The Best Places To Shop For Fashion In Wellington: A Subjective Guide

By Dan Ahwa
Viva
Tom Cappleman and Siobhan Oldale from Coffee Outdoors. Photo / Babiche Martens

From local stalwarts to specialty stores, these are the places in Pōneke that piqued our interest.

Is it possible to define a city by its sense of style? If you want to make sweeping generalisations, maybe. But there’s more to the capital than strait-laced public servants in grey suits and

It’s the city that has given birth to some of New Zealand’s cutting-edge fashion designers.

There’s Anjali Burnett and Rachel Easting from Twenty-seven Names, with their penchant for whimsical prints and nostalgic silhouettes. You can’t walk past a street corner without spotting at least one of Jessie Wong’s plush leather Yu Mei handbags purchased from her handsome Victoria St store. Kowtow’s trapeze-like dresses offer the perfect outfit formula for locals — dress + socks + sneakers. It’s the local uniform equivalent of stylish women about town in Copenhagen. And, of course, you can’t talk about shopping in Wellington without acknowledging its well-stocked vintage haunts along Cuba St.

But walk along any street in Wellington and you’ll be inspired by the way the locals unapologetically dress for themselves, as local fashion designer James Bush says: “I don’t feel the need to fit into a given mould here and it’s probably the first city I’ve lived in that that’s the case, so perhaps there’s a freedom here that is very inspiring.”

From designer duds to specialist stores, our most recent trip to Wellington was an opportunity to revisit old favourites and sample the offerings of specialist retailers answering the call from consumers for more intimate, niche retail experiences.

Below is a brief assortment of the ones we loved and visited. You should too.

Coffe Outdoors at 8 Marion St. Photo / Babiche Martens
Coffe Outdoors at 8 Marion St. Photo / Babiche Martens

Coffee Outdoors

Opened in 2022, Siobhan Oldale and Tom Cappleman have fostered a unique community-driven store for nature lovers.

Some of the world’s leading camping and outdoor gear is available from this tidy space tucked away in Marion St, with brands such as Nalgene, Montbell and Parapack sharing shelf space.

“The brands we use and love were not yet available in New Zealand and a place that shared our buying values didn’t exist,” explains Siobhan (Shev). “We go outdoors for fun but all of the stores felt a bit dry and serious so we thought we would give it a bash ourselves.”

The result is indeed a less serious take on the outdoor specialist retail experience, with the couple using the storefront as an opportunity to connect with like-minded customers.

“Most of our customers are female and of all ages. We think that’s because there is no mansplaining at Coffee Outdoors.”

Shev previously worked in operations at local fragrance company Abel after a long stint with Aesop. Tom’s most recent role was working with the local trails trust helping develop trails around Wellington, and before that helping run local non-profit WORD, teaching children how to mountain bike.

The recent venture has already become a favourite among locals, with the Yorkshire natives holding a range of regular meetups, including run clubs and weekly ocean dips.

“We’re not from New Zealand and feel extremely lucky to have been able to choose Wellington as our home. It’s progressive and open-minded with just the right amount of grungy around the edges. The landscape is diverse and we are spoiled for choice with local trails that literally surround the CBD. We meet lots of creative and ambitious people who are all enthusiastic to make the most of our unique city.”

We are very fussy ... as well as having a small space, so only what we think is the absolute best makes it onto the shelves. Every product has to balance function, impact, value, and style which sees us source products from Japan, North America and Europe, with some local brands in the mix. It definitely isn’t the easiest route but we only want the best for our customers (and us).

Items we’re excited about right now ... are rain jackets from Swedish brand Klättermusen, a stylish and sustainable option that is free of “forever chemicals” that other jackets slowly release into the natural environment. Klättermusen jackets are way less crinkly than what you’d expect from a rain jacket while offering a nice amount of stretch for comfort and mobility.

Also, the Satisfy hydration running vest — the signature piece from Parisian brand Satisfy Running. Specialising in innovating its own textiles, Satisfy has broken out of the traditional sports brand box and taken craftsmanship and quality to the highest level.

