Rumours of a new boutique-style secondhand clothing store in Te Awamutu prompt Danielle Heyns and intern Rachael Clarke to go in search of fabulous fashion finds. They discover some other Waikato gems while they're at it.
P lastic hangers are not allowed at Shabby Chic. Owners Margie Riley and Tracey Wright spent money on matching wooden hangers to best show off their secondhand beauties
They want customers to feel as if they've walked into a boutique in their new Te Awamutu shop.
You won't find holes or stains. The rails aren't crowded. Everything is hand picked. Everything is washed.
"We're very pedantic about what goes out," Margie says. "We didn't want people to feel that they were anywhere close to an op shop."
Tracey wants people who are used to upmarket shopping to be able to walk in and feel comfortable. They don't do jeans or T-shirts. "We want to stick with things that have wow factor."
She's magic at helping women accessorise. They come here for weddings, parties, the races. They leave with a complete outfit for the price of one new designer piece.
Tracey loves the idea such items can find new owners. "People impulse-buy so much now, and that leads to wastage."
Most popular are
the handbags. "We sell an extraordinary number of handbags," Margie says.
"So many people come in and say ‘this shop is what we need'."
And they keep asking for larger sizes, which Margie and Tracey are determined to find a good range of, even though they're harder to source. It's as if plus-sized women wear stuff to death because good clothing for them is so hard to find in the first place, Tracey says.
Dorothy Masters, owner of Little Boutique in Kihikihi, agrees. This is why she stocks bigger sizes, most of it second-hand. There's a whole rack, things you want to take a second look at: pretty tunics and frocks. "New Zealand is fast becoming a generous-sized nation," she says.
Hers is a little shop with a lot of heart. A generous jewellery cabinet draws the magpies. There are some stunning necklaces and, surprisingly, brooches. "A lot of women still like brooches," she says. Behind it, an impressive display of belts and belt buckles, and, in the back room, a collection of evening gowns.
She uses playing cards as price tags. The different decks of cards also help her identify how long something has been there. She likes to keep things fresh.
She also likes making her own money. She started selling chocolate mudcakes at the age of 10 and, two years later, both her sisters were working for her. As one of 10 children, she says she had to do it to survive.
She's had various second-hand stores throughout the years: in Ngatea and Tauranga, and the Kihikihi shop had a previous incarnation. She had to close it for two years while she underwent cancer treatment, but she's back.
There's another second-hand store, Altogether Lovely, across the street, and Dorothy believes competition is good. So is co-operation.
"Any kind of income a woman can make for herself is needed in New Zealand. I've got degrees, but I like to make money my own self. It drives me. If I can make a dollar from nothing, it feels good to me. We lack that in New Zealand - that self-determination."
She's survived 10 major robberies here and one in Thames. "I've gone from riches to rags to riches."
It's not always an easy business to be in, but the people keep you here. Helen Rey, the owner of clothing store Eleven in Glenview, knows all about that.
She started the business at the height of the recession with about $2000.
Veteran op shoppers are territorial, so are loathe to share lesser-known favourites with the rest of the world, but Eleven, tucked away in Glenview Shopping Centre, is one of those hidden gems. It does a nice mix of