Home » What does it take to sell NZ fashion in Australia? Industry insiders weigh in

What does it take to sell NZ fashion in Australia? Industry insiders weigh in

At Australian Fashion Week this week, fashion director Dan Ahwa surveys a panel of industry insiders to ask them whether there’s still mutual benefit for our fashion industries regarding our time-honoured transtasman connection.

According to a recent New Zealand Trade and Enterprise report, around 40 per cent of New Zealand’s

This week at Australian Fashion Week, several New Zealand brands have continued to be active in the market. There are the brands that are less than 10 years old, a cohort of designers who have found a niche within a notoriously cliquey market, thanks mostly in part to the editors, stylists and media relationships they have fostered, namely Wynn Hamlyn, Harris Tapper, Maggie Marilyn and Paris Georgia.

Rory William Docherty, the only international designer to show at this year’s Australian Fashion Week, made an impact with a thoughtfully edited collection of 35 looks from his resort 2025 collection on Monday. Vogue Runway reporter Laia Garcia-Furtado described Rory’s more experimental material pieces as “grounded by his groovy take on suiting; the extra-dropped crotch pants made from swishy fabric, or the three-piece suits that looked to be straight out of the closet of A Room With A View’s George Emerson.”

Models on the runway for Kate Sylvester’s show ‘Bright Rock’ from Mercedes Australian Fashion Week 2002.

There are the designers who paved the way during those pre-digital and social media days — Kate Sylvester, Zambesi, Wallace Rose, Deadly Ponies, World — brands that had a presence on the Australian Fashion Week schedule and who established their own bricks and mortar stores, stockists and media relationships in Australia. Salasai designer Kirsha Whitcher relocated her brand from Napier to Perth in 2011, but still manages to create an aesthetic that still feels very much aligned to her Kiwi roots.

As designers reassess their core businesses this year, when it comes to the conversation around whether Australia is still an important market for New Zealand fashion, five leading Australian and New Zealand fashion insiders share their thoughts.

"New Zealand designers have a modern yet refined approach to fashion, often influenced by an appreciation and respect for the beautiful landscape around them." - Natalie Xenita. Photo / Wendell Teodoro / Getty Images.
“New Zealand designers have a modern yet refined approach to fashion, often influenced by an appreciation and respect for the beautiful landscape around them.” – Natalie Xenita. Photo / Wendell Teodoro / Getty Images.

Natalie Xenita, vice-president/managing director, IMG Fashion Events and Properties, Asia-Pacific

Natalie Xenita’s role includes overseeing everything from commercial partnerships to event production and is the IMG Fashion liaison between the Sydney offices and the company’s headquarters in New York City.

Natalie also visited New Zealand in 2023 during New Zealand Fashion Week 2023 and identified Rory William Docherty as a designer who has potential in Australia.

“Putting together an international fashion week certainly takes a village and I’m very grateful for all who play a part in bringing it to life,” says Natalie. “This Australian Fashion Week, we welcome Pandora as our inaugural Presenting Partner. I’m excited to be working alongside Pandora and very much looking forward to the closing show celebrating some of the most beloved Australian designers, with a new set that will showcase the Carriageworks runway in a way that is bound to impress.”

Rory William Docherty has been identified as a New Zealand designer with real potential in the Australian market. Photo / Nina Franova
Rory William Docherty has been identified as a New Zealand designer with real potential in the Australian market. Photo / Nina Franova

Rory William Docherty is the only New Zealand and international designer on the schedule — what was that process like identifying Rory as someone who had the potential to make an impact at AFW?

I first discovered Rory when I attended NZFW last year, and was so impressed by his immaculately crafted and effortlessly cool collection showcase. We are so thrilled to welcome him to the official Australian Fashion Week schedule. Rory’s thoughtful, fluid, and seasonless designs are sure to capture the attention of fashion lovers in Australia and around the globe.

Rory joins a long tradition of New Zealand designers who have showed at Australian Fashion Week since its inception in 1996, including Maggie Marilyn, Zambesi, Karen Walker, Deadly Ponies and Kate Sylvester, who was part of IMG’s Next Gen emerging designer programme in 1998.

What do you think makes New Zealand designers and their perspectives unique?

New Zealand designers have a modern yet refined approach to fashion, often influenced by an appreciation and respect for the beautiful landscape around them. Longevity, eco-sensibility, and sustainably conscious designs are often at the core of the collections we see coming out of New Zealand.

