Tuhirangi Blair Is on a Lifelong Quest to Make the Perfect Shirt


— September 24, 2020 —

Lucky Dip is one of New Zealand’s greatest exports. The one-man brand was founded by designer and dedicated craftsman, Tuhirangi Blair, who makes ‘one of one’ shirts from recycled, re-purposed, and re-loved fabrics. 

Tuhi cites Jiro Ono, subject of the hugely popular documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, as a principal influence behind the label. While an unlikely inspiration on the surface—one is a young designer reinventing discarded bed sheets into beautiful shirts and the other is a 94-year-old sushi chef—they both embody the artisan spirit of the unwavering pursuit of perfection through their respective crafts. Tuhi’s commitment to making the perfect shirt, regardless of how long it takes (“I imagine it will take a bit of time”) and without yielding to shortcuts, is a welcome respite from a dizzyingly fast-paced fashion industry and the mindless consumption that accompanies it. 

Tuhi is currently quarantining at home in Melbourne with his girlfriend, fashion designer and producer Courtney Millham-Johnson. We chat to the talented couple about the thrill of sourcing fabrics, their recent foray into the world of quarantine baking, and what freedom looks like to them. It’s highly advised you get to know them both better below. 

Name: Tuhirangi Blair 
Nickname: Tuhi
Star sign: Aries

Can you give us the Tuhi elevator pitch? 
I’m an introverted romantic who quietly goes about my business of trying to make the most beautiful shirts. 

Where does your mind go when you hear the word ‘home’?
My mum's macaroni and cheese.

What was the initial impetus behind starting Lucky Dip?
Lucky Dip is a culmination of my experiences in the garment industry and influenced by visiting vintage stores and markets from around the world. It first started when me and my buddy from Bruno’s Originals were making one-off outerwear garments from vintage N.Z. wool blankets. I later moved to Wellington and decided to focus on researching the form and function of vintage shirting and thus ‘Lucky Dip” was born.

What motivates you? 
The pursuit of making the perfect shirt. I haven’t figured exactly what that entails, but I imagine it will take a bit of time. The film Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a big influence in my approach to Lucky Dip—I admire his persistence and uncompromising dedication to his craft.

How inspired are you by your surroundings? Do you think the city you’re living in informs both your style and the Lucky Dip aesthetic in any way?
I’ve had the privilege of visiting and living in a few places around the world and those experiences would have informed my aesthetic for sure. I would say experience, more so than surroundings, would be a bigger influence on how I like to present myself to the world. As for Lucky Dip, it’s a bit of a gamble and dictated by the available fabric so it is very dynamic and ever-changing.

What drew you to working with upcycled materials? Where do you source your fabric from?
The idea of breathing new life into discarded materials is appealing and I like the notion of nostalgia. All Lucky Dip fabric is either sourced from thrift stores or donated from supporters of the brand who have an excess of possessions. Sourcing fabric is my favourite part of the process because there is a level of uncertainty of not knowing what I will find that is equal parts daunting and thrilling. The ability to adapt and work with various materials is part of the fun.

Your 'one of one' pieces are more than just clothes—they allow people to wear old memories. What have been some of your most memorable experiences working on Lucky Dip?
My catalogue of Lucky Dip shirts is diverse and I’ve had the opportunity to craft garments from a range of materials such as painter drop sheets to childhood bed sets.

When I started the brand my grandmother donated a haul of her old manchester sets and doily lace tablecloths which later ended up in a high-end retail store in Japan. The idea that a person in Tokyo is wearing my grandmother's lace tablecloth from Whakatane as a shirt is pretty cool.

If Lucky Dip was…

A colour: Ultraviolet
A mood: @subsequence_magazine / @blackbirdspyplane / @organiclab.zip 
​​​A language: Andre’ 3000 on The Love Below album 
A place: Coffee Pen in Auckland, New Zealand 
A song: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen

A food: Chicken and waffles 
A famous person: Lakeith Stanfield or Zoë Kravitz
A YouTube video: Roy Ayers Tiny Desk Concert

What is freedom to you? 
The ability to live a full life free from social, economic and cultural restraints.

Define good taste: Good taste is something that is original and well-balanced. 

Can you recall a book/documentary/movie/essay etc that has shifted your perspective on the world, or something in it?
Book: Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard. This is the story behind the brand Patagonia and was a big influence on how I wanted to structure my business and its principles.
Film: Fruitvale Station by director Ryan Coogler. This film tells the story of the last days of Oscar Grant and his murder. In light of today's climate and the BLM movement I found the story moving and lasting.
Podcast: Broken Record with Rick Rubin / Andre 3000 Interview. A rare interview with one of my favourite artists. Their discussion on the creative process and his insecurities was a great insight.

Can you tell us the story of how you and Courtney met? 
At a house party a few years back at her old flat, where our mutual friend Kahu introduced us. It was very brief, however in hindsight she made a lasting impression.

Did you learn anything new about yourself/each other during quarantine?
We started watching the Great British Bake Off and immediately got hooked. We have started our own journey into the baking world during quarantine and highly rate our tiramisu and apple shortcake.

