Kate Macdonald: Stand the Test of Time
Rich in history, Davaar Station has been in Kate Macdonald’s family for over 100 years. As a fifth-generation family member, Kate has always had a love for agriculture and the importance of wool as a natural fibre. Combining these two passions, Kate works with her parents at Davaar Station near Te Anau, Southland and is the founder and creative director of newly-founded business Davaar & Co, using their Station’s wool clip to create sustainable and long-lasting woollen jerseys.
The abundant line of history is what makes Davaar Station special to Kate and her family. Hailing from the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland, Kate's great-great-great uncle came over in the late 1800s, settling on the land where Davaar Station lies today. When both of his sons died, there was no immediate family to acquire the land so it was then sold to his nephew, Angus (Kate’s great-grandfather). His three sons ended up splitting the property; one being Davaar Station. Later, it was handed down to Kate’s grandfather, who has since passed the baton.
Today, Kate’s parents James and Fiona own and operate Davaar Station, a 1,110-hectare sheep and beef property which features 6,500 breeding ewes, 15,00 replacement hoggets and 800 cattle. The sheep that they breed on farm are all Romney Perendale cross.
The name Davaar is derived from Davaar Island in Scotland, which is close to where their family’s ancestors originate from; their Scottish roots will forever be imprinted in their piece of Southland paradise. Davaar Station is where Kate grew up before heading to boarding school in Christchurch and studying for a Degree in Agribusiness and Food Marketing at Lincoln University. After her three-year study, Kate worked in Wanaka for a year before moving to Mount Maunganui to work in marketing for a Mānuka honey business; this is where Kate developed her passion for a corporate career. Just before she was about to start her OE in Europe, COVID hit and Kate ended up at Davaar Station helping her parents out on the farm.
“I love being out on the land. There's something really special about knowing that our ancestors walked these hills and farmed the land. They cared for the livestock just as we do today, as well as enhanced the property; planting and doing a lot of development to the land,” Kate said.
Two years on and Kate not only works on the farm but she has also started her own business. The motivation behind Davaar & Co came after her prior experiences of working for a local shearing contractor, which truly sparked her interest on the importance of wool. “I could just never understand why farmers were getting paid such little money for an incredible biodegradable, sustainable and natural fibre,” Kate said.
Kate decided to use wool from her family farm to create a unique and versatile product that weaves in both history and charm. She decided to produce woollen jerseys, and one of the big reasons for this was her grandmother.
"She used to live on the property and passed away about three years ago, but she was an incredible knitter and spinner and used to dye the wool from the property with natural lichen and forage bits from the farm to create these beautiful garments that are still with us today. They're very long-lasting. It’s nice to tie her into it and bring in that tradition but with a bit of a modern twist, which is what I've done in designing the garments. To be able to create something that people can have forever, exclusively from Davaar Station, is very special and satisfying,” Kate said.
It's taken Kate two years for her business to come to fruition and she is only using a quarter of their Station’s wool clip, so there’s a lot more room for growth and the creation of new and exciting products. Right now, her main focus is on jerseys with all the garments made and produced in New Zealand. “We're taking a sustainable and natural fibre and to send that offshore, just to have it sent back to distribute the garments, didn't make sense. So, it was very important for me to find manufacturers in New Zealand that could do the jobs that I wanted them to do but to a high standard of quality. The fact that it's entirely produced in New Zealand, we're really proud of that,” she said.
Kate acknowledged that her customers care greatly about how the wool is grown, spun and knitted in New Zealand. This reduces carbon emissions dramatically and is a great investment in supporting local.
Davaar & Co woollen jerseys come in four different styles: The Modern Musterer, The Wild Wanderer, The Lucky Lass and The Suave Shepherd. These quirky jersey names incorporate Kate’s grandmother’s original patterns, blending in colours from the natural environment. The jerseys are all neutral-toned for better versatility, with one of them heavily reflecting the granite rock of the Takitimu Mountains, which is Davaar Station’s perfect backdrop. Kate calls these garments a “luxury high-value item”, so she wants her customers to get the maximum benefit and many years of wear out of their 100% natural jerseys.
“When I started this whole business, it was during lockdown. Supporting local and New Zealand-made had never really been more important. It’s been very challenging, like any business. However, I believe in what I’m doing and it’s where we need to be heading for the benefit of the planet. We want to be using more wool as opposed to synthetic fibres and supporting those businesses that are producing garments that are naturally made and ethically produced,” Kate said.
The two main things that stood out when Kate talked about starting her business were believing in your abilities and having a really good mentor there to support you through it. Kate admitted that she was lucky enough to have her father as a sounding board and to share his wisdom and advice. “If anyone's thinking about getting out there and doing something to add value to the wool clip, enhance any product or diversify in any way, I'd definitely recommend to get out there and do it but ensure that you have a helping hand,” she said.
With the hills as her backyard and Fiordland right on her doorstep, Kate considers herself a sporty, outdoors person. She was recently training for GODZone this year before injuring herself. During her downtime, she has been learning guitar and wants to get more into photography which will help with the marketing and social media aspects of her business. Kate is constantly thinking of ways to expand Davaar & Co and add new products to her collection. We cannot wait to see the continual growth of her small but successful business and the increasing usage of wool across the board for a sustainable future.