Creating lifestyle choices, not just clothes
Feedback is vital for Phillippa Wilberforce.
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.’’
Design detail: Phillippa Wilberforce is passionate about the design process.