New Zealand Fashion Week officially opened last night with a cocktail party and an opening show from the 2018 Mercedes-Benz Presents Designer, Turet Knuefermann. Knuefermann has been in business for 13 years, with two boutiques in Auckland and a thriving international business. Sarah Dunn sat down with her for a chat.
A colleague in The Register’s office, let’s call her Christina, has the following anecdote about shopping at the Knuefermann boutique earlier this year:
Christina was in the flagship store in search of a special dress for a family wedding. Her usual style tends towards pared-back and casual separates, so she was pleased to accept the help of the attentive and knowledgeable saleswoman who immediately approached her.
Together, they combed through the racks, spending a long time carefully assessing each item against Christina’s needs and taste. The saleswoman chatted and joked with her, asking lots of questions about the wedding and Christina’s part in it. When the perfect gown was eventually chosen, Christina was delighted, and in thanking the saleswoman, she asked, what’s your name?
It turned out that this exceptionally helpful and kind saleswoman was Turet Knuefermann herself.
This kind of stealth service is a key part of her strategy, Knuefermann says: “I’m on the floor all the time so I can react to what people want and make it for them.”
Although her profile is rising thanks to honours such as being named the Mercedes-Benz Presents designer, Knuefermann prefers it when shoppers don’t recognise her. She loves hearing their unvarnished opinions on her designs, and she finds people become shy and less willing to share themselves freely if they know who she is.
“That trust, it goes away when they know they’re [being served by] the owner,” she says.
Knuefermann’s first boutique is TK Store in Ponsonby, which opened in 2005. It was inspired by the kind of retail she experienced when visiting her partner’s native country, Brazil.
Brazilian stores are “very generous” in both space and feel: “beautiful and grand but also inviting,” Knuefermann says. Menswear and womenswear are typically stocked in the same store, and couples are encouraged to shop together. Refreshments are always offered, and there’s usually a lounge for shoppers to relax in.
The product stocked in Brazilian boutiques also inspired Knuefermann.
“It’s really feminine, just exciting, with a lot of colours and artisanship,” she says. “There was a lot of that craft of fashion that wasn’t really viable in New Zealand.”
Aotearoa lacks the multi-generational focus on craftsmanship that can produce Brazilian-style product locally, but local manufacturing is still key to Knuefermann’s business. By producing the bulk of her product in New Zealand, she can take her designs from concept to shopfloor in two weeks. Suppliers from China cover suiting, silks and knitwear.
“I’ve always produced my own stock, my pieces just became so in demand that they just took over,” Knuefermann says.
Today, TK Store stocks around 97 percent Knuefermann-branded items and 3 percent other brands.
The other brands she stocks are typically small high-end labels sourced from overseas, with one new label added each season. Knuefermann is excited about the latest addition – Lf Markey, helmed by a former Burberry designer.
The flagship, Knuefermann, is down by the waterfront on Fanshawe St. It opened nearly three years ago, offering a beautiful airy space designed by Fearon Hay Architects.
Knuefermann started her brand with no capital and quietly worked her way into prominence. It was “pretty much just me” on the shopfloor and designing clothes at the beginning, she says: “I used to work seven days, 24 hours, I went on no sleep for many years until I felt like I could expand.”
“I started out without knowing anything about retail or business or anything,” she says.
Although it was difficult at the time, Knuefermann is now glad she went through that phase of directly doing every job in the business, as she says it’s given her a deep understanding of how the label runs and what it needs.
With the huge growth Knuefermann’s brand has seen over the last few years, there’s come some extra costs and a need for previously-unheard-of business services like human resources and business development. The company now has four full-time staff, plus an array of contractors.
“I definitely delegate everything, so now all I’m doing is designing and putting out fires.”
Ecommerce is now a big part of the Knuefermann label. This is quite a recent development, Knuefermann says, explaining that online only took off after she enacted a much-delayed point of sale upgrade which integrated the POS data with online.
The upgrade was a significant drama which saw much data lost: it took Knuefermann’s team two years to labouriously extract customers’ email addresses from the legacy system before it was finally retired.
It was worth it, says Knuefermann: “Since then, online’s been much, much more interesting. The sky’s the limit.”