Gaps in US market for Kiwi designers

LAURA WALTERS
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2013
Adrian
Lawrence Smith/Fairfax NZ

Big break: Clothing designer Adrian Hailwood.

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Clothing designer Adrian Hailwood is joining iconic Kiwi designers such as Trelise Cooper and Karen Walker in the United States market.

The Auckland designer has signed up with United States agency Bridge Showroom, which stocks international designers' clothing in 17 states.

"It's exciting," said Hailwood.

The designer, who has been working fulltime on his collections for the past 12 years, has been trying to break into the United States market for a long time.

"I went [to the United States] four or five years ago, but then there was the market crash," he said.

"There's more economic growth happening in the States now."

It was not "going gangbusters", but buyers had regained their confidence, he said.

Hailwood, who began his career making T-shirts, said he did not know how successful his range would be in the United States, or how much profit he was likely to make until the rest of the orders came in during the next six weeks.

Statistics New Zealand reported exports of textiles, clothing and footwear to the United States generated $40 million, from 225 manufacturers, last year to June.

"You have to export," Hailwood said. "The market here is so tiny."

There were too many designers trying to fit into the small New Zealand market, which made it difficult to get ahead, he said.

Hailwood is looking to stock his range in up to 300 different stores, in 900 locations. To do so, he had to create a new range to stock offshore because of the opposing season in the northern hemisphere.

The range was appealing to the United States market because of the fabric and prints, he said.

"It's all my own prints, and I make my own fabrics."

When Bridge Showroom approached the designer, the main focus was production capability, Hailwood said.

"Thirty per cent is the design, the rest is logistics."

Hailwood will design three seasons per year for the United States range: Autumn, summer, and spring. If the range was well-received he would look at further expansion in the United States, and other international markets, he said.

Hailwood's United States collection was aimed at mature women, with some pieces for younger buyers.

"My clothes are a little bit older - it's happened as I've gotten older."

The clothes are stocked at his flagship store in Karangahape Rd in Auckland, as well as other retailers and department stores in New Zealand, including his largest stockist, Wellington's Kirkaldie and Stains.

Bridge Showroom partner Ken Nachbar said Adrian Hailwood's light and easy aesthetic was what made his clothes appealing to the United States market.

"His clothes are fun and we think he'll do best in warmer states, reflecting the temperate climate and aesthetic of New Zealand."

Bridge Showroom, which has been running out of San Francisco for the past five years, and represents designers from Europe and Asia, sells its designers' lines to high-end, multi-label boutiques, including stores in New York, Washington DC, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Fairtrade and organic certified Wellington label Kowtow Clothing has also been picked up by Bridge Showroom, and has started its first season of selling in the United States.

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Kowtow Clothing designer and director Gosia Piatek said international expansion was always part of her business plan.

"The vision for my business was always to be an international brand."

International sales accounts for 20 per cent of the label's wholesale sales, and 30 per cent of its internet sales.

Internet sales generate 45 per cent of the company's total income.

The majority of the company's international revenue comes from Australia, but the label has received a strong reception from the United States market.

"The agency was really optimistic about our brand.

"We have had stockists agreeing to stock our brand without even seeing samples," Piatek said.

The United States was an easy market to break into because they were looking for something fresh, she said.

"You reach market saturation in New Zealand."

New Zealand designer labels were largely confined to boutiques, as opposed to the large American stockists in the United States, she said.

There was space for new Kiwi designers to move into the United States market, and it was easier than breaking into Europe where they already had a range of designers, Piatek said.

Other well-known designers who stocked their clothing in the United States included Lonely Hearts, Stolen Girlfriends Club, Huffer, Trelise Cooper, and Karen Walker, whose clothes are available in 42 states.

- Sunday Star Times

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