Against the Odds

Three independent retailers open beautiful stores at Commercial Bay in downtown Auckland.

Against the Odds

Three independent retailers open beautiful stores at Commercial Bay in downtown Auckland.

Tama Toki, Aotea

We didn’t set out to make skincare – it was an appreciation of my upbringing on Aotea Great Barrier Island. There was no pharmacy, so my grandparents gave me some knowledge and understanding of those old ways. 

Matauranga Māori and tenets of tikanga are the framework of the business. That’s in the pro­ducts we make on our papakainga – we grow the herbs there, too. We decided to make it all on our land – the mandate is for any benefit to return to our community. 

The opportunity here is to control how we communicate know­ledge. We have a really interesting history, and being able to tell people this in store is important.

It’s pretty flash. Everything on the island is really rustic and built from corrugated iron. So the sink is corrugated and the bench is concrete. The slab is a big bit of kauri – about 20 years ago a kauri fell off Hauturu and floated into our bay; my uncle towed it in and cut it up for the family. Being here, we had to lift things a little – but still pay homage to who we are and where we’re from.


Mike Murphy, Kōkako

I’ve wanted a CBD site for years but none of them felt right. Over time I realised we needed a intimate site, but in a high-pedestrian area.

It’s more slick than our previous stores. The small space needed to be almost like a Japanese izakaya; a warm respite with lots of natural timber juxtaposed with utilitarian stainless steel. That was inspired by visits to US coffee bars. They’re really different, way less food-focussed than New Zealand. It’s celebrating the art and science of the coffee – us being transparent at the bar. 

In February, we were aware of Covid, but it didn’t seem to be affecting New Zealand. Then our main fitout contractor went into liquidation – that put us in a pickle. We’d paid them and they owed money to our subbies who we’d known for years and then Covid happened here so we got a double whammy. If it wasn’t for the government’s leadership and a sympathetic landlord, we’d never have opened the door. 

The fitout has cost significantly more than it should have but those are the cards we’ve been dealt. It’s a relief to open – I’m excited now to go from hard hats and high vis to activations and collaborations. 


Simon Pound, Ingrid Starnes

Well, we almost made it. While Commercial Bay is decidedly not a mall, it’s the kind of ‘event retail’ that we’ve seen working around the world. The people behind the project had a vision to bring in smaller businesses with strong stories to mix with the bigger drawcard stores. 

Trying to make clothes here makes for a hard business. For us, Commercial Bay was about getting to the right scale. So we stretched, making extra stock, taking on some debt to get it going. In a very real sense we bet the house on this expansion. And then came Covid.

We were caught at full stretch, with no more rabbits to pull out of hats – and after months of being 80 percent down we couldn’t responsibly make another season. We’ll close all retail stores, with redundancies, including this beautiful one. It was built to carry our limited-edition concept, where we make clothes in units of no more than 100, numbering each as a meaningful alternative to over-production. Now the store too is limited time: three months only. 

It’s an unreal space we sit in, stunned as I’m sure we’ll look in these photos. We’re so sorry to the community around the business and the team we’ve let down. We will see through this period and reset into some new model to carry on our values and hopes and Ingrid’s composed, refined, thoughtful designs. We’re just a small story in all the change brought about by Covid. A moment caught in this beautiful space. But there we are.

Ingrid Starnes

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