Bricks-and-mortar retail may be in tumult, but Melbourne’s Kuwaii is not – the fashion label’s third store opened in Fitzroy in April.
“There was a time I remember people saying, ‘Your days are definitely numbered because everything’s going online’. Strangely enough that’s not been the case,” Kuwaii founder and designer Kristy Barber says. “We find our customers window shop online and then come into the store to feel the fabric, to try it on, for the experience.”
Barber started Kuwaii (a play on a Japanese word that roughly translates to a culture of cuteness, kawaii) 10 years ago to “provide an alternative to mass-produced fashion” and “to create something that was slower, simpler and more thoughtful”.
“Something that had a bit more soul,” she says. The concept of fashion with a conscience remains the label’s philosophy today.
Barber launched Kuwaii straight out of fashion school in 2008 and ran it as a wholesale business until 2011. That year she opened her Brunswick studio to the public in what she refers to as an “accidental start in retail”. A CBD store in Cathedral Arcade followed in 2014.
The new Smith Street boutique – previously the site of gift shop Shopsui – isn’t located in any sort of fashion hub: its next-door neighbour is Louisiana-inspired comfort-food spot Po’ Boy Quarter, and that’s what Barber likes about it.
Designed by Imogen Pullar at Drawing Room Architecture, Barber describes the store as a “pastel wonderland” featuring locally made furnishings and recycled materials.
“The Smith Street store is the jewel in our crown,” Barber says. “[Imogen Pullar] interpreted our collections, our colours and our textures to create this amazing space.”
By pastel Barber means pink on pink, from plywood clad in the shade, to a blush ottoman from vintage furniture store Angelucci 20th Century a few doors down. Even the change rooms have been given the pastel treatment: they have floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains in the same pink tones.
Kuwaii releases just two collections a year: a spring/summer range and an autumn/winter range. Barber produces only10 editions of each style in any collection, using offcut materials from bigger factories.
“The thing that sets us apart, I think, from most fashion brands is that everything is made locally,” Barber says. “All within 15 kilometres of our head office in Brunswick.
219 Smith Street, Fitzroy
03 9417 1586
Mon to Thu 11am–6pm