Norda Run 001 trail shoes — not necessarily new but by far the most popular thing in our shop. Canadian brand Norda makes the world’s strongest trail shoes, perfect for city to trail — and they actually look good! 8 Marion St. Coffeeoutdoors.co.nz

Sully's at 66A Ghuznee St.
Sully's at 66A Ghuznee St.

Sully’s

Opened in 2022, Sully’s is a name that comes up often when considering somewhere unique to shop in Wellington.

The Ghuznee St store houses a medley of owner Hannah Sullivan’s favourite brands with a focus on stocking items from small manufacturers. Recently speaking to Viva, Hannah’s attention to detail and discerning eye make her selection of brands unique, including Collina Strada (New York), Permanent Vacation (Melbourne), and Story MFG (Brighton).

“One of my priorities is the quality of garments, an attribute that many designers in Aotearoa excel at. Equally important is ensuring that each piece marries well with the other offerings at Sully’s. Given the size of Wellington, I prefer to offer items that you can’t find at neighbouring stores. I gravitate towards pieces that have a distinctiveness and a story behind them and also ensuring that I have a solid relationship with the designer is just as important.”

Address: 66A Ghuznee St

Website: Sullys.co.nz

Caughley

Featuring a mix of local and international brands, founder Rachael Caughley’s sharp eye for classics makes this an ideal spot for something sophisticated.

From local fashion brands Wynn Hamlyn and Harris Tapper to local skincare disruptors Emma Lewisham and Tronque, this Ghuznee St staple is also complemented by international offerings from Samsoe Samsoe, Citizens of Humanity and the store’s in-house label Caughely.

Address: 57 Ghuznee St

Website: Caughley.com

Twenty-seven Names

Serving both politicians and cool girls about town, the Wellington staple is still the best place in town for colour, whimsy and a great coat.

Step inside Twenty-seven Names’ airy and chic space on Ghuznee St, a stone’s throw away from the brand’s workroom, and you’ll be mesmerised by a thoughtful wardrobe where you’ll find signature print dresses, reliable denim, and a range of great coats and jackets that work for every occasion. Opened in 2019, the Wellington brand knows how to deliver Made in New Zealand fashion that works for Wellington’s notoriously tempestuous weather.

Address: 27 Ghuznee St

Jess Scott from Bizarre Bazaar. Photo / Babiche Martens
Jess Scott from Bizarre Bazaar. Photo / Babiche Martens

Bizarre Bazaar

Step inside Jess Scott’s emporium of wonders where art meets fashion meets Y2K nostalgia.

Speaking of community-building, Jess Scott is someone who knows how to foster a safe place for her customers to shop. The keen businesswoman has created one of the more unique retail environments in Wellington, and she isn’t afraid to share her knowledge with fellow female-led business owners in the process. Stocking a mix of local and international fashion along with specially curated art, Bizarre Bazaar brings fashion nerds and the vintage-obsessed together.

“I saw a huge disconnect between the way my peers and I shopped and interacted with fashion, and the physical retail offerings available to us, so essentially created the space I wished existed,” explains Jess.

“We all predominantly bought second-hand, mostly through resale sites, or directly from makers, through Instagram, Depop and Etsy, or via online marketplaces/sales platforms for independent designers. These shopping habits were driven both by the desire to consume sustainably and for unique, fun pieces that nobody else had. I’d seen retail spaces in Tokyo seamlessly blend preloved designers with the work of independent creators, and thought it was weird that this physical retail model hadn’t spread to the rest of the world, as this was already what we were doing in digital spaces.”

Highlights include possibly the most impressive range Aotearoa’s most innovative and exciting independent designers including Caitlin Snell, Karaoke Superstars, Gabriella Luchini, Catherine Boddy, Jas Sabrine and more.

