Sunday, 20 September 2020


From high fashion to flat whites

Ine Benschop is loving life in Whitianga. After moving from Auckland four years ago, she says the relaxed pace, friendly people and sense of community are the things she enjoys most.

After a couple of years running a Bed & Breakfast, the mum of two adult sons returned to hospitality a year ago. But customers at Espy Café might be surprised to learn that the friendly lady who hands them their flat white in the morning has also created fashion alongside designer Trelise Cooper, looked after wealthy American tourists while cruising the Greek Islands and once fitted out the interior of a helicopter for Tom Cruise.

“I’ve had some amazing experiences and I feel lucky to have worked with so many great people over the years,” Ine tells The Informer after popping in for a chat after her regular shift at the café. “I’ve done a lot, but I have always found that, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, what you remember most is the people.”

Born in the Netherlands in 1960, Ine was just a year old when she moved to New Zealand with her family, settling in South Auckland. It was at high school that a teacher first identified her passion and talent for fashion. “I was doing tech drawing which I enjoyed, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with that,” she says. “Then the teacher suggested that I was very good at apparel and fabric, and that I should look at going into fashion, so I ended up going to AUT where I studied Apparel Technology and Administration.”

This led to a job doing sample work at Marta Fine Underfashions, working on original patterns, adjusting, problem-solving and developing designs into a prototype garments ready to be put into production. “Then the company started a new children’s line and I had the opportunity to work on that also,” Ine says.
For Ine, it’s the process of seeing something evolve from a sketch on a page to an actual wearable garment, that is most exciting, and she counts being able to work with the likes of David Pond, Adrienne Winkelman and Trelise Cooper among the highlights of her fashion career.

“I really enjoyed working for Trelise Cooper,” Ine says. “She was very good to everyone in her team and of course the designs were great.”

But fashion is just one chapter in Ine’s colourful story. By the time she turned 21, she was ready for her OE and set her sights on Europe. “It ended up being a 22-year-long OE,” she says. Spent largely in her native Netherlands, the experience grew her connections with her country of birth and presented the opportunity for further travel. “I think because I spoke English, it was always relatively easy to find work,” she says. “I also had the chance to do another course in fashion.”

One of Ine’s most memorable roles while overseas was with a high-end tour company. “We would meet groups of American tourists when they arrived and escorted them around, making sure they had everything they needed,” she says. “On a couple of occasions, they would head straight for the BMW factory in Germany to order a brand-new car and have it shipped back to the America.”

As part of this job, Ine travelled extensively, including around the Greek Islands on board Sunline Cruises. “It was so much fun,” she says. “I did that for about 18 months in total. Because I knew the agent in Athens, there were times when I was able to be off the ship and see the islands by land as well. It was definitely hard work. It was a six-week stint with a different group coming in each week. So you were living out of a suitcase for that time. But I certainly got to see some amazing places.”

As well as finding her roots in Europe, Ine also found husband, Barend, and the couple returned to New Zealand with their two sons around 11 years ago. “The boys both have that sense of dual culture now,” Ine says. “The oldest one spent some time living in the Netherlands recently and has just recently returned, while the youngest, who is 29, has just moved over there for a while. All my family is still there in Montfoort, which is outside Utrecht.”

Back down under, Ine once again unlocked her creative passion, first with her own sewing machine shop in Papakura and later working for a flight interiors company based at Ardmore. “We were working on things like the covers for the seating on airplanes,” she says. “We did work for Air New Zealand, including the Dreamliner, and we even did a helicopter for Tom Cruise. It was transported in, the upholstery was fitted and they flew it out again, it was crazy.”

Although there’s no trace of a European accent during our chat, Ine says her family is firmly Dutch-Kiwi. “I still cook lots of Dutch food at home and I have lots of Dutch habits like putting all the pots and pans in the middle of the table,” she says.

While Ine loves to make the journey back to Europe as often as she can, a six week visit a year ago will need to sustain her until such a time as COVID-19 loosens its grip on world. “A photograph in the Netherlands next year at Christmas, that’s the aim, but we’ll have to see what happens.”

These days, Ine’s designing and sewing are restricted to an occasional special project. “It can be difficult to source all the bits and pieces, you often need to order things in advance, so I don’t do too much,” she says. “But every now and then, when I feel like it, I will get the machine out.”

Pictured: Whitianga resident, Ine Benschop, says she has had some amazing experiences and worked with many great people over the years.


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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.