The fashion industry, for me, was a completely unknown entity when I was growing up. I wanted to be a fighter pilot, like my Dad, then moved on to dreams of becoming a hotel manager, then graphic designer, then an Architect. The latter stuck with me, and I undertook a Bachelor of Architectural Studies at Unitec until the day came that I got a break working for Karen Walker.
My sister, Angela, worked for Karen in retail, and attended a staff meeting one night where Mikhail (Karen’s husband and the brand’s Creative Director) asked the girls if they knew “anyone like Scooter from the Fraggles”. In other words, someone unassuming who’s just going to geek out and get things done. My sister nominated me, and the rest is history.
I worked for Karen doing odd jobs in the office and helping the Operations Manager, and a half day a week soon grew to one day, then two, during my time at Unitec. I was soon out at Karen and Mikhail’s house in West Auckland helping plant trees and weed their expansive property, starting a friendship that has lasted ever since.
I wouldn’t be where I am without Angela, Karen and Mikhail. Karen took me on as her Personal Assistant after I decided to take a year off from Architecture, and soon I was given the title of Media Liaison, helping co-ordinate the company’s off-shore showrooms in Sydney, Tokyo, New York and eventually London. My experience working with the media and PR agencies showed me that we needed to expand our local industry and provide the same service here in New Zealand.
The jump between now and then has been huge, and the changes monumental. I was told that a dedicated fashion PR company in New Zealand wouldn’t survive. Now there are at least six, and there have been others that have come and gone, or widened their scope to also include beauty, events or commercial PR.
For me, the highlights are plentiful, but I don’t mean for that to sound arrogant. There are highlights every week – little wins that keep me excited about what I do. There have been really big highlights, like helping open Topshop on Queen Street to launching Heidi Klum Intimates for Bendon, but there are hundreds of smaller highlights that maintain my focus and momentum every year. Some of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on are the designers who have grown with us, and vice versa – the likes of Kathryn Wilson, twenty-seven names, Ingrid Starnes and Juliette Hogan, and the new designers we’re helping now like Harman Grubiša, I Love Ugly and Lucilla Gray who will hopefully become long-term clients and friends.
The industry has fragmented so much since I started Showroom 22 in 2002 (the name ‘Showroom 22’ came from it being a fashion PR showroom and me being 22 when I opened it – I wish I could say it was more complex or interesting, but I literally thought of it in about one minute). Of course information has become bite-sized and fed to us at hyper speed through multiple channels simultaneously, but the industry here has also splintered and those splinters have splintered again. Nowadays, we don’t have ‘The London Four’ to define what New Zealand fashion is to the world, we have designers everywhere trying to get in on the action. And they’re not just started a t-shirt label either – the new entry level is a 40-piece collection, a show at NZFW in your first two years and a bricks and mortar soon after.
The fashion industry, for me, is now a very familiar stomping ground, and I’d like to stay connected to it for some time. The showroom is in good health, and our staff numbers are growing, making our capacity for work increase, and our ability to service larger potential clients much more substantial. Showroom 22 is now a trusted brand, and I want to continue growing the business, working with and for great people, and always being a part of the next big idea.