Az James has built a career working alongside artists, helping to develop and design exhibition experiences as creative director and owner of Workshop E – so it’s fitting that the Hundertwasser Art Centre would play a part in her relocation back to her hometown of Whangārei in 2022.

In December, she opened creative workshop and concept store Collecte in a space a short walk from the Hundertwasser. “It’s an incredibly brave piece of architecture and shows amazing courage within the community,” James tells Broadsheet. The opening of the art centre at the beginning of last year has had a huge impact on Whangārei, she says. “We wanted to be a part of this and hope Collecte will encourage creativity within the community as well.”

Collecte’s interior is simple with white floor-to-ceiling curtains, exposed beams and monochromatic furnishings. A seven-metre-wide lightbox across the front of the building acts as a statement separator, dividing the shop from the workspaces.

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“We wanted something really simple and really beautiful. We didn’t want it to be super flashy because it had to be welcoming for our clientele,” says James.

James’s daughter, Meghan James-Brown, has her own emerging label, James Brown – which was also a driving force behind the venture. Having just finished fashion school, the young designer was set to kick off her career by launching James Brown at New Zealand Fashion Week in 2020. But Covid-19 led to sweeping cancellations, which have had – and are still having – a huge impact on young creatives, says James.

“It made me assess how we can better support creatives, and seeing as this was something I was thinking about for a while it made sense. I wanted to do something that I was interested in and that Meghan was interested in.”

Collecte’s racks are filled with clothing by New Zealand designers including Wellington-based Jimmy D and J Palm, Dunedin’s Company of Strangers, Auckland label Mina and, of course, James Brown.

Each maker James stocks works with a thoughtful, sustainable ethos – and this extends to the jewellery, accessories and homewares that line the shelves, too. Find vases, plates and cups by Canterbury potter Richard Beauchamp, bowls and tumblers by Auckland glass blower Matthew Hall, and a couple of Japanese designers, including Sori Yanagi, known for their beautiful, design-focused homewares.

“I’ve never been a massive shopper but I know where I like to go, who to go to [for the] best experience, and what designers speak to what I value,” says James. “I choose things and designers that I love because if we love what we’re offering, we can share stories about designers with customers – and everyone wins.”

57A Walton Street, Whangārei

Wed to Sat 10am–4pm