Founder Emma of No Fixed Abode Shares Her Story
If two words were used to describe fashion label founder Emma Mann, it would be “inspiration” and “positivity.”
A mother to a gorgeous five-year-old daughter Summer and with a thriving London-based urban streetwear business, Emma boasts a natural lust for life where her edgy and non-conformist style recently prompted Liberty, the historic department store, to compare her design work with that of British fashion icon Vivienne Westwood.
Yet although the blonde-haired and vivacious Emma may appear to have it all her life story has been forged in adversity, which has required strength, mental fortitude and desire in equal measure,
Growing up on Auckland’s North Shore (NZ) she describes her family life as “dysfunctional.” Her drug-addict mother and absent father made life painful as a youngster.
“I saw lots of vile stuff,” says Emma.
Yet the fashion designer was fortunate to have many positive memories of her youth. Her best friend’s mum, Janette, became her “spiritual mum.” A rebellious but generous kind-hearted girl, she had many friends and most importantly she was determined not to follow the same route as her parents.
“It was a horrible way to live and I thought, no matter what happens to me, I never want to end up living like that,” she says.
She left home aged 14 to find herself and became a punk. She grew a Mohawk, had fun and followed her passion for art by taking courses in everything from interior design, fine art and architecture. With a natural artistic bent she went on to work for three years as a graphic designer in Auckland.
Yet the young woman was always curious about living in London – a city she described as the “gateway to creativity” and in 1998 left New Zealand to start a new life in the UK.
Blown away by the opportunities in the creative industry she quickly established a reputation as an innovative Creative Director. She later branched into other areas and worked with leading brands such as Apple, Sony and Vodafone. Emma led the creative team at the Ibiza Rocks music festival and for rock star Lenny Kravitz.
“I started to become more of an idea’s person,” she says. “I was a Creative Director, where it was my responsibility to come up with the creative strategy and the top line ideas.”
She landed international awards but grew disillusioned with London and while holidaying in Barbados she met, Jason, himself a talented musician. Emma admits she was “besotted” and for the next year she moved back and forth between the UK and the Caribbean.
He proposed and the pair married on a Barbados beach in January 2011. “I was really in love with him. As far as I was concerned he was a great guy.”
She moved to Barbados where she planned to fulfil her dream of setting up her own fashion label. However, after falling pregnant “almost immediately” she became quite sick. Unable to work she admits “weird stuff” started to happen between her and husband.
“He started acting quite strange and getting verbally abusive,” he says. “I thought, is he under pressure because I’m sick and not working? Then money started to go missing from around the house and from bank accounts.”
Struggling to come to terms with what had happened, Emma was then horrified when one day he arrived home with the police and asked to borrow money.
“He has this weird look on his face, which really freaked me out,” says Emma. He then said ‘I really love you.” It felt like a goodbye moment in a movie.
Jason later went missing for 48 hours. Emma managed to make contact via phone but said the police were beating him up. “I would then hear a muffled sound and he would hang up. It was like something from a gangster film.”
Stressed out and struggling with bad anaemia in a foreign country she was in “survival mode” and five months pregnant at the time she flew back to New Zealand to give birth. A natural optimist, Emma still held out hope that after Summer was born (in February 2012) she could patch up the marriage.
Yet a period which should have been filled with so much joy was instead spent hopping from one friend’s couch to another in Auckland. Emma borrowed some money and set off with three-month-old Summer for the flight back to Barbados. Yet if she was hoping for a change in Jason she was left heartbroken.
“I walked into his cockroach infested flat populated with drug addicts,” she says. “I went back to his mum’s house and refused to leave. I thought, who is this guy I married?
“I had so wanted him to get his act together but having taken a step back I realised Jason was all over the place. Up one minute, down the next and so unreliable.”
It was here the full scale of the horror was to emerge as all her bank accounts had been cleaned out and her credit cards were at maximum capacity.
“That was when it clicked he had stolen all my money and got me in a huge amount of debt trying to be Mr Gangster. I really loved him, but how could he behave that way to me and our defenceless child. I was really numb.”
Some people suggested she should stay in New Zealand and live on benefits but this was never an option for the former punk with the spiky spirit.
“I did not accept this was going to be the rest of my life,” she says. “Reaching my rock bottom actually made me more determined. I had to pull every ounce of strength I had because of this amazing child. She is my gift and I had to do the best I could for her.”
Emma sold everything she owned from designer art to her knives and forks and in 2013 returned to London with a dream in heart to start her own fashion label.
“I am the kind of person who turns bad experiences into something positive, so when I started playing around with names for the label I thought of No Fixed Abode because I’d moved 17 times in just over a year.” Seemed fitting by the way I defied the impossible.
Setting up her own fashion label was a challenge. Emma made mistakes but her original style pitched under the phrase “individual anarchism” for those who are different, quickly attracted the attention of big name brands such as Harrods and Harvey Nichols.
With The black Label Collection of garments made ethically in London her range of everything from bomber jackets, t-shirts, jeans, bikinis, skater dresses, snapback hats and accessories has earning a cult following, particularly in Italy and Spain.
So, can the 42-year-old quite believe the transformation in her life?
“The storm has definitely lifted,” she says. “I feel much better and the divorce is just about to finally come through.”
Through the freedom of expression in her clothes and a positive attitude she has emerged from the depths. The pain has now subsided and the motivation in her life is clear.
“Summer has been my guiding light,” adds Emma. “She is so happy-go-lucky and well balanced and quite oblivious to what has happened. She is the one who has kept me motivated and on the straight and narrow.” I couldn't have done it without my very few close friends help and my sister Kylie.
Article from Womans Day NZ April 10 2017