Belle Bird Boutique stands tall among its competitors for its large portfolio of New Zealand brands. Belle Bird buyer Shelley Harvey explained that customer experience is really important to them. “Being a small store, we can offer a personal shopper experience,” she said. Harvey’s start in fashion was working as a cutter and pattern maker in New Zealand and the UK. She later completed her fashion degree at Otago Polytech which led her to pursue designing her own label, Belle Bird, almost 18 years ago. When Belle Bird first opened its doors, Harvey focused on the Dunedin student market, but in recent years they capture a much broader market. Belle Bird speaks to a certain style aesthetic rather than a specific demographic.
She continued that it is essential to buy quality garments, this is what she looks for when considering a new designer to her portfolio. The quality of make and fabrics, imagery, its versatility; all of these are what help Harvey determine whether they are the right fit. Brands that stand behind what they do are also on her radar and those who can effortlessly translate a trend into their existing aesthetic. “Know who will buy your clothes and test the market. The reality of the purchaser of your brand could be quite different to the customer you had imagined,” she added. The best way to get your brand in front of Harvey is to mail her a hard copy of your look book or a few photos. She always opens the mail but finds she receives an overwhelming number of look books by email. “People that follow up with a phone call always get my attention,” Harvey said. “Cold calling into a store is great! I always make time to look at a range if the seller has made this effort.”
Seasonal trends cannot be disregarded when choosing stock listing, according to Harvey, she pointed out that there is a huge difference between fast fashion micro-trends and trends with a bit more longevity. “Buying is all about predicting the next trend, layered with what will still be around in six months from the current season. This can be a balance of sales analytics from the past and current season, coupled with gut instinct.”
Sustainability has taken the fashion industry by storm as consumers become more aware of their buying power. “As issues about sustainability and information around it come to light, it is an interesting time in fashion,” she said. “The term ‘sustainability’ covers such a broad spectrum of the clothing industry and spills into many industries mass-producing globally,” Harvey added that some brands are already there in terms of sustainability and others are on their way. On a global scale, New Zealand producers are already doing great and are paving the way for what future fashion production should look like.
Since Belle Bird first opened, Harvey, pointed out that designers now have the ability to create their own e-commerce sites, and are less reliant on getting into boutiques to get their label to market. “This is so great for new designers, to have access to this technology today. It is a great way to build up a brand presence and a following before approaching stores. Online shopping wasn’t a thing when we first opened.” Another aspect Harvey said has changed about the industry was rentals. Now they focus more on garments with longevity compared to party dresses, which they do not stock nearly as much as they did before.
On the decline, Harvey said trends like oversized longline coats, cowl necks, tiny sunglasses, boiler and utility suits, and gym wear were on their way out. Looking ahead at the next season, however, she is excited about the new trends in skirts, smaller hand-held bags, and pairing clashing print garments. Jackets, blazers and bombers are to replace coats, and you can also expect to see more coordinates and textured fabrics.
Moving forward, the next five years will see Belle Bird expanding their own in-house brand’s presence in-store and online. They’re currently producing Danger Birds, their second best-selling brand, and are soon to launch South Of Eden; both brands are made locally in Dunedin in small runs and are only available at Belle Bird.
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