After a year of carting sewing machines from community house to community house, Sarah set up a sewing studio at St Kevin’s Arcade on Karangahape Road in Auckland. At the time the arcade was a mecca for op shoppers and Sarah’s studio offered sewing machines for hire and workshops.

The move towards gentrifying K’ Rd and a rise in rents propelled Sarah on another sewing journey, this time in Cecil, a campervan/sewing workshop.

“I didn’t want to work seven days a week in the heart of the city through summer. I thought, how can I do my mahi (work) and go to the beach. I wanted to be a sewing lounge on wheels,” she laughs.

Sarah spent two years taking Cecil across the country teaching sustainability through sewing pop-ups, including in Hamilton, Raglan, Ngāruawāhia and Cambridge.

Image supplied by Geraldine Burns

Looking for somewhere to settle, Sarah came back to the Waikato in 2018 and settled in Raglan

Her passion for sustainability might have started with sewing but in Raglan it has morphed into a role as Xtreme Zero Waste’s communication and behaviour change person, and Plastic Free Raglan coordinator. 

Much like slow fashion, which advocates for manufacturing clothing in respect to people, environment and animals, Sarah’s role at Xtreme looks at how to support the community to move towards zero waste.

“My role is to normalise waste minimisation and providing as many opportunities as possible help this happen. Like having ugly mug libraries around town where people can see them and borrow a mug instead of a single-use cup.” 

She also shares her philosophy towards the clothing industry and waste at sewing evening classes. A Sarah SewLove class is all about slow fashion; taking the time to appreciate the process and finding joy in something you have created.

“I always remember one of my students saying, ‘we’ve just spent the night creating together instead of consuming together’. And we are all making friends and connections, and meeting other crafty people in the community. I just feel so stoked that I can host that for people.”

As well as teaching sewing and selling her bum bags online, she also gives old towels a new lease of life as surf ponchos.

Her newest venture is a reworking of vintage sleeping bags into stunning winter jackets called ‘Puffy Jackets’. In the future she hopes to offer online courses, kits and digital downloads of her sewing patterns.

Find out more Sarah by checking out @sewlovenz on Facebook, Instagram or email hello@sewlove.nz.


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