Helen Twose 's Opinion

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose: Lifting pace of fashion evolution

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Keeping up with fast-changing trends is vital for owner of clothing chain

Photo / Brett Phibbs
Photo / Brett Phibbs

Fashions come and go, but for Evolution Clothing owner Miranda Cobb, they come and go more quickly than for most of us.

Garments sourced during overseas buying trips are on the racks of her seven stores the next week and she can be selling the equivalent of a high-end number worn by a celebrity within a month.

"We're faster than any other brand in New Zealand, which people don't realise," she says.

Cobb began her Mt Maunganui-based clothing chain in 2005 as a 25-year-old with a plan to offer well-made clothing at a reasonable price. "You can pay premium dollars for a high fashion brand, but a lot of the time it is made in the same factory as another brand that might be half the price."

A qualified fashion designer, Cobb says it is cheaper to buy in overseas manufactured garments than to create her own designs.

Instead, she has her finger on the fashion and celebrity pulse. "There's not much that could get past me that I can't forecast what's coming through and what we should be buying."

This results in her jetting off around the world on buying trips, making contacts and seeing new products.

With two primary-school age children and pregnant with number three, Cobb wrings as much out of these visits as possible, taking night flights and sleeping on the plane to prepare for 12-hour days buying garments, and nights spent looking around the city for ideas and inspiration.

"I call it my treasure hunts because I'm always on a treasure hunt and you're looking for that pot of gold.

"Sometimes it can be great and sometimes it can be disappointing but you've always just got to keep on trying."

From the original store in Mt Maunganui, the Evolution brand grew quickly to three other locations - Taupo, Gisborne and Ponsonby Rd.

Cobb had no intention of growing beyond the original location but when a staff member's father told her 30,000 people passed through Taupo every weekend, it sparked the idea for expansion and "it just sort of steam-rolled from there".

Before adding new stores, Cobb researches the location, looking at how other retailers are faring and what is happening in each town.

"When we first opened, we used to have the golden touch with everything and then it got harder."

Stores in central Wellington and Napier didn't fly, so Cobb moved quickly to shut the doors.

"I don't have any shame in saying 'hey, we gave it a go but it didn't work' and we always tend to have an exit strategy.

"I think if you go into something thinking it is going to be amazing then you're only open to disappointment and I honestly have no shame in closing a store down.

"I'm more proud of the fact that we can say 'hey, didn't quite work, we did it' rather than making it bleed out the bottom line."

Cobb has since reopened a Wellington branch in Petone, added a new store in Christchurch, and has an online retail site and a range targeting an older market stocked in her Mt Maunganui store.

Cobb admits the retail environment is tough and fights every day as if it's her last.

She is constantly keeping her product lines fresh, adding sunglasses and nail polish to the mix, and a range of shoes, bags and wallets is due in shops soon. "I do believe too, you can always be doing something better."

- NZ Herald

Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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