“It’s incredible to be able to have a tangible impact on the lives of the designers we work with. We don’t deal with faceless wholesalers — behind every single brand we stock is an individual maker who is genuinely stoked when they sell a single piece. A few times, a friend or partner of a designer has bought them flowers to congratulate them for getting their work stocked at BB, and every time, it feels so surreal that this thing I have created has become a milestone for someone else. If I’m ever stuck in a funk, I remind myself that the store isn’t just about me, it actually helps a lot of other people pay their rent and sustain their creative careers.”

The motivation behind the curation is ... the first time I went to Tokyo in 2017. I had this revelatory experience in Ragtag (a high-end consignment store), where, for the first time, I could not only see, but also touch, try on, and (in some cases) even buy the kind of archival designer pieces I’d only ever seen in magazines or online. It completely blew my mind to suddenly have access to literally any garment I’d ever dreamed of, and amazed me that people were able to take this for granted, and go about their daily lives when there was 1992 Comme des Garçons just sitting on a rack.

I aim to recreate this feeling with BB, and blow people’s minds with pieces you’d never in a million years expect to find in Wellington. Every single item, even the cheap and cheerful pieces, has to be in some way special, interesting, exciting or unusual.

My favourite things in Wellington ... If I want to shop for something that I haven’t had to source myself (haha!), I’ll either go to Hunters & Collectors or pester my friend James (of Jimmy D) to let me rifle through his samples.

I could eat the seared aburi salmon from Tatsushi every night of my life without getting bored of it; Mystic Kitchen is my daily coffee plug; and I love Ortega or Highwater for a sexy, splashy dinner with lots of oysters.

I am a sucker for a trashy drink deal, like the Tuesday night half-price espresso martinis at Dragonfly, or 2-1 frozen mango mai tais from Chow, otherwise Puffin is great for its hot selfie lighting and $16 dirty martinis. Or The Ram for people-watching over Bloody Mary oysters.

Items I’m excited about ... We recently got a new collection of super-hot leather bikinis and keyrings made from braided hair extensions from Something Sh*t, Terzann Eliott’s brand. I have been rocking around with the black braid keyring on my handbag, which looks unnervingly as though it could be my own hair, and enjoying the horrified looks from passersby.

We’ve just received our first order from Toile Studios, who I’ve been obsessed with for years, and I want one of everything! They specialise in multi-wear, convertible pieces; bralettes with removable hoods; and asymmetric skirts with ties and ruching that means they can be worn mini or maxi. I love versatile pieces that can be altered to suit the wearer’s individual style; very recession-core.

Our latest Japanese vintage drop has some absolutely insane pieces in it, one is this crazy multi-coloured faux fur bomber jacket which has been fully encased in black mesh. It’s from my favourite shop on the planet, Dog in Harajuku, this wild store run by hot Japanese punk boys, who make the most insane, avante-garde reconstructed/upcycled pieces — they’ll literally be using house paint straight on fur coats. Taking photos in the store is forbidden, there are signs everywhere saying “f*** off tourist” and the changing room is a shark cage … My happy place.

Address: 100 Tory St

Kowtow’s flagship store at 29 College St.
Kowtow’s flagship store at 29 College St.

Kowtow

The sustainable fashion pioneers have taken New Zealand fashion to the world, but its Wellington store is the best representation of the label in its most purest form.

On the other end of the Bizarre Bazaar spectrum, quiet minimalism offers a timeless option at Kowtow. The fashion darlings can be found in the wardrobes of most Wellingtonians. Organic-certified cotton is the basis of its designs, and earlier this year, it cemented its status as a leader in sustainable fashion with its plastic-free commitment. We love some of the genderless pieces that work for all bodies, and its knitwear in a medley of bold colours is the perfect pick-me-up on an otherwise subdued day. Its Rufus Knight-designed space is another example of minimalist design lovers uniting.

Address: 29 College St

Yu Mei

The luxury leather accessories brand is another Wellington staple, with designer Jessie Wong offering her take on nuanced carry-alls.

