Welcome to the first installment of a brand new series about independent businesses and their owners. This week, Natasha talks shop with Oamaru-based Livvi Kwant from Nanna Bangles.
“Why buy new?” asks Olivia (‘Livvi ‘to her friends) Kwant, proprietress of Nanna Bangles, a vintage curiosities shop housed in an old heritage building (the Catto Building) in Oamaru.
“I hope to be an evangelist of vintage and secondhand because its so underrated or people have weird perceptions,” she says.
The lifelong history freak opened her doors a year ago, inspired by her love of op shops.
Based in Oamuru’s revamped historical Victorian precinct, Kwant’s boutique operates under a sustainable ethos and proudly stocks a range of a mix of old and new wares including New Zealand-made designer clothing, books, toys, souvenirs/ kiwiana and homewares as well as quirky items of interest made by local craftspeople.
But quality preloved clothing is by far her biggest seller.
Named in affectionate homage to her grandmother- the real Nanna Bangles was Kwant’s maternal grandmother Dorothy. She was originally dubbed ‘Nanna Bangles and Beads’ and the moniker was abbreviated to ‘Nanna Bangle’s over time.
“I feel quite an affinity with Nanna B, so it was only fitting to keep her spirit alive by naming the shop after her,” she says.
Want to learn more about Nanna Bangles (the store!)– read on!
How did the idea for your business come about?
Every now and then I would catch myself thinking that I would love to have a shop, but I just kept working at my office job because I enjoyed it and saw a career stretching before me…
Were you selling online or at markets before you made the plunge into opening a bricks and mortar store?
I actually forgot about this fact – I briefly did a stint at a ‘Youth Market’ in Christchurch post-quake. Some of the market stalls were on empty lots outside the red zone in the CBD. If you were under 25, your stall was free (i.e. no fee).
I also have spent the weekend with my aunt at her market stall at the Manderley Festival, on a yearly basis for quite some time. This experience has been valuable to my business.
How difficult was it to achieve your vision?
For the most part, I have not found anything too difficult. The hardest part was waiting for the Trust (Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust manage the building(s) I rent for the shop) to come back to me with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You handed your application in, business plans and other information, and then the Trust would review your application and vote on whether they wanted you as a tenant. It’s an historic part of town so they have certain variables to consider.
Then I decided I needed a bigger space, so I applied to request to transfer my tenancy to a larger shop. So twice I have had to wait for their meeting to find out whether I was successful or not. I just had to remind myself that there was nothing I could do but wait, and needn’t get too worried about which way it would go.
What products or services do you provide?
I sell mainly vintage and second-hand items, with a few quirky featured products that actually consist of new items by New Zealand makers and artists on the side.
Where do you source your products from?
The majority of my stock is found at local garage sales and op-shops. Sometimes I go further afield than Oamaru. The featured products (new stuff) that I stock come from around New Zealand, but also through Redbubble who print my art onto products. I have had a couple of commission pieces (textile art wall hangings), one hangs in a local cafe.
How do you mainly promote and market yourself?
Mainly through Facebook. I have curated a brand around the business name, and share interesting articles (etc.) from the page as well.
Most days I also post an outfit of the day photo, detailing where I got each piece of clothing, plus any brand or other info. The main purpose of this is to show people what can be done with a second-hand wardrobe. It’s about sustainable fashion, and combating fast fashion and mass production.
What are your best sellers and why?
When I started the shop, I stocked up on all types of second-hand vintage products (as well as some New Zealand made) on an even footing. After having the shop for a short while, it was very evident that quality clothing was my best seller (I have a graph for this).
I think this is because people appreciate the eye with which I choose my pieces by, as well as keeping prices affordable. Another popular product is engraved ‘Feminist Pencil Packs’ by Emma Makes. This is a product that has drawn a lot of locals in.
Can you describe the aesthetic you try to achieve with your interior/ window display etc?
I named my business after a nickname my cousin dubbed my maternal grandmother, Nanna Bangles (formerly ‘Nanna Bangles and Beads’). So, my aesthetic is mainly meant to look like a grandmother’s house. It’s a mix of eras really, meant to stir nostalgia in as many people as possible. One thing that grandmas have in common, is they all like a quality item.
What kind of vibe do you try and create by using music/ light etc.?
I’ve got my radio station set to Magic FM (and sometimes The Sound, for a change), as most of these clothes will enjoy hearing this music again.
Describe a typical day.
Sleeping in (except for Saturdays for garage sales)! I conveniently open my shop at 10 a.m. on weekdays and 10:30 a.m. on weekends. There really is rarely anyone around much before then.
Once I have opened the doors and put my mannequins out on the street, it’s straight to the café conveniently located two doors down from me!
On my days off I usually have trips to opshops and the post shop planned, any other errands I need to do for the shop.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a small, independent business?
Thankfully I am in a very small town so I am sure it’s quite different to having a shop in a city setting. My shop is located in our Victorian Precinct which means I get a lot of tourist foot traffic AND the rent is rather affordable which helps. Many locals don’t come down to The Precinct often, however, so I’m currently spreading the word to more locals that I’m here. I am also striving to receive more reviews, both on Facebook and Trip Advisor (the vast majority don’t bother doing this).
What do you find the most satisfying about what you do?
I really enjoy being able to help someone find something they’re after. If they really want it and I’m able to help them with that, it’s an awesome feeling, to see the smiles on their faces.
Being situated in Oamaru means I get to meet tourists from all over the world. One lady who bought something last summer returned to London, but is excited to be able to head back to New Zealand this year and she really looks forward to coming to my shop again. It’s always awesome when someone loves what you do!
The other is just the fact that I’ve been able to turn something I loved doing in my own time, into a way of earning a living.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned since being in business?
There will always be people that don’t get ‘it’. Some people walk in and know straight away this isn’t their kind of thing. I hope to be an evangelist of vintage and second hand because they’re so underrated or people have weird perceptions.
What did you do before going into business?
I moved to Oamaru after I finished university, as I managed to get a job at the Waitaki District Council almost straight away. My Dad was working at Council and my cousin is the curator at the museum here, so there wasn’t much of a question about whether I’d take it.
The job was running WDC’s EDRMS (Electronic Document and Records Management System), SharePoint. I basically classified and built the system from the ground up. I also had some involvement in hard copy files and archives.
I have a health condition that was exacerbated by the stress of being under-resourced (among other things). I was at the point where I couldn’t keep working full time, even though they were super understanding and flexible… I was about to apply for the sickness benefit when I heard how affordable the rent was down here, so I figured I’d give it a shot!
What are your hopes and dreams for the store?
I would love to have a massive space, haha. Give me any size shop and I could probably fill it! I just moved into a store twice the size of my first site so I should probably not be thinking about growing bigger just yet…
How do you see the future of retail?
Business owners really need to be open to different ways of doing business. I know many of the shops down in Harbour Street have trouble over winter, but through selling online (mainly through Facebook) I’ve actually not had a bad winter at all. Our season is largely tourism-driven so it’s a bit different in that respect.
I’ve recently printed loyalty cards on the back of my business cards, so I hope that will help encourage return customers. I’ll basically try anything I can think of.
Do you sell online as well as maintaining a bricks and mortar store?
As above, I definitely would have had a quiet winter without the help of online sales. I’m really digging selling through Facebook groups at the moment. Some items need a bigger audience (e.g. the vintage wool travel rug I recently sold for $400).