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Sisters doing it for themselves: The rise of home brands in boutiques

Boutique fashion retailers are constantly in danger of losing their footing in an industry that’s increasingly flooded with online retailers and fast-fashion brands. But some boutique owners are tackling the problem head-on and carving out their own niche by producing their own product lines to meet the specific needs of their customers.

By Madeleine Boles de Boer | August 27, 2018 | Design

Boutiques have a unique place in retail by servicing their areas as a one-stop-shop for a curated range of high-end brands. As online shopping continues to dominate, a number of boutiques are enticing customers in store by developing exclusive ranges.

By mining their wealth of direct customer knowledge, boutique brands are delivering high-quality and sought-after pieces straight to their customer base through their ‘home brands’, which are both designed and delivered in-house.

One New Zealand retailer familiar with creating their own products is Superette. Kicking off NZ Fashion Weekend at the end of August, Superette has garnered a loyal following due to its exclusive ranges of both apparel and homeware.

Despite their extensive offering, Superette brand manager Brianna Kirkham says the Superette team found there were gaps in their stores that were not being filled: “As a multi-brand retailer, we were reliant on what other designers [were] creating”.

They set out to design a line that was specifically tailored to the Superette customer, and filled the gaps in their product lines.

“The Superette range is very much designed with all our stores, customers and staff in mind,” Kirkham says. “We take a lot of feedback from our customers and produce styles that have come from these conversations.”

The resulting product range has been well received by both the Superette team and its customers. The Superette own-brand’s seasonal staples are born from styles or prints that the team are naturally drawn to – including the brand’s distinctive leopard print and popular boyfriend shirts.

“We would never produce a style that we didn’t absolutely love,” Kirkham says.

Superette has been dabbling with its own product lines on-and-off since the store’s inception in 2002, but the line has become a core focus for the team in recent years. In 2018, their offering expanded to include a curated range for children – a venture that has been well received by their wide range of fashion-conscious customers.

Apart from the positive customer response, one advantage of creating their own line is the quick turnaround of the process, compared to purchasing outside brands.

“Our buying team [has] to buy from other brands months and months in advance, so we do have more freedom when producing our own label.

“The two work great together, as we can look at what our buying team has purchased and then work our Superette ranges around this to see what we need, and add in bits and pieces.”

When coming up with new ideas for the Superette label, staff can also quickly channel feedback from customers in store and through social channels, delivering high-demand product in a much quicker turnaround.

“The brand is naturally evolving season after season,” she says. “We are constantly looking for new things to include in the range.” And with a 100,000+ following on Instagram, customer feedback is guaranteed.

Another New Zealand retailer doing it themselves is Wellington’s Harry’s boutique.

After years of commissioning tailor-made silk clothing from her Hong Kong base, Harry’s owner Liz Stringer saw the opportunity to sell her much-admired shirts upon her return to New Zealand.

“The local ladies embraced the colours with enthusiasm,” Stringer says of the introduction of her label, ‘When Harry Ran Away’. The label has found a loyal following over the past decade.

Now, Stringer has moved her original suburban boutique to Wellington’s vibrant CBD, selling her home label alongside other luxury brands.

While ‘When Harry Ran Away’ initially traded on Stringer’s favourite colourful silk shirts, the line has expanded to include a range of trousers, in high quality linen, wool and polyester.

Stringer uses her London-based daughters as “testing grounds” to try her new styles each season, and thinks one of the main drawcards of her brand is the low price-points compared to other designer boutique labels.

“There is something for everyone,” says Stringer.

Across town on Ghuznee St, relative newcomer Caughley is also dipping its toes into the world of designing.

Stocking a range of sought-after local and international brands, many not found elsewhere in the capital, Caughley has earned a strong following with Wellington’s discerning fashion crowd.

Since opening her eponymous store three years ago, owner Rachael Caughley has spent a lot of time on the shop floor, “talking to women about what they want,” – more specifically, what they want in a winter coat.

While she stocked her store with “stunning pieces,” both Caughley and her customers were looking for coats that met a specific set of requirements, and the needs of the Wellington woman battling the elements.

Failing to find that special coat, Caughley set out to make it herself.

Despite her retail experience and fashion industry knowledge, overcoming the challenges of the design process proved difficult for the young business-owner, and almost pushed her to abandon the whole venture. After a short break to regroup and work through her frustrations, the Caughley coat was launched in late July this year.

The 100 percent wool, fully lined coats (with pockets!) she created were a hit, and despite a ‘mid-winter’ release, have almost sold out.

Caughley cites the high quality and versatility of her design as central to its success, saying it is “designed to last 20 years, not a season” – a longevity that is sure to resonate with the increasingly eco-conscious consumer.

The success of the coat has encouraged Caughley to release more home-brand pieces in the future, but knows the changing wants and needs of her customers means it’s a risk – but one that she is willing to take.

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