What is your favourite thing to do together?
We picked up a colouring book before lockdown started and that has become quite a competitive game between us. We judge each other based on colour combinations, artistic flair and ability to stay within the lines.

Best way to spend 24 hours in Melbourne?
Breakfast at Cibi in Fitzroy, lunch at Belle’s Hot Chicken and dinner at Good Times in Fitzroy North. With a visit to the Botanic Gardens and National Gallery of Victoria in-between meals.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Living in a small beach town, working from a warehouse studio space accompanied by my chocolate Labrador. Hopefully I have started making jackets by then, too! 

Name: Courtney
Nickname: I can’t say I have one
Star sign: Taurus, just. Thank goodness (sorry Geminis!).

Can you give us the Courtney elevator pitch? 
I’m in my mid-20s, and have been living in Melbourne for the past year after travelling around Europe for the first time in 2019. (Feeling extremely happy with the timing of my trip!). I have worked in fashion design and production since graduating, firstly with Miss Crabb and then Georgia Alice back home in New Zealand. I feel very fortunate to have spent time with both businesses. I am currently working in Men's Tailoring at the Country Road Group. 

Where does your mind go when you hear the word ‘home’? 
My parents' couch, cosy with a couple of our dog Bailey’s rogue hairs on me.

How did you end up working in fashion? 
I went to high school off Karangahape Road, an area in Auckland saturated with vintage clothing stores. I became obsessed with clothes from the past and developed a wild sense of style. (It’s much more refined now). Always looking for more, my friends and I discovered our favourite recycled clothing store, still to this day, located in New Lynn. It’s called Go Jo’s. Jo is genuinely a real life angel with one of the best collections of vintage clothing, you must visit her! After high school I started studying an Arts degree at Victoria in Wellington but quickly decided I would be better suited to a more practical degree. The following year I moved back up to Auckland and began a Bachelor of Design at AUT.

What are you most excited about in fashion right now? 
Personally, while in the second lockdown, I have started developing what will be an online store of special secondhand clothing and objects called HOUSE with my sister. I am often in op shops looking for fabric with Tuhi, so thought, Why not take this opportunity to begin sourcing beautifully made second hand pieces for a project of my own? After all, it was a love of past fashion that inspired me to pursue a career in the industry! 

More broadly, while it is obviously a very uncertain future for a number of loved brands both large and small, I believe there have been a lot of constructive conversations happening within creative teams on how to start a new chapter that’s better for our environment and people.

What’s currently on your moodboard? 
@pia.mendaro, @bread_on_earth, @form_journal, @dandie_store, @sebbrown and @ineslongevial. Or, you could just follow @courtneysmood

If Lucky Dip was…

A colour: Purple. Like Prince purple, a deep jewel tone
A mood: When you’re making dinner on a Tuesday after work, having not been to the supermarket and using all the lil’ bits left in the fridge, and some items have past best before
A language: Your own inner dialogue
A place: Piha Beach
A song: ‘Playground’ by Steve Lacy

A food: Okonomiyaki
A famous person: Donald Glover
A YouTube video: The Munchies episode on how to make fried chicken

What is freedom to you? 
Having choices and actively working towards everyone else having the same. 

Define good taste: An effortless harmony within all aspects of a person’s life. 

Can you recall a book/documentary/movie/essay etc that has shifted your perspective on the world, or something in it? 
Book: Bread is Gold by Italian chef Massimo Bottura. It documents his experience opening a Refettorio in Italy using excess food from supermarkets and local suppliers to provide nutritious, seasonal meals for the Milan community in need. He recruits industry friends to participate in the social endeavour and shares their experiences and recipes. I thought Bread is Gold was well written and provided insight into the creative process of a chef and the positive impact a well cooked meal can provide. We have been inspired to rethink how we can use our own food waste differently in our daily cooking.

Can you tell us the story of how you and Tuhi met? 
Yeah sure, but it’s not particularly interesting [laughs]. We met through a mutual friend not long after he returned to Auckland after living in New York. He then continued to pop up at various things including DJing at my University graduation party. When Tuhi moved back up to Auckland last year we hung out a lot as friends, but he was definitely trying to date me. 

Did you learn anything new about yourself/each other during quarantine? 
For myself, it was that I rely quite heavily on a routine to keep me feeling stable. So days merging into one was definitely hard. Both of using the same one bedroom apartment highlighted some very obvious differences in our daily approach to work. Tuhi is very considered and organised and I’m a bit hectic. Also, earphones for zoom meetings are essential!

What is your favourite thing to do together? 
A day spent walking across Melbourne, stopping in at our favourite stores for a browse followed by lunch—either a Bahn Mi in Abbotsford or Pho at Gooddays in Brunswick. Currently because of COVID-19 in Victoria we aren’t able to do much more than get deep into a TV series of something.

Best way to spend 24 hours in Melbourne? 
Eating! Middle Eastern cuisine in Melbourne is particularly good! Lune is a croissanterie like no other. And relaxing in the parks with friends and wine. 

Where do you see yourself in ten years? 
Planning Tuhi’s 40th birthday party (hehe)! Seriously though, I hope I’ll be living a balanced life of relaxation and travel, doing diverse and interesting work.


Features Editor: Madeleine Woon    Photos: Tuhi & Courtney


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