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Introducing: Klay


New to TPE is Auckland based KLAY, a line of hand made products for the home as well as items to wear.  We love their disc squab pillows and bolsters in luxurious and beautiful jewel tone colors. Kristy McLay runs KLAY with help from her daughter Hannah, and chatted with us about her surroundings, working with her hands, and her daily rituals.

Can you tell us a little more about how Klay began, and what all the brand encompasses? 

I have always made things with my hands and currently all KLAY things are made by me. My background is in costume making for film, TV, theatre and opera as well as always making clothes and homeware for myself, my daughter and friends. 

Before starting KLAY I worked sewing and pattern making for the past 30 years and before that I had my own fashion label in the 1980's. Many of the garments I made were hand dyed and hand screen printed. I have always made do with what I could and have always been creative with production. I made big cotton pirate shirts, that I would dye in the local laundromat and over sized hand knitted jumpers, which had hand knitted geometric patterns on the front and I employed friends to make the sleeves and backs. I have never been very interested in fashion, however I enjoy making things and have an interest in the construction processes involved in clothing and textiles.

I have done a couple of pattern making courses but consider myself more self trained. After experiences working on local New Zealand productions, as well as in costume houses in Melbourne and London, I learnt a lot about hand sewing, fabrics and traditional processes. These valuable experiences working on period costumes and in soft furnishings in art departments really influences the hand made processes involved in everything I make and design for KLAY. 

Almost all of the clothes and textiles I own are items I have made myself and it has been that way since I was very young. I also enjoy making things for family and friends and all of the KLAY items I now sell are staple things I have made for myself and friends for years.

KLAY was something I had wanted to do for years, but there was always something that made it difficult. It was a fine balance of having both time and money to take the leap into producing things in larger quantities to sell, rather than just one offs.

It happened organically and with the support of some very kind friends who encouraged me to get the things I had been making out there. Friends and friends of friends started buying pieces I made and it just grew from there.

My daughter Hannah, who studied architecture and is currently working in India helps me part time with the admin side of the business. Whenever she comes home to NZ, I bounce ideas off her and we come up with new designs for KLAY.

The process of the designs of KLAY items comes from a desire to have practical and beautiful things that get better over time that I want to have myself. In order to have an object that lasts and is treasured, the process of how that item is constructed is really important to me. For example with the cushions, they are not just stuffed with feathers or cushion fluff, to get my ideal forms is a labour intensive process, I hand sculpt these from often 5 different layers. The final cushion is a result of many discarded samples and a lot of creative thinking about texture, weight and durability.

Tell us a little bit more about where you are based, what an average day is like for you? 

I currently am working from my home based studio in Grey Lynn, Auckland. It is a tiny space and I am constantly re arranging huge rolls of fabrics, cushion filling and boxes. Although it is small, it is a happy space with wooden floors and high ceilings and a big window that is always open, letting fresh air and light inside.

I am usually kept company by podcasts playing through speakers as I make things. The small kitchen is next to my studio where I am always topping up my coffee. There is a garden shed out the back of my house in the huge beautiful overgrown garden, where I dye some of the fabrics I use.

How did the circular cushion come about, and making so many pieces in velvet !

When I decided to start selling the disc squabs I went to check out what fabrics were available. One of the wholesalers who I buy fabrics from had a shipment in of beautiful end of run velvets from international designers imported from Belgium and the U.S. There were so many good quality stunning colours to choose from that I couldn't decide on just a few, so took as many as I could. While my daughter and I were there playing around with various colour combinations we decided that we loved them all together, that they were a bit like candy all stacked up and we should leave it for customers and stockists to play with their own combinations.

Since starting to sell the velvet cushions, we have continued adding more colours to the collection along the way as previous colours sell out and new fabric shipments come in.

What are you currently listening to, reading, watching? 

Always listening to podcasts - playing as I make things. I love keeping up to date on politics and current affairs with Amy Goodman on 'Democracy Now!' and another favourite is 'In Our Time' with Melvyn Bragg.

I am currently reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, which is an fascinating book on how humans think and how societies have evolved. This year I made the choice to cancel my netflix subscription and got a subscription to Mubi instead. I am really enjoying the international art house films from different eras and countries, personally I find it much more inspiring and educational than what was on netflix. I work so much I have to be so careful what I do in my precious free time.

Any daily rituals you have ?  What you do to find your way our of a creative rut ? 

My day always starts with opening up all the windows in the house to let all the air and light into my studio, grinding and brewing fresh coffee, lighting good quality essential oils in the oil burner - lovely smells, topping up vases with flowers I grow in my garden and putting on a podcast. I try to walk through the local park as much as I can and this always helps to clear my mind - a brisk one hour walk. I am lucky enough to live next to door to a park that leads to a few different natural walkways, over mangroves through to a bay with stunning views out to the Auckland harbour.

Your favorite things about the seasons changing ? 

I enjoy thinking about new clothes and items I would like to make as it gets cooler, or warmer. New things to freshen up my own wardrobe or home, which feeds into my decision making for KLAY!

Coming into warmer months means ideas around spending more time outside at the beach, in the park, having picnics or laying outside reading in the shade propped up by sturdy cushions.  Or coming into cooler months snuggled indoors for warmth with cushions and squabs softening spaces on beds, couches and the floor to sit and lounge on.