Dominique Healy, Where’d You Get That Forever Top?

By Johanna Thornton
Designer Dominique Healy. Photo / Stephanie Cammarano

Fashion designer Dominique Healy didn’t mean to open a store in Auckland, it just kind of happened.

The New Zealand-born designer has lived in Melbourne for the past 10 years, but recently a desire to be closer to family after the ups and downs of lockdown drew her back to her hometown of Tāmaki Makaurau. “I really struggled not being able to see family, and that shifted how I felt about where I wanted to be for my future, so I made the decision to move back,” she says.

Her plan was to keep the production of her eponymous womenswear brand, known for its easy-wearing transeasonal pieces made from beautiful natural fabrics, at her Melbourne design studio. She’d then look to set up a second studio in Auckland and work remotely.

She ended up opening a shop instead.

It happened when she drove past a for lease sign in the window of a heritage building on Mt Eden Rd, next door to Time Out Bookstore. “I was actually flying out to Melbourne that week and I went in and just really liked the space. I knew I wanted a [New Zealand] store again at some point, but it wasn’t on my immediate radar.”

Inside Dominique Healy's Mt Eden store. Photo / @DominiqueHealy_nzstore
Inside Dominique Healy's Mt Eden store. Photo / @DominiqueHealy_nzstore

The selling point was the fact that Dominique could have both a studio and a store for the same price as some of the studios she’d been to visit in the area. She set about transforming the brick-lined, wooden-floored building with the help of friends and family, stripping it back to basics and adding a fresh layer of paint, creating a studio upstairs and an inviting shopfront downstairs.

Dominique took her time announcing the Auckland location, which opened at the end of last year and is her first flagship store, to allow time to build up her stock levels. New Zealand fans of her brand were used to having their online orders shipped from Melbourne, but her Australian customers were suddenly having pieces shipped from Aotearoa, having been sewn in the Mt Eden studio, which Dominique admits has taken some getting used to.

“I think I’m confusing people a bit at the moment,” she laughs. “I’m still trying to figure out the best way to communicate where things are coming from. We are getting into a bit more of a groove now, so it’s been running quite well.” Still, it’s a unique situation having two studios, two websites and two Instagram accounts (one for Australia and the other for the New Zealand store), to ensure both locations are being presented with items that are available to shop now.

“My main goal this year is to get both places stocked up with everything so that when someone buys in New Zealand, it’s being shipped from New Zealand and when someone buys in Australia, it’s being shipped from Australia.”

Sloan dress in black/oyster satin from Dominique Healy's 'Coco Piesse' collection.
Sloan dress in black/oyster satin from Dominique Healy's 'Coco Piesse' collection.

Dominique launched her brand in Melbourne in 2017, having spent her formative years working with fabric wholesaler and retailer The Fabric Store and Wall Fabrics in New Zealand and Australia, something that helped shape her knowledge of textiles, and how a business operates. She began working part time in the textile industry while studying fashion at AUT, with the view to becoming a designer. But it took her a while to decide to give designing a “proper go”.

“I felt like the textile side was a little safer for me, and I really loved the company I was working for. I got to spend a lot of time talking to designers because I was selling them fabrics so I was always asking a lot of questions and trying to learn as much as I could, as well as finding out how things worked. You learn how the whole system works in textiles.”

It was when she was tasked with opening Wall Fabrics’ Melbourne office, starting it from the ground up, that her confidence began to build. “That was probably the biggest shift for me, having someone have that confidence in me. It made me realise I could start something from semi-scratch.” She took the leap to work on her clothing range full-time, setting up a sewing room at home and doing production sewing on the side. “I did production sewing for three days a week so that I could pay my rent and buy my fabrics. And then I just worked on the range.”

It’s a collection she describes as comfortable and wearable, and that customers would say makes them feel great; the shapes flattering and timeless, the sleeves bold and oversized, the hemlines long and the colours, fabrics and prints just right pieces they reach for again and again to feel effortlessly put together.

Dominique in her Mt Eden, Auckland studio. Photo / Anastasiya Baranova
Dominique in her Mt Eden, Auckland studio. Photo / Anastasiya Baranova

After a successful string of fashion pop-ups with friends Melissa Mikletic and Sarah Dalley, the trio decided to open their own boutique, Before March, on a minimal budget in Melbourne’s Northcote. Today it stocks brands like Silk Laundy, Standard Issue, Marle, Vermeer (and Dominique Healy), with Melissa solely in charge. Back then it was a way for Dominique to get her clothes directly in front of customers in a city she wasn’t from.