Also designed by Rufus Knight of Knight Associates, this unique space features a mix of terrazzo stone in the lobby that leads up to the brand’s HQ, warm wood, marble and brass fixtures. As for the bags themselves? “There’s always this ethos of simplicity is complexity resolved,” Jessie told Viva last year.

Address: 85 Victoria St

Kaukau

A considered selection of art, craft, fashion and more is on offer at this tasteful retail favourite.

Part art and design space, part store, and with a splash of fashion, Kaukau has a focus on celebrating beautiful objects and supporting local makers. Founders Nadya France-White and Prak Sritharan have combined their good taste under one roof, housing a considered selection of artful jewels (Alexandra Dodds, Maxx Jewels, Camille Paloma Walton), the work of design studio Tanchen and Tāmaki Makaurau-based designer Jark Pane’s unique glass works. An ideal place for something unique or to find a special gift for a loved one.

Address: 30 Ghuznee St

Website: Kaukau.co.nz

Hunters & Collectors

The vintage institution is a treasure trove of designer gems and collectible fashion.

Store owner Chrissy O is known for her flame-coloured hair and stylish spectacles, sharing her decades-long love affair with vintage fashion, from Vivienne Westwood to Issey Miyake. If time is short in Wellington and you have one store to visit, this could be it. Opened in 1987, there’s not a dull corner in this Cuba St destination store.

Address: 134 Cuba St

Maxine Kelly from Underlena, located at 56a Ghuznee St. Photo / Babiche Martens
Maxine Kelly from Underlena, located at 56a Ghuznee St. Photo / Babiche Martens

Underlena

For the best lingerie boutique in town, Maxine Kelly’s tranquil space offers a dose of luxury and respite from the daily grind.

The Auckland transplant was at the time of this interview and shoot in the throes of moving from an appointment-only spot on Courtney Place to a new space on Ghuznee St. The new location offers more opportunity for Maxine to connect with customers, offering both a retail and private showroom service, situated at the red Art Stable building on Ghuznee St. Operating as by-appointment Tuesday-Thursday, and retail on Friday and Saturday, the new home is a welcome progression for the brand which launched in 2021 as an online boutique stocking Maxine’s favourite lingerie brands.

Shifting from her previous role in marketing to focusing full-time on Underlena, Maxine has become a welcome part of Wellington’s retail and fashion offering, her by-appointment service in particular allows her to give her customers the full attention they deserve when buying lingerie — especially when it comes to the correct fit.

“Underlena centres women and their everyday experience,” says Maxine. “I want to really home in on women feeling comfortable in their own skin, and wearing beautifully considered lingerie is an extension of that. I think lingerie should be comfortable, a joy to wear and makes you feel great, rather than just something that is thrown on before you plan your outfit for the day. While we’ve come a long way in terms of the marketing of lingerie, we still see it being approached as a ‘saucy’ addition for a special occasion, rather than it being something we can wear on a daily basis that is as considered as the rest of our wardrobe. It’s an opportunity to explore the meaning of everyday sensuality beyond the typically sexual connotations of the word and instead focusing on the pleasure of the everyday experience.”

The difference between an appointment and an open showroom ... With an appointment, people have scheduled the time for themselves and show up without having to rush — it can be a real treat. I love when people come in and just flop on the couch and have a chat, while I find beautiful things for them to try. I’ve become friends with some of our customers through these appointments, which is just such a testament to being able to spend time with people this way.

It’s really a service-first experience within a retail setting. It can take a little bit to get people to book an appointment though — it’s still quite a new concept for customers in New Zealand even though more retailers are leaning into it.

We will be offering open showrooms one to two times per week in our new space to bridge that gap and make people more comfortable booking in for an appointment. Once people have experienced this way of shopping, they usually don’t want to shop any other way.

What I love about Wellington ... Access to nature within a stone’s throw of the city, how friendly everyone is and the super-supportive business community. It has made it incredible to start a business in a new city (I launched Underlena only two months after moving to Pōneke). Meeting people on a similar path who are willing to share what they have learnt, how they navigate challenges and then also cheer you on is vital as a business owner. I think the business community down here is quite unique too — everyone is willing to share contacts, customers, etc, in a way I haven’t experienced before. Everyone wants each other to succeed.