What advice do you have for New Zealand designers contemplating investing in the Australian market and Australian Fashion Week? How can they stand out?

Australian Fashion Week is the only international fashion trade event in the Asia-Pacific region, attracting many international buyers and media, in addition to the attention of fashion fans around the globe who are able to tune in via our digital home, Australianfashionweek.com. Australian Fashion Week provides a momentous opportunity for New Zealand designers to tap into a global platform to establish their name and brand message while not venturing too far from home.

"I feel like brands that come out of New Zealand take a little more time and care in their work because they do have to work harder to launch into bigger markets." - Kelly Müller.
“I feel like brands that come out of New Zealand take a little more time and care in their work because they do have to work harder to launch into bigger markets.” – Kelly Müller.

Kelly Müller, director, KMC

The New Zealand transplant has been working in PR and marketing for the past 18 years. Eight of those have been at her own consultancy, which offers an alternative to traditional agency models and combines brand, marketing, digital and PR to help businesses scale and grow.

Kelly’s clients are a roster of some of New Zealand’s leading brands in the fashion, beauty and lifestyle space including Marle, Raaie, La Tribe and Noa Blanket Co. She has also worked with the likes of Meg Gallagher, Father Rabbit, Nodi, Pals, Baina, SUNNUP and Bon Store.

“I am a very proud New Zealander who has happily been calling Australia home for the past 13 years,” says Kelly. “Having the opportunity to share the stories and work of fellow New Zealanders is incredibly meaningful to me and I am naturally drawn to brands from the motherland who are looking to expand and grow. Becoming a mother also changed the scope in which I personally shopped and consumed so there is also great appeal in working with female and/or family-run businesses, sustainable businesses and purpose-led businesses.”

What have been some of the key changes you’ve witnessed in your industry?

One of my first roles in PR was for an agency in Sydney. We worked with the likes of Trilogy, Nivea and Sebastian Professional and so much of what we did was about networking and relationships. Facebook for Business didn’t exist, Instagram didn’t exist. Brands were spending money on events, activations and experiences, and the relationships between media and PR were so important.

Over time, I think two key things have changed. The first is the way in which we work — in Australia, many writers are freelancers, some work remotely, others work flexible hours, as do PR and marketing teams, so the opportunity to create meaningful in-person relationships is more challenging.

The second is that the connection with customers has shifted to different channels. The introduction of social media, online stores and other digital channels has seen brands extend their reach further and faster but there’s now a lack of human connection; the physical experience between humans as much as between a customer and a brand.

Kelly Müller's clients, Noa Blanket Co’s Whakaawa and Josh Te Kani, have a point of difference that will serve them well internationally.
Kelly Müller’s clients, Noa Blanket Co’s Whakaawa and Josh Te Kani, have a point of difference that will serve them well internationally.

What makes New Zealand brands stand out in the Australian market?

Working with brands from Aotearoa feels like home to me. There is a deep understanding of the people and the path (and challenges) to success. I think New Zealand can often confuse pride and humility — a lot of Kiwis are scared to make too much noise for fear of being showy but we should be celebrating our success, however big or small they may be! I try my best to push my New Zealand brands outside their comfort zones, especially in Australia, because customers shop and communities engage in a more overt way here.

As a brand, I don’t think simply being from New Zealand or offering New Zealand-made products is enough to make you unique in this market. The longevity of a brand remains the same regardless of where you’re from or which market you’re in — what problem are you solving, what product are you creating, what service are you offering and what story are you telling? Having a strong brand and a quality product or service, supported by a great marketing strategy, is all part of the path to success.

What advice do you have for New Zealand brands wanting to connect with the Australian market?

New Zealand designers, especially in the fashion industry, have so much to offer! I feel like brands that come out of New Zealand take a little more time and care in their work because they do have to work harder to launch into bigger markets. They have to make a lasting impression from the get-go as there is a lot more competition in Australia. My advice would be to think intentionally but act quickly. Know who you are and what you believe in but don’t be too scared to test and learn.

Over the years, New Zealand brands have played a part in the Australian Fashion Week circuit, do you have any personal favourites that stand out?

I was working with P.E Nation when they debuted at Australian Fashion Week in 2016. The brand was about 6 months old and my first daughter was 8 months old — it was a wild time on both a personal and professional level! That same year, Georgia Alice was the only New Zealand brand to hold a solo show. A few months later, I accompanied P.E to LA as part of the New Designer Series for Net-A-Porter and Georgia was there as well. I loved her energy and passion, and felt really proud that alongside some of my career success with an Australian brand, a Kiwi brand was making waves at the same time too.

