By Kate Pierson
You might not consider yourself the easily seduced type when it comes to fashion’s universal truths. But I’m sure if you look the following facts square in the eye, a small hint of reverence might find its way into your heart.
So here we go.
Today, the global fashion industry is valued at $1.5 trillion. In 2000, it was worth approximately $1.5 billion in New Zealand and by 2010, $2.2 billion – and it’s a number on the rise by roughly five percent every year.
These figures don’t have a place here with the purpose of inducing some tail- between-legs veneration of the untamed beast because, quite frankly, fashion is not for everyone.
I couldn’t sit here and tell you it hasn’t been deemed a fickle business – ridiculed for its promulgation of the seemingly unattainable. It has.
I also couldn’t deny that it has been bastardised by the counterfeit, adulterated by the pseudo-designer, and chewed up and spit out over and over again by the restless, boundary smashing fashion aristocracy who are pulling the strings behind the sartorial scene.
That’s all true, and it’s a tough old world to say the least.
But there’s no denying fashion is a highly coveted commodity and the stats outlined above say it all. It should also be said that these facts are not only irrefutable, they’re pretty kickass by anyone’s measure.
What’s more, the fashion landscape is, by its very nature, unforgiving and brutal. It takes no prisoners and for those aspiring designers that think they’re going to ride on the shiny coattail of some sycophantic relationship,
they can think again.
It’s home to the brave, the thick-skinned, the gamblers, the outrageous and, in all honesty, probably some of the insane too – creatively speaking of course (or maybe not).
Liam Bowden, the owner and creative director of Deadly Ponies, is confronted by the perils of fashion every day. At 29 he’s only just over the other side of the ‘quarter life crisis’ (no, he didn’t have one), but he’s already a bonafide design rockstar and, quite simply, he’s a damn good guy.
Liam is Aotearoa’s prodigal son and heads one of this country’s most hailed and hero-worshipped fashion identities, which is no mean feat given the heavyweight company he keeps in an already tight market.
Deadly Ponies is a New Zealand institution, a pioneer of sorts, and a mighty fine one at that. It does us proud, time and time again, here, and abroad.
Love isn’t blind
In the fashion world, style dogmatists reign supreme. Furthermore, the toing and froing of the fashion royalty has resulted in an industry that’s in a permanent state of creative combustion.
Its yo-yo nature reduces the fashion bourgeoisie to a state of perpetual confusion about what’s hot and what’s not, and the visual statements made each season often aggressively contradict each other in a non sequitur fashion – no pun intended.
To survive this as an independent designer that doesn’t drink from any of the commercial kingpin cups is nothing short of a miracle. But it’s no accident Deadly Ponies has survived.
Liam not only survives, but also prevails time and time again. He’s the golden boy of New Zealand fashion, but without the silver spoon in his mouth. Even more refreshingly, he’s never been someone else’s pet project, protégé or whipping boy.
Liam, is just, well, Liam, which is good enough for me and judging by his cult following, is definitely good enough for Kiwis. Oh, and the rest of the world for that matter.
His work is provocative yet practical, precocious but passive too. It’s style minus the cliché bells and whistles. The bags, purses and jewellery have talismanic qualities and these results are the sum of some very smart processes – we’ll get to those soon.
The Deadly Ponies fan club certainly hasn’t been won over and retained through a love is blind kind of relationship. Unlike other style giants whose brands have such an intoxicating allure they can afford the occasional fall from sartorial grace, the brand is bang on, every time, all the time.
So what’s Liam’s deal? Is he malleable? Or does he fly free, staying true to his design convictions and to hell with the rest?
Well, it’s a bit of both actually. Liam operates with strong design conviction and direction, but he’s also a great listener too, which matters in his line of business. He’s divorced from ego, an industry rarity, and he’s able to be as close to the action as he is, without being too close to it – if that makes sense.
In other words, Liam’s not parochial, or blind to the possibilities. He welcomes them with open arms.
Given his journey – one that’s been a foot to the accelerator kind -it’s no wonder Liam is so open-minded. His brand kicked off eight years ago and that was it – Deadly Ponies was the IT Kid in all its glory from day one.
“I studied graphic design and completed a degree in visual communications – as part of this degree I completed an elective project, which involved printing illustrations on leather,” he says.
“I always liked to make things and I started to make a few pieces that we sold at a market – they sold out. During that time I was also working for Superette (fashion playground for the most devout style-seekers and those with money burning a hole in their deep pocket).
“They wanted everything I had and then a week later, it was all sold out.”
The price you pay
Deadly Ponies lives by the philosophy – one arguably embraced by its following – you get what you pay for. The pieces are designed to be an investment. I mean, they’re not going to send your bank account to a place of no return, but they don’t come cheap either.
And with good… well, even great reason. Every addition to the collection is style on steroids – it really, really is. Lovingly crafted from the finest New Zealand leather, every individual piece as handsome as its predecessor is proudly handmade by the crew.
Liam concedes however, that it did take some time for New Zealanders to find the price palatable, but the brand’s message has been strong and consistent – New Zealand designed, sourced and manufactured. No exceptions.
“The feedback we always get is that our customers see their bag, or purse, or jewellery as an investment. It was important that we could educate people about the product – that each and every bag or purse is handmade from luxury, natural and premium products and not synthetics from China.”
Speaking of which, Asia is next on the Deadly Ponies export list, with Australia and America already in the bag so to speak. “One of the major highlights for us as a team has been bumping into people half way around the world that are wearing the brand. We’ve got PR support in both the US and Australia and now we’re looking into Asia.
“We definitely want to grow, but not so much so that we’re tearing our hair out. We’re keen to look into Asia, but there are language and cultural barriers to some extent. We need to look carefully and closely at how we approach stores and how we do business with them – it’s an interesting process.”
Process is everything for Deadly Ponies – it keeps everything in check when a working week takes a turn for the crazy. “In the last week alone we’ve rolled out a guerilla store, a store within another store, worked on a new collection and looked at a possible collaboration.
Growth however, is never a given and it’s never taken for granted by Liam, particularly in light of the fashion industry’s palpable volatility and vulnerability. “One of the biggest challenges for us is to keep growing when a lot of players in the industry are literally shutting up shop.
“We focus carefully on our internal structure and work hard to build a strong team with dedicated people, but sometimes things happen that are beyond our immediate control.
“We’ve had experiences where we are just weeks away from filling an order and then suddenly one of our primary suppliers shuts up shop overnight. In that situation, we have to move fast and find someone else with the same quality product.
“Or, a manufacturer we work with might change their production cycle to cut costs and the quality slips, so we have to find someone else; this can happen right in the middle of a production run.”
In short, it’s a relentless pace and the market can be merciless. But still, Deadly Ponies continues to not only perform, but also show off in the best possible ways.
Right now the pieces in store and online are almost too hot to handle. They’re enough to drive style lovers a little mad. I mean, they’re probably not trade grandma in for the handbag type bags, but it’d be uncomfortably close. You think I’m kidding, right? Ok, I am.
To get lost in Deadly Ponies’ luxuries head over to www.deadlyponies.com