Christina Perriam

With a lifelong connection to merino and New Zealand small business retail, Christina Perriam is no stranger to the world of design and has ultimately ended up developing a strong merino focussed label, Perriam.

“I grew up on Bendigo Station, a merino sheep property in Central Otago and my mother had her retail store called the Merino Shop in a small village called Tarras, 30 minutes from Wanaka,” said Perriam.

Before launching Perriam attended Massey University and graduated with a diploma and then a degree in design, majoring in fashion. For 10 years she designed clothes for a self-titled brand Christina Perriam, before launching the all-encompassing brand Perriam that brings together all products including the house, home, baby and child ranges, with menswear to be introduced soon.

“It was the frustration of not being able to buy any fashion forward baby merino clothing made in New Zealand that led me to begin my baby and child range,” said Perriam.

While Perriam believes rebranding was the best business decision she has made, not all decisions went down so well, with her ugg boot warmer idea not taking flight even though it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Perriam spent two years as part of the Dunedin Fashion Incubator, where she learned core aspects of running a business and received invaluable mentorship which she still utilises to this day.

“It’s amazing how support and accountability can drive a business forward in a calculated way. By being accountable, you make sure things are actioned.”

Following the death of her mother, Perriam took over the Tarras business eventually incorporating it into the Perriam brand and continuing the family legacy of retailing New Zealand merino wool.

“My secret to our business growth is getting outside advice and taking the time to work on the overall strategy for the business.  We can become a bit single focused as we are living our business every day and we don’t often step back and look at the bigger picture.  Take calculated risks that will grow your revenue and increase profit.  Never do anything for ego.  Listen to your intuition; it’s always right.”

With a wide range of customers, Perriam is continuously redeveloping ideas for the ever-changing tourist market while still listening to the local audience that spans between 30 to 70.

“I’m not sure how business was conducted before social media. It is such a powerful tool in talking directly to your customer. It’s so great how you can showcase your brand regularly directly. In today’s age, you can get feedback straight away on products and engage daily. We are amazed at the amount of conversion we get through our website when we post certain posts.”

Talking about online vs. bricks and mortar, Perriam believes regardless of the focus both elements need to align regarding branding and message. She said the retail store is great to showcase product, but online allows for greater storytelling of the brand through photography and video. Perriam said both markets continue to grow however.

“We have identified that the tourist market is growing rapidly at the moment especially with the amount of Chinese people coming to our country so we are working on listening to their wants and needs and delivering a New Zealand made product they can take home that is the highest of quality,” said Perriam.

As a merino focused brand, Perriam is incredibly invested in sustainable fashion, ensuring only natural fibres are chosen when possible and utilising the sustainable nature of merino wool.

Embracing technology, Perriam will decide on a theme for the collection before taking to Pinterest and brainstorming ideas on how to develop the range. Draping and sketching happen simultaneously while continuous editing of samples ensure the final design is the product of an organic process.

“Fabrics have a lot to do with our design process, so we search the world for the best fabrics, and the design inspiration comes from here. We look at what the rest of the world is doing and travel regularly to get inspired by other cultures.”

Moving forward, Perriam is looking at launching a menswear selection, while continuing to develop its online store and possible new retail locations across New Zealand.

Perriam urges young designers that formal fashion education is paramount in understanding the process from start to finish, emphasising that it is invaluable to the success of a brand.

“Work in the industry for a few years before starting your label.  Soak up everything a company does and learn, learn, learn everything there is to know about business by someone who is already successfully doing it,” said Perriam.