Meet the Buyer: Shelley Harvey, Belle Bird Boutique

Belle Bird Boutique, Dunedin is a multi-brand store of mostly New Zealand brands. The shopping experience is important to owner and buyer, Shelley Harvey. As a small store, the team can offer a personal shopper experience, getting to know their customers and customers tastes well. 

Harvey has owned Belle Bird for almost 20 years, and has learned the ins and outs of buying for her customer. With a background in fashion, training as a cutter and working as a pattern maker before completing a degree in Fashion & Design at Otago Polytech, Harvey began by designing her own labels, and Belle Bird was created to house her own and her former business partners designs. 

As the store's main buyer, Harvey looks at ranges and enjoys the seasonal flow of buying. She enjoys analysing what worked or didn’t work, and reviews final orders with assistant buyer, Ruby. 

“Sometimes, we ordered green but everyone wants to know why we didn’t get the pink. At 23, Ruby can have a different view on what we are looking at and I think buying in collaboration is healthy for the store.”

Ruby started at Belle Bird fresh out of her Fashion degree in Otago. 

“We graduated 20 years apart from the same school.”

Together, the pair goes through every piece of a range and discusses what styles and colours have been successful, and what they are looking for next. 

Belle Bird covers a broad range demographically, and with this in mind the pair shop for an aesthetic rather than a specific customer. Back in the day, Harvey focussed on the Dunedin student market, but has found their shopping habits to have changed dramatically in recent years as the market expanded online and into clothing rental options. From this, the store’s broader market base was opened up. 

Harvey prefers to stock a smaller selection of brands and represent them well, looking for quality in fabrics and make. When looking at designers, she considers the brands story, market and direction and the versatility of pieces to suit a range of body shapes. 

“A brand that really stands behind what they do and can effortlessly translate a trend into their own design aesthetic stands out.”

In curating Belle Bird’s selection, Harvey notes brands can be vastly different so long as they serve a purpose within the store and match the boutique’s mood. Brands that are too similar can sometimes end up in competition with each other within the store and with limited space diversity is important. The boutique stocks mid to high end pieces, with the exception of price pointed jewellery, accessories and bits & bobs around the store.

Harvey’s advice to designers looking to be stocked in unique retailers is to have great photos. Hard copy look-books delivered in the post are always opened, compared to the many look-books emailed through, and a phone call to follow up could be the securing action.

“Know who will buy your clothes and test the market. The reality of the purchaser could be different to the customer you had imagined.”

The boutique follows seasonal trends, while avoiding of-the-moment and fast fashion. 

“Buying is all about predicting the next trend, layered with what will still be around in six months.”

The Belle Bird buying team do this through a balance of sales analytics from past and current seasons and gut instinct. The pair trust the design judgement of the brands they stock, and find that buying in multiple smaller drops works best.

Over the years, Harvey has seen changes in the buying market. New Zealand brands are very forthcoming in seeking to be more sustainable, and Harvey sees the effect of this trickle in store. Whether at a point of sustainability, on their way, or at the beginning of finding out what they can do differently, many homegrown brands are now talking about what they are doing in their production lines to be more sustainable. 

When the boutique first opened in 2003, online shopping “wasn’t really a thing”. Now, with the rise in popularity of shopping via the internet, designers have their own online retail spaces and brand social media presence. This, combined with an emerging clothing rental market, forced Belle Bird to change market direction. 

“We don’t buy nearly as many party dresses as we used to, and focus more on garments with longevity.”

In the coming seasons, Harvey is seeing a more fitted look coming through - “tapered trousers, tailored suiting, blazers”. As well as some fun ideas shining through - “bright colours, clashing prints, vests, sheer fabrics for layering, multi-coloured knits”. Midi and slip skirts, super frilly tops and wide leg trousers are on the decline. 

If a New Zealand or Australian designer is keen to join the Belle Bird Boutique portfolio, contact