Start-up entrepreneurs talk about setting a BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal – to inspire and guide their businesses’ development. For a small apparel business, it doesn’t get much bigger, hairier or more audacious than showing at New Zealand Fashion Week, but the new Trade Space has allowed Christchurch-based ecommerce retailer Issue Clothing Co. to do just that.
Issue Clothing Co. launched in April 2016 when Hannah Burnard and Robyn Pelvin left their backgrounds in retail, marketing and ecommerce; and banking and finance, respectively, to found a workwear label. They’re aiming to recreate the kind of bundled ecommerce experience offered overseas by retailers like Trunk Club, but with an emphasis on classic, unfussy design.
The company is now about to launch its fifth capsule collection. They usually include a top, trousers, a skirt, a dress and a blazer, and sell for $995. All items are made in New Zealand.
Issue Clothing Co. is currently selling well online, and has one stockist, Christchurch boutique The Collective. It’s also had success with a series of pop-up stores in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and Wellington, but New Zealand Fashion Week has been a chance for the company to make contact with a wide range of buyers and representatives. Burnard and Pelvin’s aim is to secure more stockists.
The company booked a booth for two days at NZFW’s ‘Trade Space’, which was launched for the first time this year. The space is on-site business-focused area within NZFW’s venue, the ANZ Viaduct Events Centre. Reserving an area in this restricted-access space means brands can have a presence at NZFW without the hassle of putting on a runway show or presentation.
Burnard and Pelvin looked at putting on a runway show, but it wasn’t the right fit for Issue Clothing Co.’s simple offering.
“You don’t really want to see a white shirt go down the runway,” Pelvin says.
Having a booth allows delegates to inspect the clothing more closely. Issue Clothing Co.’s emphasis on classic design means the quality of its fabrics is of elevated importance, and having the products available will lead to higher buyer engagement.
“New Zealanders love to touch and feel,” says Burnard.
To show their clothing in the booth, Issue Clothing Co. had to catch up to the buying cycle, which meant “half a season’s worth of work in two months” for Burnard and Pelvin.
They don’t regret going direct-to-consumer before pursuing stockists, however. This model has meant they’ve developed a direct relationship with customers at an early stage of the business, giving them the ability to gather customer feedback and adjust their offering accordingly.
If they’d agreed to stock any retailers before going through this process of refinement and change, Burnard says, Issue Clothing Co. may have become “locked into” supplying certain styles without the opportunity to act on customer feedback.
The next step after securing more stockists is to take a leap and open a store. The proliferation of new commercial buildings opening in Christchurch means Burnard and Pelvin are spoiled for choice, and the soon-to-open corporate buildings will mean more professional women spending time in the central city.
“There will be a concentration of our core customer,” says Burnard. “All the law firms and all the major accounting firms will be in a 2km radius, basically.”