“I built up a lot of loyal customers being there,” says Dominique, who found talking to people about her clothes invaluable, something she still does today, whether in-store or via Instagram (a recent post asked people what kind of garment she should make with a piece of striking chartreuse stretch fabric).

A year later she was able to move out of her home studio into a 75sq m light-filled studio in Brunswick, where she maintains a staff of three sewers.

Dominique Healy Naia Cami and Sonia Pant in black/ivory tweed.
Dominique Healy Naia Cami and Sonia Pant in black/ivory tweed.

In the last couple of years, Dominique’s wholesale business has grown from 10 per cent to 60 per cent, building up an impressive roster of stockists in Australia and New Zealand. She puts much of that down to working with fashion agency The Align (previously All Good Things), a wholesale and sales agency that works exclusively with conscious and ethical labels. “I don’t fit into a lot of the timeframes of regular wholesale and they’ve been really nice in working with me on that,” she says.

It’s a collaboration that’s also seen her get a lot more organised and her business more structured, pushing her to work well in advance rather than getting pieces straight out to customers. However, a balance of wholesale and direct-to-customer is important for Dominique, a creative through-and-through. “My main goal isn’t to pump a lot of stuff out. I don’t want to be in heaps of places. I want to be in places I like so that people in those areas can see my pieces in real life. I definitely want to work on growing the direct side of things.”

Fans of her brand value this considered approach, and her minimal production runs made in Australia and New Zealand. Fabric choice is also paramount to Dominique, who works largely with natural fibres like linen because it’s hard-wearing, comfortable and lasts well. Other pieces are made with deadstock fabric, purchased through her fabric wholesale contacts. Her patterns use as much of the fabric as possible, and some are made with offcuts, such as halter tops using what’s leftover from her bias-cut skirts. She switches to a made-to-order model when her small run of in-season garments sells out.

As for making the move home from Melbourne, Dominique says she’s loving being back in New Zealand. She’s still in Melbourne often, visiting her team and friends, but having her family close by in Auckland and Whangamatā has been special. “Just being able to drive and see them is so nice,” she says. “I love being close to the beaches, that’s the other thing. I’m always going for walks and going to the beach, you’re always so close to the water here. I think that’s something I’ve craved for a long time so it’s nice to finally have it.”

Dominique, what’s a typical day like for you?

I’ve moving around a lot lately but I’d say my typical day starts with morning coffee at my local The General Store and a walk around One Tree Hill, then off to the shop/studio where I spend my day either in-store or upstairs sewing and working on new pieces or occasionally helping out with production. After work I tend to catch up with friends for a drink or dinner, I go almost every week to Pasta e Cuore just across the road from the I am OBSESSED!

Dominique in Slvrlake jeans and her Louie Crop in ZigZag Velvet. Photo / Supplied
Dominique in Slvrlake jeans and her Louie Crop in ZigZag Velvet. Photo / Supplied

What’s an item of clothing that you’ve bought recently, or want to buy?

I recently bought my second pair of Slvrlake jeans, they’re a little bit of an investment but the quality is so good, like they’re going to last 20 years kinda good.

What’s a book you’re reading, or one you’ve enjoyed recently?

I’m more of an audiobook gal these days as I can listen while sewing. A couple of audiobooks I recently listened to and loved are Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel and Just Kids by Patti Smith.

Who is an interesting person or account you follow on Instagram?

Probably Emma on her Get Good Face Instagram account, she’s a friend of mine who has a skincare brand but she’s just so funny to listen to, her stories always make me laugh. Her account is not just about skincare.

Do you have a favourite TV show or film at the moment?

Yellowjackets, I’m loving it!

What have you been listening to lately?

I’m loving Olivia Dean, SZA’s new album and Bailey Wiley, particularly Put D’Angelo On.

What’s a local bar, cafe or restaurant that you like, and why? In Auckland and Melbourne?

In Auckland, I’d go with Pasta e Cuore for dinner, and Chinese Cuisine (they used to be in Mercury Plaza) for takeaways. In Melbourne, I love going to Cam’s Kiosk, which is a beautiful restaurant in the Abbotsford Convent. Hope St Radio is great too! For cocktails, The Everleigh is beautiful and probably my favourite. I don’t know what night but occasionally they have a small live band playing too.

What have you been cooking lately?

If I’m being honest, at the moment, I very rarely cook; I seem to eat out quite a bit. My most recent meal and my go-to is eye fillet, salad and scalloped potatoes.

What’s on your bedside table right now?

Jewellery, face creams, Nonna’s Grocer candles and some chocolate.

When are you the most productive?

Definitely in the morning after a quick walk around the park.

Find Dominique Healy at 430 Mount Eden Rd, Mt Eden.

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