Vender of the Week: Kuwaii

Who: Kuwaii
What: Melbourne-based retailer producing beautiful, timeless clothing and footwear made locally and made to last
Where: Melbourne, Australia

Kristy Barber, owner and designer of Melbourne-based clothing and footwear brand Kuwaii, started her venture 8 years ago when she’d finished fashion school. The business was driven by Kristy’s personal ambition to change the way people consumed fashion, and is what sparked Kuwaii’s philosophy: beautiful, timeless clothing and footwear, made locally and to last. This is to encourage the return to a time when clothing was an investment, treasured and worthy of care.

Having had no previous experience in fashion, the industry was a major learning curve for Kristy. But with a lot of hours and perseverance business growth has scaled. The first Kuwaii store, warehouse and studio opened 2012 in Brunswick (Kuwaii’s spiritual home) and saw the business double in size. When the second city store was opened in 2014, business doubled in size again. Kristy shares her experiences and personal tips for retail success.

What’s your local community like?

Our studio is based in Brunswick, and the community there is amazing and so supportive of our philosophy. In terms of our creative community, we’re pretty happy to be part of a flourishing one here in Melbourne. Kuwaii often stocks hard-to-find artists and makers in our store as we love to support and showcase their beautiful work. We also support other brands by hosting sales and events for them, collaborating with artists and makers at least a couple of times a year. Our fashion films are another great way to get involved in the community, as we’re given the opportunity to work with people we may not have the chance to otherwise.

What brought you to Vend and how have you found it? Would you recommend Vend to retailers like you?

We were recommended Vend from another fashion brand. Before then, we were using a little hand-written duplicate book and weren’t tracking our stock levels at all. We made the switch to Vend just in time as our business grew majorly shortly after! We have been using Vend for nearly two years now and haven’t looked back. The great thing about Vend is that it’s always getting better. For me, having my sales data available anywhere at anytime is such an amazing thing.


Where does your passion come from for what you do?

My business is closely tied into my personal belief system and Kuwaii is a natural extension of that. I personally believe that we can support local industries and don’t have to immediately outsource all of our manufacture overseas. Although we are driven by profit (like any business) money is considered amongst many other factors when we make decisions. And it’s not always the first consideration!

Supporting the local community and keeping trades alive here is so important to me. Environmental issues and the impact fashion makes is a big concern. The human cost of fashion can be very, very high, and I don’t want to negatively contribute to that industry. I want to offer customers a beautiful alternative to the world of fast fashion and mass produced items.

Do you have any advice for retailers that you wish you’d known?

I feel like I’m learning everyday, and often wish there was a magical advice well for me to draw from! But one thing that has helped me lots, is to ask for advice and help when I need it.  Find someone who has walked your path before. It’s amazing what a bit of advice and a listening ear from someone with experience can do.

Make the effort to train your staff. After that, trust them and allow them to take ownership and bloom in your business. I also love Solomen Lew’s theory: Management By Walking Around — you’d be surprised by the things you’d miss if you don’t take the time to do this. Oh and one last thing, do not underestimate the power of your systems!

What’s your best retail tale? 

The story of how our first store in Brunswick opened. My start in retail was actually an ‘accident’! I found the Brunswick shop space to use as a design studio, not a store, because the shop is on an unsuspecting side street in Brunswick. However, after dividing the space and placing some display items in the window for effect, I was inundated with people trying to open our locked door while I was working inside! My dad helped with a simple fit-out and encouraged me to take the plunge, so one Saturday I finally opened the door. Much to my surprise a customer walked in literally 5 minutes later and purchased three things. From humble beginnings the business has grown slowly but surely since then.

Want to learn more about how Vend’s POS software is helping Melbourne retailers win? Get in touch with our Melbourne team today!

About Ashley Gilgrist

Ashley looks after product marketing at Vend — working hard to bring exciting product launches to retailers around the globe. When she’s not busy talking all-things-Vend, Ashley also has a love of tea, candle-crafting, binge-watching, and hiking the pointy peaks of New Zealand.