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May 2, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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In Good Company

Coco Chanel once said “there is no fashion for the old”. The bright young sparks behind local pop-up shop ‘In Good Company’ are testament to the importance of fresh ideas in the ever-changing world of fashion.

As hard as it is to find a job in fashion, up-and-coming designers are making names for themselves in a difficult industry, while balancing full-on workloads at university. From 31 March to 3 April, Wellington’s hippest and chicest were invited to check out students’ wares at ‘In Good Company’. Salient writer Astrid Gjerde talks to the project’s key organisers Sophie Burrowes, Jinny Chin and Alice Howard about how the pop-up shop came to be such a success, and why having a design degree—a qualification that is often undervalued—is so important to their labels.

Pop-up shops allow designers to sell sample pieces or sale items at a store that ‘pops up’ for four or five days, and then disappears again. Sophie Burrowes, who has her own clothing line and is in her final year of fashion at Massey, came up with the idea to sell her winter range at a pop-up store instead of holding a fashion show—but she knew she couldn’t do it on her own. With spatial design student and independent jewellery designer Jinny Chin onboard, Sophie approached Massey alumni Phillipa Lake and Alice Howard of collaborative project Philippa & Alice, as well as Miriam White from Sunday Apparel.

From there, the project grew to eleven designers in total. About a month before the planned opening of ‘In Good Company’, the team began holding weekly meetings, emailing each other in between to keep up to date with the progress of the store. They researched other pop-up stores around the world, as there haven’t been many in Wellington.

“I’ve only been to one… and it was pretty crap, honestly,” says Jinny. According to Sophie, the aim was to make the shop look refined and elegant, “not like a marketplace or a craft fair”.

Through a contact of Sophie’s father, they managed to locate a great space on Hunter Street on Lambton Quay. Rent wasn’t cheap, but even taking into account all the costs needed to run the shop, the designers hoped to pull more of a profit than they would through their original retailers. The launch party on 31 March drew swarms of Wellington fashionistas, there to celebrate the designers’ hard work. In fact, the turnout well surpassed expectations: Alice says they’d anticipated about a hundred, but were overwhelmed when that number swelled to around two or three times that on the night.

“Even over the next few days, we had a lot of people coming in loving the stuff and really happy to spend their money to support us as young New Zealand designers selling New Zealand made product.”

For Sophie, whose garments are predominantly sold online, the store provided a more tangible opportunity for customers: girls were encouraged to try things on, as opposed to choosing clothing based on a photo on the website. Since she aims to take a step back from the business this year to concentrate on the final leg of her degree, the shop was a good way to round up financially.

The designers hold faith in the skills gained through a design degree, saying that they are indispensable to their own labels. Alice mentions the financial benefits: “The degree was definitely a big help—particularly the technical skills we picked up in construction and pattern-making. We still do that all ourselves to keep costs down, which is a big challenge.” Massey also encourages designers to put their work out there and make contacts through internships and competitions, she adds.

Jinny’s aesthetic was borne out of expertise acquired from interior architecture university papers. “I remember learning how to use the laser cutter at uni and, at that time—that was about maybe two or three years ago now—laser cut jewellery was kind of getting more popular at retail stores,” she says. After seeing them in expensive design stores, she decided to make her own at uni for a fraction of the cost. Her forms were also influenced by her study, turning out geometric and structural.

In fact, Jinny credits her whole jewellery line to her spatial design degree, from the use of software such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, to the actual materials. “I use four millimetre hard wood to make the pendants, so I wouldn’t have known what that material was if I didn’t do the course that I do at uni.”

Her line is simple, six pieces in total, but has received a very positive response. Starting out making items for herself, she soon began preparing orders for personal contacts. Demand grew, and from there she set up her business: making posters, a website, business cards and doing general marketing and promotion. At the moment, her jewellery is only available through personal orders, but her proudest memory was the commercial launch of her collection a couple of years ago.

“[It] was at Boombox Gallery off Cuba Street. That was such a while ago now. But I remember that was a real highlight in the collection. I think that launch party brought maybe 250 people that night and so that was the most positive feedback that I’ve gotten… it was really encouraging.”

What sets her apart, she says, is her combination of materials and form. Her collection features cute and unique wooden silhouettes in forms such as paper cranes and hexagonal patterns. “Using the hard wood—it’s one of my favourite materials, because when using the laser cutter it burns the edges of [it], so you get a nice black trim around the edge. It really makes the design stand out. Combining it with the gold chain I think makes a difference as well.”

Sophie Burrowes Designs and Philippa & Alice have also had great reception in Wellington, as well as the rest of the country. Both design labels were in the final three for the Westpac Young Designer awards at New Zealand Fashion Week last year. The experience was a rare look into the fast-paced and stressful world of fashion. “It was good just to see the hustle and bustle backstage… It was pretty intense,” says Sophie. Alice agrees, “It was a pretty amazing experience—it gave us a great insight into how big time New Zealand fashion works and prepared us for all the stress and hard work that goes on behind the scenes.”

Philippa & Alice was created out of a lack of design jobs in the local market—the recent graduates decided to take matters into their own hands. “We both wanted to design and there just wasn’t much in the way of opportunities out there for that, so we just made jobs for ourselves. We bought a few machines, turned Phil’s old rumpus room into a studio, took a few courses and made our first collection. The rest is history really,” says Alice.

The two designers have an easy working dynamic, each bringing different strengths to the table. They have had great exposure: an article in Frankie magazine was a really big break, and features on fashion blogs such as Wet Dreams and Fashion Guru NZ have helped get their name out there. Their clothing is available through Salisbury Boutique and Belle Bird in Dunedin; Blue Caravan, an Australian ethical online store; and also directly through the designers via their website, philippaandalice.co.nz, or Facebook. Alice describes their garments as “a little nerdy, a touch sexy and a hint worldly”. Their mix of structural with soft and fluid elements proved hugely popular at the pop-up store: the sales from ‘In Good Company’ have even enabled Philippa & Alice to start work on their summer 11/12 range.

Sophie is known for her girly pieces that Wellingtonian women feel good in. Her feminine elements have become a staple in her line, but she also likes the edgier direction the label is heading. “It’s kind of developing—past seasons it’s been a little bit more pale and girly… and then this last collection’s quite black. I think it’s more like my aesthetic.” Starting her line while studying was a good idea, she says, as she’ll have a head start when working on it as a graduate. “I think it’s good to do this while I’m at uni, and then learn what I like for collections so that when I leave I don’t spend three collections kind of getting my groove.”

Jinny says the popularity of the pop-up shop was in its novelty. “There’s not that many fresh things like that happening, so it was a good opportunity for me… and a rare opportunity as well.” The success of the pop-up shop has the designers considering making it an annual thing, creating something bigger and better each year. But these are students and young people after all: none of them know exactly where they will be in a year’s time. Sophie just wants to finish her degree before she starts to worry about life as a graduate. “Everyone keeps asking me, it’s basically just old people, like parents and things being like, ‘oh, what are you doing next year?’ I’m like ‘dunno, seeing if there’s any jobs available’ (laughs).”

Again, in the words of Chanel, “elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future”. If this is true, then these up-and-coming designers are elegance personified.

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