Stories behind the stores
Discover the fascinating stories behind some of the capital’s iconic retailers
David Byrne is the city’s denim king who knows what jeans work and which pairs suit his customers. The founder and owner of Hurricane Denim is a fourth generation fashion retailer who grew up working in his grandfather’s store, Evans Drapery, on Cuba Street. He’s been selling jeans for 30 years. “Denim is aspirational and timeless,“ he says.
Hurricane Denim is considered the biggest denim retailer in New Zealand, with an incredible 1500 pairs of men’s jeans and 1900 pairs of women’s jeans stacked on the shelves of its Willis Street store. There’s an art to finding the perfect pair, though, and for that reason David doesn’t sell online, as he believes customers need to come in and try his Rollas, Neuw, Levis, Wrangler and Gstar jeans.
Joan Utting and Olivia Amoah are a mother and daughter duo who have been selling jewellery in Wellington for more than 25 years. Olivia first opened a jewellery store at Wellington’s former Wakefield Market, and today owns and runs Lazulé on Cuba Street with her mother. The store is an Aladdin's Cave for jewellery lovers with dazzling with silver pieces and one of the largest pounamu collections in New Zealand.
Every item in the store is handpicked by the pair, who look for quality pieces and have long-standing relationships with their suppliers. Olivia also makes her own jewellery from the workshop out the back of the store. Lazulé's wide range of jewellery makes it the perfect place to find a special piece for you or a loved one.
Wellington’s biggest second-hand bookshop has a staggering 86,000 books on its shelves, but you won’t find the most expensive one on display - the only copy in the world of Junkie, by William Burrows, is under lock and key as it will set you back $10,000. The iconic Arty Bees store is run by Matt Morris, a self-confessed bibliophile, who has sold books there for 27 years. Matt says: “There’s a joke that you can have so many books that one should open a bookstore. I’ve got a garage full of books.’’
Many customers come in to thumb through books and browse the shelves - the more famous book buyers over the years have been the musician Nick Cave, and the Irish actor Dylan Moran. Arty Bees also buys preloved books off readers, and two authors have never gone out of fashion: Agatha Christie’s detective novels and Terry Pratchett’s fantasy fiction are best sellers.
Ultra Shoes / Mischief Shoes
Don Wearing, co-owner of Mischief Shoes and Ultra Shoes, has lived and breathed retail for the past 30 years. His love of shoes started whilst studying at Hannah Footwear Factory on Leeds Street before opening his first store Mischief Shoes in 1990. Don and his business partners were notorious for making noise with stunts such as mock elections and undie races up Willis Street.
Today, Mischief Shoes is still located in its original home amongst the bustling Lambton shopping precinct and has a loyal base of customers who appreciate colour, fun and friendly service. In 2000, Mischief’s sister-store Ultra Shoes was born from a boom in popularity of Dr Martens but has since transformed into a feminine, calm space with a lounge-feel on Willis Street.
Asked to describe Wellington women’s style, Chris Hales is an expert. The founder of Goodness on College Street, and designer of a fashion label, Goodness, Chris says: “Wellington women look for quality garments and fabrics.’’ Her store bursts with a desirable selection of European brands, smart tailoring and textural knits, shoes and accessories.
Chris is an advocate of slow fashion, so her Goodness garments and the brands she buys are timeless, able to be added to wardrobes over the years. She started her own label to design for customers seeking smart, tailored garments, especially for tall women like her. Since 2005, Chris has made twice yearly trips to South China to work with a small family tailoring team who transform her designs from sketches into garments. “You don’t have to be 20 to wear Goodness, but don’t have to dress like you’re not,’’ Chris says.
On the first floor of a heritage building on Willis Street, refugees pedal sewing machines in what is thought to be the CBD’s only garment factory. Olivia, from Myanmar, Queen, from Sri Lanka, Nasium, from Somalia, and Victoria, from Columbia, work for Nisa, the social enterprise making underwear out of organic, ethically sourced cotton.
Nisa was the brainchild of former lawyer Alisha Watson, who set out to create a not-for-profit fashion business that gives refugee women jobs, while also helping them improve their English and make new friends. Nisa’s organic cotton briefs and bralettes come in a range of colours and styles and the women make about 70 to 80 items a day - only as much as they expect to sell to minimise waste.
Olivia learned to sew in Myanmar, but some of the other garment makers have learned on the job. Customers can watch their undies being made as the workshop and store are in one open-plan room. “We want to connect people to the lost art of industrial garment production, and to show them there is a person behind every garment which is stitched,’’ Elisha says.
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