I love to go to the women-only Tuesday sauna days at the Tory Street Urban Retreat — especially for a long lunch break to warm the bones. Breakfast at August, a wander to Ghuznee to see Coffee Outdoors for fun outdoor gear and good company, Kaukau for adorning the home with beautifully curated things, and Sully’s for my wardrobe dreams.

And, of course, something that can’t be missed — the walks near the city. When I first moved to Wellington I just couldn’t believe how close nature is to the city — walk up Marjoribanks at the end of Courtenay and you’re in the bush! And then up to Space for a yoga class overlooking the harbour. I could go on!

My motivation behind the curation ... I believe in the beauty and quality of smaller, independent companies, whether they are local or from abroad (I didn’t realise what a powerhouse the US is for smaller lingerie brands!). That really creates the backbone of the business and how I source. Obviously, everything is so digital, so I don’t necessarily need to travel across the world four times a year to purchase or find new brands.

My priority is attention to detail — in the fabrics, the method of fabrication and how the pieces sit on the body. Are they durable? Would I personally reach for them every day? Then, I think about how a range would perform in the local market — are the shapes suited to NZ women and how they live? What is the mission of the brand? Where and how is it made? And, of course, balancing the collection.

People are very specific about their preferences in the lingerie department — G-string or briefs, underwire or not, colour or neutrals, so it’s a never-ending challenge to find the balance. I really do believe that Underlena offers some of the best independent lingerie brands that the world has to offer at the moment, and I’m really proud of that.

Items I am excited about ... We’ve recently introduced Ohen to our collection, the recently launched New Zealand lingerie brand. It’s so good. True everyday luxury at an excellent price point.

We are about to launch Oscalito, a classic family-owned Italian brand I found during my trip to Paris earlier this year. They create divine undergarments, from tanks to knickers and more, all made from merino, silk and cotton. I’m really excited to bring in a more heritage brand to our collection of modern brands.

Address: 56a Ghuznee St

Website: Underlena.com

Ziggurat

Another local second-hand mecca worth checking out.

A stones-throw from Hunters & Collectors on Cuba St, Ziggurat has a wide range of vintage clothing for all genders and some of the best vintage accessories in the country. Having first opened its doors in 1980, its stock changes daily and often includes pieces from the 1900s, retro fashion and contemporary finds from a range of leading New Zealand and international designers. Ziggurat also sells on behalf of people looking to clear out their wardrobes.

Address: 144 Cuba St

Dan Ahwa is Viva’s fashion and creative director and a senior premium lifestyle journalist for the New Zealand Herald, specialising in fashion, luxury, arts and culture. He is also an award-winning stylist with more than 17 years of experience, and is a co-author and co-curator of The New Zealand Fashion Museum’s Moana Currents: Dressing Aotearoa Now.

More shopping

The latest happenings on the retail beat.

Retail report: What store owners are selling, seeing and saying about clothes shopping right now. Entrepreneurs discuss the business of running a clothing boutique, from what they look for when choosing designers they’ll stock, to the challenges they’re currently facing.

Fashion designer Georgia Currie returns with Flowers, ‘a celebration of ordinary life and living’. It’s the second coming of designer Georgia Currie — but on her own terms. Jessica Beresford finds out how, and why, the Auckland-based creative is doing things differently with Flowers.

From the archives: The history behind Smith & Caughey’s department store. In this story from the New Zealand Fashion Museum archive, we look back at the history of the family business and how it shaped Auckland wardrobes, evolving from custom-made clothes to ready-to-wear.

$200 million shopping centre Mānawa Bay confirms more international brands. Over 100 stores will open their doors at Mānawa Bay in September, with a mix of international sub-luxe brands like Coach and Kate Spade sharing retail space with local brands including Huffer, Bendon and Canterbury.

Unlock this article and all our Viva Premium content by subscribing to 

Share this article:

Featured