Yank brings color to New Zealand’s vibrant fashion scene

Kiwis tend to shy away from the colors in their cupboards.  But Belinda Stewart is hoping to add a little variety with her tracksuit.

Martin de Ruyter/Staff

Kiwis tend to shy away from the colors in their cupboards. But Belinda Stewart is hoping to add a little variety with her tracksuit.

Belinda Stewart is not the type to sit at home. So when breast cancer put a brake on her active lifestyle, she needed something to do.

Stewart started her own Merino activewear company, Yank, in 2019. However, her diagnosis means a shift in focus on the project.

“The specialist said, ‘You’re going to have a mastectomy,'” Stewart said. “We went home, and I said to my husband, ‘I have things to do.'”

Over the following months, Stewart worked for her company. A focused and “meaningful” runner who competed all over the world, Stewart wasn’t used to taking things easy, even during cancer treatment.

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“I’ve always gone for a run, cancer has made that impossible for so long,” she said.

“As soon as we knew I was going to take an extended leave, I was sitting at my desk [and work] And when I couldn’t sit down I lay on the couch.

“All that energy that was pumped into keeping you fit was put into your yank. It’s a different kind of work.”

Stewart is originally from Indiana, in the Midwest of the United States, and came to New Zealand more than two decades ago. After graduating in sculpture and glassblowing, she would travel the world in search of art and opportunities.

I found it in Nelson, with Höglund Art Glass, where she worked for five years before leaving to focus on her other passion: running.

The following years were spent training and competing in track and field, mountain running, road racing, and cross country.

She raced abroad and spent her weekends traveling to events across the country, while supporting herself with several part-time jobs.

Stewart says she's always loved the colors, and hopes her clothes will be a splash of brightness in the local industry.

Martin de Ruyter/Staff

Stewart says she’s always loved the colors, and hopes her clothes will be a splash of brightness in the local industry.

As an athlete, Stewart knew what she wanted to see in her tracksuit. Merino texture is smooth, without “itchy” ends. Light clothing resists odors, and it’s a warm layer that can be insulating in the summer.

It’s also colourful, Stewart said, which makes it stand out in New Zealand, where we’re a little conservative in this department compared to its home country of the United States.

“It’s all in shades of gray and black. She’s stealthy and stunning, but she’s not much personal.”

Stewart, who has always loved colors and “thinks about colors and shapes”, hopes her brand will be a small splash of brightness in the New Zealand clothing industry.

“There is not enough color in the world,” she said.

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