Kelly Coe – Creating a fashion empire
New Zealand fashion brand Augustine has just celebrated its 10th birthday, so we sat down for a chat with the label’s co-founder Kelly Coe who spent 10 of her most formative years in Tauranga – a place she returns to often, and where her first retail store was opened.
Reflecting on the fashion world of 2008, Kelly remembers a significantly different New Zealand. There was no Instagram or Facebook, and it was hard to get exposure to customers without having to go through wholesalers – who were having none of what Augustine was offering.
“Those early years were extremely challenging and finding anyone to believe in what we were doing was difficult. The wholesalers saw our range and told us that New Zealanders didn’t, and would never, wear our brightly-coloured clothes.”
But it was those colours which have become synonymous with a brand that Kiwi women have embraced – in droves. The Augustine by Kelly Coe Facebook page has 164,000 followers, significantly more than labels such as Trelise Cooper and Huffer, and it is something Kelly has built predominantly by herself.
“We were one of the first fashion brands to start a Facebook page, and the first to put a face to a label. Right from the beginning my husband Nathan and I were like ‘this is our business, this is me wearing my clothes,’” says Kelly.
“We made it personal and can continue to do so because I post and approve everything. A lot of the bigger fashion designers don’t run their pages, but for me, this is such an important part of Augustine.”
More than a fashion label
As the brand grew in momentum, Kelly found the direction of the business changing, as her own life followed the path of motherhood and everything that goes with raising three children. New labels were added to the Augustine umbrella, and for the past five years Nathan has also been full time on the business development side.
But one thing has always remained the same, Kelly’s designs are always influenced by what she and her customers want to wear.
“Augustine is more than a fashion label. It is about belonging to a community, and people love to feel like they are a part of what we do here.
“We are also about dressing everyday people and making them feel beautiful.”
And meeting those buying her clothes is something Kelly loves to do, often popping into the Mount Maunganui store just to chat with shoppers and find out what they are looking for. It also provides the perfect opportunity for catching up with her family, who still live in Tauranga.
Sport was a huge part of Kelly’s teenage years, and aside from many weekends playing rep volleyball and basketball, she fondly recalls days spent at Hunter’s Creek (behind Matakana Island) waterskiing with family and friends.
Today, life is a little busier with children in tow, alongside what some may call a fashion empire. But Kelly remains down-to-earth, with no real plans for world domination, instead preferring to focus on what she has right here at home.
“I think if we took our eye off the market here, we’d lose the sense of community we have worked so hard to build. So 2019 and beyond is about keeping in touch with our customers, continuing to involve them in whatever we do, and just appreciating everything we already have.”