Jo Knight. Photo / Babiche Martens
Jo Knight. Photo / Babiche Martens

Jo Knight has been working in the fashion space for 22 years. The New Zealander, who now calls Sydney home, is the former managing director of London Fashion Week and works closely with brands to help them achieve their plans while preparing them for international markets and stockists.

Jo’s experience also includes playing a pivotal role in developing Maggie Marilyn’s early success. Preparing brands for the global stage and placing them in New York and Paris showrooms helps build momentum for New Zealand brands not only in Australia and New Zealand, but also on an international level. Supporting her is the addition of global brand manager Lucy Gill, who works out of Auckland to maintain a transtasman connection.

One of Jo Knight's clients is New Zealand label Florence & Fortitude, founded and designed by the Florence sisters, Elizabeth and Anna James.
One of Jo Knight’s clients is New Zealand label Florence & Fortitude, founded and designed by the Florence sisters, Elizabeth and Anna James.

“The pace of fashion has changed hugely, with the introduction of pre-collections mid-2000s meaning designers are pumping out ideas faster and in some instances this means creativity is diminished or concepts are less developed,” says Jo.

“The vastness of reach with brands having their own e-commerce and then social media is a totally different landscape commercially and designers now also need to be marketing experts. The mystery has somewhat been shattered with the transparency of the craft but this has also brought to light a dark side of the supply chain. All of this has built the necessity for brands to deliver so much more on every level of the industry. The global economy ebbs and flows along with the GFCs and pandemics have driven brands to be much more nimble, rules of seasons and deliveries continue to move and we see the necessity for brands to be robust through the ever-changing demands.

As a champion of New Zealand fashion in Australia, what do you think is vital for Kiwi brands to stand out in Australia right now?

Creativity is king. The market is awash with commercial brands. Don’t water down your ideas. Keep your unique handwriting sharp. Stand for something. Something that can stand the test of time. Know your customer and what she aspires to wear. Create masterpieces.

What do New Zealand brands have to offer the Australian market right now?

I love New Zealand designers and have worked with so many of our emerging designers who have gone global across the years in various capacities. Our self-deprecating characteristic as Kiwis means our ideas are well refined before they see the light of day. We strive to be authentic, so the designers we produce are genuine talents.

Essentially every brand we work with must offer something unique in the market to stand out in the sea of ideas and be built into a brand that can stand the test of time. Their design aesthetic needs to grab our attention and fuel our energy so we can share that same love with our buyers and they can then transfer this through to their customers. We have to truly see and believe that our designers love to create and have the energy to deliver beauty to their customers. Success is not always instant but for those who align with these values; it does come, they just need to have the tenacity to stick with it for the long haul.

Robyn Catinella.
Robyn Catinella.

Robyn Catinella, founder and director of Catinella

Having worked in the fashion industry for 25 years, leading fashion agent Robyn Catinella of Catinella is well-versed in the business of wholesaling, communications and PR, working and nurturing a range of New Zealand brands in the Australian market over the years including Georgia Alice, Paris Georgia, Meadowlark, Yu Mei and Cushla Whiting.

“I am all about the human behind the brand, the energy, the frequency, that spark or magic you can see it in their eyes,” says Robyn. “A curiosity, the passion, a hope, an all-knowing. I need to know if the journey is worth investing time and energy into them as a human first before considering the product.”

How has your role changed over the years?

Fashion changes daily. The role of PR, communications, branding, wholesale has dramatically altered over the past few decades. Due to the growth of the digital space and the number of brands that exist in the global marketplace, the fashion space is incredibly competitive. However, the new landscape is far more democratic than it used to be; smaller brands have a greater opportunity to communicate their vision these days through their own personal channels.

What has been your experience working with New Zealand brands? What makes them unique or stand out in the Australian market?

We have just signed and onboarded Cushla Whiting, the most incredibly talented designer — I’ve never seen a brand like it. I completely understand why it has the cult following it does. Now based in Melbourne but initially from New Zealand, Cushla’s brother and father are both gemologists and I have never seen a jewellery brand adopt architectural lines and Art Deco motifs in such a contemporary manner.

What advice do you have for New Zealand brands wanting to connect with the Australian market?

