Online shopping becomes fashion

Last updated 05:00 29/05/2011

Virtual success: Rachelle and Chris Duffy have gone global with, below.

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Designer outlet Idiom Boutique has gone exclusively online. Rob Stock reports. 

When Tauranga-based designer outlet Idiom Boutique launched online two years ago, Rachelle and Chris Duffy thought they were adding an "extension" to their business.

Two years on, they have closed their shop doors for the last time.

Now, instead of drawing customers from the neighbouring streets and suburbs, their customer base spans Sydney, Melbourne, London and New York, and the pair feel they are playing an important role in taking Kiwi designers to the world.

Rachelle says the last two years have seen an enormous shift in the way retail is conducted. But Idiom has not given up on bricks and mortar. It plans to open "pop-up" shops from time to time in places where their customers are concentrated.

There are more than enough empty shop premises they can take on for a couple of weeks after a building boom, and subsequent financial crisis. Auckland, Wellington, Sydney and Melbourne are the centres they have in mind for pop-ups.

"We just saw [online sales] as an addition to what we were doing with the store, but once we launched, it did so well for us," Rachelle said.

"We feel now that customer shopping habits are changing."

When they closed the doors on the Tauranga shop at Easter, more than 70% of business was coming from online buyers of fashion labels and accessories.

The boom in internet sales might surprise some, but Rachelle says the shift online has led to clothing makers being much more conscious that they need to have exactly comparable sizing.

"Fashion is now one global marketplace where items from across the world are just one click away. Our shift in focus towards our ever-growing national and international online customer base means we can now both meet and grow overseas demand for New Zealand designers," says Rachelle. The Duffys feel they are on something of a mission and have opened up Idiom online to new designers who can't afford their own websites. The objective is to sell the clothes, accessories and other products of a selection of their favourite designers.

But, to give some oxygen to up-and-comers, they have built a series of mini-sites branching off Idiom which they call the "My Boutique" concept.

New designers can upload pictures of their clothes or accessories onto a mini-boutique of their own and sell to the world. Idiom gets a commission for sales.

Idiom is not just selling new Kiwi clothes. It is also selling cast-offs, although second-hand clothing now goes by the more upmarket term "vintage".

Rachelle said many designers get ideas and inspiration from op-shopping, and a well-informed buyer can snap up vintage clothes that reflect the trends in the designer stores around the country. These clothes are saleable and exportable.

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