Cre­at­ing life­style choices, not just clothes

Feed­back is vi­tal for Phillippa Wil­ber­force.

The Press - Zest - - Fashion - KIM TRIEGAARDT

Really un­der­stand­ing what her cus­tomers want has driven the growth of Christchurch fash­ion house Long Is­land. Found­ing di­rec­tor Phillippa Wil­ber­force has a back­ground in brand man­age­ment and knows the value of giv­ing clients what they want. ‘‘When we bought and then re­branded the com­pany as Long Is­land seven years ago, we went through an ex­pen­sive test­ing process to talk to our cus­tomers, try gar­ments on and get feed­back. It’s that con­stant gath­er­ing of mar­ket in­tel­li­gence that’s en­abled us to stay ahead of the trends and con­sis­tently pro­vide a good prod­uct,’’ she says.

It’s been a cir­cuitous route to the fash­ion floor for Wil­ber­force who grew up want­ing to be in­volved in the in­dus­try but pur­sued a ca­reer in mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. ‘‘My par­ents wanted me to have a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion be­cause that’s what you did in those days,’’ she says. ‘‘So I started do­ing ge­ol­ogy be­fore switch­ing to clas­sics. But even as a small child, all I wanted to do was de­sign clothes.’’ She moved from Welling­ton to Lon­don and worked for large multi-na­tion­als across a range of in­dus­tries in­clud­ing phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, brew­ing and in­surance.

A de­ci­sion to raise her chil­dren in New Zealand how­ever, brought her back to Christchurch. Hav­ing chil­dren also in­spired Wil­ber­force to think about cre­at­ing a busi­ness they could work to­gether as a fam­ily to build. Her in­ter­est in data­bases and data­base mar­ket­ing drew her to a fash­ion com­pany in Christchurch that had a good prod­uct and a loyal cus­tomer base and, serendip­i­tously was also for sale. ‘‘I thought, this is just the thing for me,’’ she says.

She took over the core of the com­pany, re­branded as Long Is­land and re­built it.

‘‘The first thing I did was set about un­der­stand­ing who my cus­tomers were so I could give them the prod­uct they really wanted. My staff say I can spot a loose thread at 50 paces but I be­lieve that if you are passionate about what you do and passionate about mak­ing peo­ple look and feel fab­u­lous, you get to­tally in­volved in the whole process.’’

Among the changes she made was to bring the man­u­fac­tur­ing back from off­shore and Long Is­land now man­u­fac­ture nearly ev­ery­thing in New Zealand. The ex­cep­tions are jeans and knitwear which are still made in China.

Wil­ber­force works with Auck­land-based de­signer Nicki McClin­tock com­bin­ing McClin­tock’s de­sign skills with her cus­tomer knowl­edge. ‘‘Peo­ple want trans-sea­sonal gar­ments. It’s that con­cept of lay­er­ing that goes with com­fort and fit. Lay­er­ing gives you tex­ture, shape, colour and form. At first they would just buy a shirt and a jacket, while now they will buy a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent shaped pants or skirts and they’ll wear a tu­nic over the top of a base layer, say merino in win­ter, and then they’ll add a draped top.

‘‘Lay­er­ing gives peo­ple flex­i­bil­ity be­cause they can change colours eas­ily. The tu­nic as a trend doesn’t seem to be go­ing away at all. It’s al­most one of those lit­tle black dress items.’’

Wil­ber­force says there is also a lot more ac­cep­tance now that peo­ple come in all shapes and sizes. ‘‘Women are a lot more con­fi­dent now about stand­ing up and be­ing seen for who they are.’’

Her next project is a travel range be­ing devel­oped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Jo Sea­gar, owner of Sea­gar’s at Ox­ford, a cook­ing school, cafe and store. ‘‘The idea for a range that would be suit­able for trav­el­ling came out of a con­ver­sa­tion we had with Jo be­cause she was look­ing for clothes for a trip to Dubai and Italy,’’ Wil­ber­force says. ‘‘We’re work­ing to have it avail­able from March next year.’’

Photo: KIRK HAR­G­REAVES/FAIRFAX NZ

De­sign de­tail: Phillippa Wil­ber­force is passionate about the de­sign process.

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