Suited and re-booted: Barkers gives sister brand Max a new look

  • News
  • October 29, 2019
  • Rachel Helyer Donaldson
Suited and re-booted: Barkers gives sister brand Max a new look

The once-edgy New Zealand womenswear brand Max is getting a revamp from new owners Barkers, after the menswear retailer received a similar reboot.

Max announced its relaunch this week, one year on since Barkers bought the womenswear chain in October 2018. It unveiled several new ranges which will hit its 37 stores in time for Labour Weekend and the beginning of Spring/Summer. 

Back in the Nineties and early Noughties, Max was a go-to brand for many Kiwi women. It was stylish yet more cutting-edge than many of its rivals. Its marketing campaigns were fronted by a diverse range of models from top modelling agency Nova and photographed by leading fashion photographer Tony Drayton.

It also represented the chance to buy a New Zealand label in amongst a plethora of Aussie brands like Country Road, Portmans, Sportsgirl, Jeanswest and Sussans. 

But eventually it lost its way. Max Fashions was set up in the mid-Eighties by Auckland fashion entrepreneur David Wright. It was later sold to private equity firm Direct Capital and later acquired by Ezibuy, which was partially owned by Catalyst. 

This succession of Australian owners “were sales driven and took the brand away from quality fabrics and design to endless sales,” one fashion industry observer told The Register. 

But the purchase by Barkers a year ago, in October 2018, means the retailer is back to being 100 per cent New Zealand-owned. 

“Once again its main competitors are Australian but Max is in a unique position to understand the New Zealand woman,” the source added.

The new ranges include a fully revamped main line featuring resortwear garments made with fabrics by iconic British brand Liberty London. There’s also the first release of its new basics line, Elementary, featuring relaxed, timeless silhouettes in organic cotton, linen and other natural materials. 

Max says it also intends to embrace a more responsible business model, like that of its parent company. Earlier this year Barkers partnered with Saitex, a Fairtrade certified world leader in clean denim.

Along with Liberty, Max is incorporating a number of other international brands, such as jeans from Levi’s, sneakers from Los Angeles brand Clae and leather footwear by Australian shoe designer James Smith.

Artisans from Aotearoa will also play a role in the Max rebrand. A curated collection of new locally made lifestyle products includes handmade jewellery by Jasmin Sparrow and Love Winter, ceramics by Claybird Ceramics, organic beauty products by Country Kitchen, loose leaf teas from Storm and India, and Turkish towels from Otto Loom.

Max general manager Rochelle MacDonald says this new multi-brand approach offers a “large scale boutique shopping experience” that is more akin to how women want to shop today. 

“Today’s customer likes to cross-shop across multiple brands. She wants to be inspired, to dwell and discover. She wants garments that are made to last and to know what she’s wearing is sustainably and ethically made.”

Max is also set to roll out a number of new-look stores with a boutique feel, remodelled changing rooms and a personal styling service. The first of these will be its new stores opening in Westfield Newmarket in late November and in Milford in early 2020, while the concept will be rolled out across the rest of the group over time, says MacDonald.

Group managing director Jamie Whiting, who has helmed locally owned Barkers through its own transformation over the past decade, worked briefly at Max in 2009. He jumped from his job at the womenswear company after being offered the chance to run the Barkers business.

At that time, Barkers had got tired and was idling. Earlier this year Whiting wrote in the Spinoff about how, despite its rich back-story, the once-iconic brand had “clearly lost its way. In the late 2000s garments were uninspired and fitouts incredibly bland”. 

Last month the reinvigorated Barkers won hottest in-store experience at the Gem Retail Hotlist awards.

Whiting has long held a vision for Max and what it could become, he says.

“In its heyday - the 90s and early 00s - Max was the go-to fashion destination for many Kiwi women. 

“At the core of our vision we wanted to create a premium lifestyle brand for the modern woman, and as a New Zealand brand, Max is in a unique position to best understand the nuances of the New Zealand woman. 

“This extends out beyond our own products to the collections we have been working on with local artisans. We love the idea of working collaboratively to help grow New Zealand businesses.” 

Barkers and Max are also a natural fit, says Whiting. “Brand, customer, size, marketing positioning, they’re all aligned but we want to elevate Max back to where it first began.”

Whiting says Barkers also looked at creating a women’s brand a few years back. However the opportunity to buy Max came up, and that brand, Elementary, is now incorporated as a line of clothing within the new Max offering.

A relaunch has been on the cards for some time, adds McDonald.  “We know this is what Max customers want, they’ve been telling us for a long time. They want Max to be cool again.”

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