In 1989, from out of nowhere, came a bold fashion brand that would shake the establishment and make a name for itself worldwide. Twenty-seven years later WORLD’s star shines brighter than ever.
It started with a casual remark while sitting at a bus stop in Auckland’s Queen Street. It was early 1989, but for Francis Hooper and Denise L’Estrange-Corbet it still seems like yesterday.
“We were both working in the fashion industry, and getting frustrated, so Francis suggested we open our own store,” recalls Denise. “It was just a flip remark, but the more he thought about it, the more he liked it.”
Denise was less convinced. Neither had any business experience or business-owning families to fall back on. It would require a huge leap of faith.
“I originally said I’d have to think about it, and would get back to him. I had $200 to my name and didn’t fancy losing it!
“Obviously, after much thought about what I would do if I lost my $200, I did agree.
“To this day he still ribs me about it; the fact that I had to THINK about such a great offer! But I guess that’s because I’m not as big a risk taker. For Francis it has always been about the idea. He does not want to know the cost!"
The couple pooled $400, took a lease on a small High Street shop in Auckland and opened in May 1989. It was just a few days after their wedding, and the beginning of WORLD.
Twenty-seven years later, now with three Auckland stores, one in Wellington, Christchurch, and from October, Queenstown, the list of milestones for WORLD and its directors is too long to contemplate.
There was the Benson & Hedges Avant Garde Award in 1995 for their origami dress – now on display in the Auckland Museum.
There have been successes at many of the world’s leading fashion events – Hong Kong, London, Melbourne, Paris, to name just a few – as well as numerous person achievements. Both Francis and Denise have met the Dalai Lama and were invited to hear an address by the Pope.
In 2002 Denise became the first New Zealand female fashion designer to receive an MNZM from the Queen for services to fashion design. Francis received the same honour, in 2014, after first being told to remove his trademark pom-pom hat!
Launching WORLDbeauty in 2008 was another landmark in the brand’s journey.
But amongst the steady stream of accolades over the years, there have also been opportunities to support the community. For example, in 2007 WORLD created a range of children’s t-shirts, with $5 from every sale going to the Starship Foundation. A staggering $225,000 was raised in just six weeks!
Naturally, in 27 years the retail fashion industry has changed considerably, with the more recent shift to online sales a major factor. Setting up bricks and mortar stores in offshore markets is no longer the best strategy for global sales. This is why WORLD’s online marketing strategy is now so vital to the brand’s success.
Department stores are due for a shake-up too when it comes to fashion, believes Denise, as more brands open standalone stores.
“The only way is for department stores to have designers make ranges solely for them,” she believes. “I dislike most department stores’ layouts and merchandising. Being leaders, we decided to sell only through our own stores, selected boutiques that understand our ethos, and directly to customers internationally with our ‘virtual’ online store.”
Today, as always, Denise, Francis and WORLD’s third designer and director Benny Castles, are committed to making all their garment collections locally. It’s all about offering the best of design, fabrics and manufacturing, explains Denise. And that carries over to their beauty products, which are sourced overseas.
“We travel the world constantly sourcing beauty products and items that are luxurious and have a history of quality. If it carries a WORLD label or is sold through our stores, then it is of the best quality.”
As for opening new stores, Denise says they’re in no hurry. “We’ll wait until the right shop or building comes along. Our latest Queenstown venture was more than two years in the making. “If we cannot get what we want, we do not compromise – that’s what our brand is about, the best or nothing.”
Looking back it’s hard not to compare how things used to be with today’s technology-driven business environment. “When we started we’d call people and write letters. Now I cannot remember how we managed without computers!” says Denise. “And every fashion brand nowadays thinks they need a PR company. Makes me laugh.
“In 1989, $100 a week was a lot for rent but you could start a brand on very little,” she says. “Having said that, since we started we’ve watched so many brands fall – brands that were once huge, like Peppertree and Thornton Hall.
“We were this tiny, undercapitalised brand going against everything everyone else did. I suppose that’s what was needed at that time.”
Opening a store today is incredibly expensive, admits Denise. “But if you really want it, you make it work.
“You take risks, you listen to your gut feeling, and you carve your own road. Don’t follow the route everyone
else is taking.
"That makes a true star; that is a history maker.”