Fashion designer Wynn Crawshaw was working as a land surveyor before he decided to turn his passion into a business.
Now, fast forward five years, his business Wynn Hamlyn is gearing up to open its first retail store in downtown Auckland shopping centre Commercial Bay.
Some people may call the move risky, but Crawshaw says economic downturn or not - now is a better time than ever, following an increase in local demand since May.
Wynn Hamlyn will fill the shopfront that formerly housed Ingrid Starnes in Commercial Bay's New Zealand retail shopping lane Little Queen Street.
The mainly wholesale operation makes most of its money from sales through international retailers, including Moda Operandi and Middle Eastern group Ounass. It is also stocked in Bloomingdales in Kuwait and Harvey Nichols in Dubai.
But Crawshaw is hoping the approximately 80 per cent share of wholesale sales slides more towards direct-to-consumer once its downtown Auckland store opens on October 1.
"Wholesale is hard, the margins are a lot different to retail, and so any sale we can make direct-to-consumer means a lot more to us than a wholesale sale," Crawshaw told the Herald, adding that the channel was still important to the brand and would continue.
"It's been interesting for me to see a whole bunch of labels just drop wholesale completely. A lot of decisions and moves I see people making are quite drastic, but I guess it's a time for that."
The brand has invested about $30,000 to set-up the Commercial store. Crawshaw has been working on the fit-out daily, doing a lot of the work himself, along with the team.
Opening a store before this had never been on the cards. This store wasn't even in the plans two months ago.
Crawshaw had originally turned down an offer by Precinct Properties to open a store within the centre, about a year ago.
The wholesale business had contracted in recent months as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, and it was now finding it harder to secure new stockists, which is why it had decided to take up a tenancy in the precinct when the opportunity was presented a second time.
"We're still selling virtually but it is harder to pick up new stores and it's harder to grow in that department. The existing clients are fine because they know the product, but new clients are really hard, so this is diversification," Crawshaw said.
"It's a time where we wanting to diversify and we're wanting to have more of a connection with our New Zealand customers."
The brand employs four staff fulltime, and will take on one more fulltime person and three part timers for the 54sq m store.
Crawshaw said he felt excited by the move into retail, but also a little bit crazy to take the leap during an economic downturn. The store would be an experiment for the brand and it would monitor sales before making any plans around further stores.
"It's definitely scary, but I'm really excited. All of the opportunities that we've had that have got us to where we are now were scary in the beginning."
Crawshaw had been working as a land surveyor for 3 and a half years before he started Wynn Hamlyn.
He had an Auckland studio that he would be at whenever he wasn't working, designing, and eventually negotiated with his boss that he would finish up, reducing his working week from five to three days before committing to a future in fashion.
Wynn Hamlyn was only Wynn Crawshaw for three years. The first stores that took him on was Fabric in downtown Auckland, Caughley in Wellington, Slick Willies in Dunedin and Palm Boutique in Nelson. Today, its collections are sold in Ballantyne's and a string of other stores.
It didn't launch an e-commerce site until two years into operations in 2017.
The brand sells high-end high fashion pieces, priced between $200 and $900 per piece, and despite doing most of its business internationally was not reliant on the tourist dollar like some brands located in the Commercial Bay precinct, Crawshaw said.
It had experienced growth in local demand since the first lockdown.
Wynn Hamlyn accessed the wage subsidy and was able to retain all of its staff. Despite the slowdown of its wholesale business, Crawshaw said it was nice to slow down through the lockdowns.
He typically spends between 60-70 hours on the business each week.
The opening of the Commercial Bay store would allow the business to offer made-to-measure and alterations services, Crawshaw said, and he was interested in growing the business into other areas outside of women's clothing, including footwear.
He would also like to see the team grow.
"I'd like to grow the business to a place where we're still a small business but we have a team that affords us to be specialised. I'd like to be more the designer [whereas] now I am the designer and the general manager."