Don’t compromise your vision. It would be very easy to adapt your personal aesthetic to appeal to other markets, when in reality one could risk jeopardising your Unique Selling Point (USP). Many New Zealand brands have an appreciation for materiality and excellent fabric selection. Plus, many New Zealand brands have a strong take on tailoring, I have a Paris Georgia coat and blazer that I have had for years and both pieces are still my go-to for work and travel.

Former blogger turned editor-in-chief of Vogue China Margaret Zhang, wearing a jacket by Kiwi designer Georgia Alice, during Australian Fashion Week in 2015. Photo / Lucas Dawson.
Former blogger turned editor-in-chief of Vogue China Margaret Zhang, wearing a jacket by Kiwi designer Georgia Alice, during Australian Fashion Week in 2015. Photo / Lucas Dawson.

Over the years, New Zealand brands have played a part in the Australian Fashion Week circuit, do you have any personal favourites that stand out?

Georgia Alice. We had a formidable journey I will deeply treasure. I had just launched my business when Olivia from Muse Boutique introduced us. While I have frequented Paris on close to 60 work trips, I got to relive Paris for the first time through Georgia’s eyes on our first trip together. I remember her smelling the fabric at Dior, she hadn’t ever been in a luxury store before. These stores just were not in New Zealand. It surprised me so much at the time because her collection quality was incredible as was her tailoring. She is magic in human form.

You represent several brands that have a presence in New Zealand. What do you think these brands offer New Zealanders that feels unique to our market?

I think Australian brands, such as Christopher Esber, have an inherent sense of ease and freedom that has unique appeal both in New Zealand, as well as in the global marketplace. Many of our designers have a level of playfulness that is reflected in their clothes and contrast global designers who tend to be more rigid in their aesthetic vision.

Kate Killey with New Zealand designer Wynn Crawshaw of Wynn Hamlyn.
Kate Killey with New Zealand designer Wynn Crawshaw of Wynn Hamlyn.

Kate’s experience spans 22 years in the industry, now managing several New Zealand brands in the Australian market including Maggie Marilyn, Wynn Hamlyn, Meadowlark, Baina, Emma Lewisham and Rory William Docherty.

“Our business actually came about because of Maggie Hewitt. She approached me and asked if I would be interested in representing her on a global scale. To be completely honest, I didn’t know a huge amount about sustainability at the time, however it was always an area of interest for me. So, when we started the business, having a brand like Maggie Marilyn set us up to ensure we were working with brands who were consciously led, and knew where their product was from.”

“The biggest thing for us as an agency now is to ensure we onboard brands that don’t look and feel the same. We want each brand to have their own personal style and have a quirk to them. We cater to a wide demographic; we have resort, contemporary, designer and accessories. So our brands need to reflect this. We want to create a space for international buyers to shop in one spot for all these key categories in one go.”

What changes have you witnessed in your industry over the years?

I started my career in Australia but learned all things wholesale when I lived overseas in Sweden. I dived right into my first fashion job at Acne Studios. I didn’t know what wholesale was until I worked there. I worked at Acne when it was in the growing phase, which was an amazing opportunity. Especially being an Australian, because fashion was done very differently back then.

When I came back to Australia, I had been trained in international trade, dealing with international partners, so I’ve seen many changes on both an international and local level. I have been through two major recessions, and from that, I think a positive change has been that people really know and love Australian and New Zealand brands. There is a bigger push to support local and shop with brands that are consciously led. Buyers always love the quirky twists. I think we, Australia and New Zealand, have collectively made our mark in the industry.

What makes New Zealand brands stand out in the Australian market?

There is a real craftsmanship in Kiwi designer’s work. I do find New Zealand brands “cooler”; there is always a fashion twist to each piece, which I absolutely love.

What advice do you have for New Zealand brands wanting to connect with the Australian market?

First and foremost, designers must know what their brand identity is. They must be clear on their point of difference and how they wish to be perceived by their customer. Brand DNA is everything. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) should always be a nurtured part of a business. Once that is going, brands can then start looking to expand into the Australian market.

The Australian market is price-sensitive, so brands need to think about what they are offering that isn’t already available. You have to be able to enter with a point of difference and ensure that when you’re selling your brand, people instantly recognise your brand.

What are the key attributes any brand needs to consider when staying relevant in 2024?

Good question. It’s really hard, and it’s a tumultuous industry. The consumer is definitely not as loyal as it used to be. Brands need to always stay one step ahead. Staying true to your brand values and always, always nurturing the ‘DTC’ consumer too. Wholesale goes up and down.

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 over 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 Fashion

These New Zealand names are taking our brands global.

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