Tucked away in her Pāpāmoa workshop, Emma La Rocca is a changemaker leading the world in sustainable fashion.
Emma is the founder of Emroce sustainable swimwear: hand-made in Pāpāmoa but worn by womenall over the world. Her innovative zero-waste pattern-making sees her in demand internationally as an expert in her field, sharing her approach with international brands and design students, and she is even featured in a sustainable fashion museum in Amsterdam.
Combining a love for fashion design and passion for sustainable living, Emma started Emroce around eight years ago when living in Lake Como, Italy. Since 2019 she has run it from the Pāpāmoa home she shares with her husband and two young daughters.
The Italian connection comes from Emma’s husband Fabio, and the high-quality and sustainable fabric used to make the togs is created from recycled fishing nets retrieved by volunteer divers in Italy.
But it’s the pattern-making which really makes a difference in the sustainability of the production. Emma has designed a clever way of cutting the fabric so there is zero waste – compared to an estimated 30 per cent waste with traditional pattern-making, and businesses wasting thousands of dollars worth of fabric every year. The saving on fabric, as well as time – the pattern halves the time it takes to cut – means she is able to keep the pricing competitive. She designs, researches, pattern-makes, cuts and sews the togs in her workroom, before sending them to buyers who have bought online from countries as far afield as Germany and Finland.
While many fashion designers tightly guard their secrets, Emma’s view is that the more people who use sustainable pattern-making and production, the better for the planet. “It’s a win win.”
Emma challenges fashion industry norms as she sees current production and consumption models as too damaging to our health and the planet. The power for change is in the hands of the consumer, says Emma, who references an Albert Einstein quote on her website: “A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels.”
Sustainable fashion first piqued Emma’s interest when she was a student at Massey University’s Wellington campus at design school. She landed on the idea to use her skills to create sustainable swimwear when she was working as a surfing instructor in South America during her post-uni travels. She wanted to make togs that were fashionable, zero waste and, most importantly, functional and could stand up in the surf.
It’s been a labour of love, with slow and organic growth, lots of late nights working while her children sleep, all achieved without a bank loan and with a little crowd-funding. The hard work is paying off as Emma is now called on as a global expert on sustainable fashion design. One of her latest coups is being asked by the world’s largest sporting goods retailer, French based Decathlon, to consult and inspire their pattern-makers to create less fabric waste and therefore save this huge fast fashion company a lot of money and save our planet a little at the same time.
Emma is regularly called on to speak to design students via video-call about her work, which is showcased in the Fashion for Good museum in Amsterdam. The museum tells the stories behind the clothes we wear and how our choices can have a positive impact on people and the planet.
“I’ve spent many years practicing this technique, and it’s still a really mastered skill,” says Emma. “It’s not my idea; kimonos were always made zero waste. It’s an old idea that’s being reinvented.”
She sees potential for the biggest impact by targeting the fast-fashion industry, changing the way it is producing patterns.
Choosing Pāpāmoa as a base was a considered business decision when the family decided to return to New Zealand to have their second daughter.
“I needed to be kind of close to a city - it helps to have the port here - and I needed to be close to the beach to test the swimwear,” says Emma, who loves surfing.
While Emroce has caught the eye of influencers around the world including actor Alicia Silverstone of Clueless fame, Emma values connecting with her local community. She’s found the monthly sustainable market at Simpson Reserve, Sol Markets, a goldmine for getting to know locals who share her passion for sustainability.
“The crowd’s really cool, they know it’s a sustainable market, and it brings people who are interested in sustainability. I have really good conversations with everyone.”
Find about more about Emroce by reading through their website www.emroce.com or @emroceswimwear on Instagram and Facebook