Rachael Caughley started her Wellington boutique Caughley in 2015 – and hasn’t looked back.
We speak to Rachael about her fashion background, how she picked up the nerve to start her store, and what advice she’d give to others who are thinking of taking a similar path. Plus, we ask her to put on her buyer hat to share insider tips on what she thinks we should all be buying this season. Get ready to jot down notes!
Can you tell us a bit about your background/experience and what led you to be where you are now?
While I was studying in Dunedin I had a part-time job working on the shop floor at Slick Willys and that’s where it all began. I loved working there and helping find clothes that made women feel great and confident. After I finished my studies, I worked in Shanghai helping western brands like Cambridge Satchel Company and Bellroy wallets sell on tmall, a subsidiary of the internet giant Alibaba. While I was working over there, I just wanted to be back on the shop floor, talking to Kiwi women about beautiful clothes and finding the perfect outfit to make them feel great. So I moved home to Wellington in 2015 and figured I should be on my own shop floor, that’s when I opened Caughley.
Four years down the track, what has been the biggest learning you’ve had?
I’ve learnt a lot! When I first started out I had all these brands ask me to stock their collections and I’d feel sorry for them, so I’d just say yes. Obviously feeling sorry for a brand is not the reason they should be in store. Over time I’ve got better at saying no. I’ve learnt to back myself and my decisions, and I’ve learnt what margin and turnover mean. Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first opened the store. I came into it purely because I love fashion and I love people. Even though I have a Bachelor of Commerce, I’ve still had to learn the business and buying side along the way. You can’t just enjoy clothing and people without making sure business side of things is sorted – they go hand and hand when running a business.
What do you love most about your job?
My customers are the best part about my job. They’re fun, interesting, unique, sometimes self-conscious and they are all beautiful people, it’s such a privilege being just a tiny part of their lives.
How do you stay on the pulse with all the latest and greatest designers and brands?
Obviously, I inherently love fashion so I naturally gravitate towards any Instagram pages that are associated with fashion. I’m always reading local and international fashion magazines, plus I’m a big fan of the Business of Fashion app.
How do your buying trips work? How often are you doing those or does someone else go on your behalf? What are you looking out for each time?
I travel to Paris every year in June. It’s the most beautiful time to go because the weather is still great and I always look forward to it. I take Sue who I do my buying with and my Mum also comes along. They are very hectic trips! I go to keep relationships with my key international brands, Ganni and Hope, and to find new brands with beautiful fabrics, great fits and a point of difference. The whole time I am there, I am constantly thinking about my customers.
What are your three favourite things in the store right now?
The red and pink bias-cut blouse from Wynn Hamlyn, ‘Charlotte Jean’ by Citizens of Humanity, and the ‘Never look back’ Maggie Marilyn knit. They’re all divine pieces.
What is the one thing currently in store that you think everyone should own?
A stateside t-shirt. They are the best t-shirts in terms of feel and cut. They’re made in LA and we are the only stockist of them in New Zealand. You can’t beat the perfect tee – it can take you anywhere.
Which brands or designers would you love to stock in Caughley in future?
I actually love all my brands and I feel very lucky with my current brand list. I love having Ganni, Wynn, Georgia Alice (I used to dream of stocking that label) and I love having Maggie Marilyn and Hope. If I had to choose one, it would probably be Ksubi. It’s probably not a brand you’d expect from what we currently stock at Caughley, because it’s more mainstream and grunge but when I was a teenager I wore that brand and I still want to wear it now.
You’ve branched out into designing your own pieces – can you tell us a bit more about what this collection is inspired by, who it’s for and what you’ve learned from designing it?
It’s inspired by being on the shop floor and talking with my customers about what they want – it’s designed for them. After being so nervous producing my first ever winter coat last year, we sold out in the first 10 days. That really taught me to back myself. I think I have a unique opportunity to design pieces that are perfect for my customers because I literally talk with them every day. I’m really enjoying developing our own brand of clothing and we are working on new pieces for next year.
Who is your style hero or icon?
It’s always changing but I love Emanuelle Alt and Geraldine Saglio. I also love what Mira Duma wears.
What would we find inside your handbag?
My favourite pen, it’s a beautiful Hexomatic Retro 1951 pen and it’s the best. My fave Aladdin x MAC lipstick, Chanel nail polish, two pairs of sunglasses, and a stray earring.
Where are your favourite places to shop in NZ or beyond?
I like to buy from someone I like. Prak at Precinct 35, Celia at Vessel, David and Clint at Bello. Overseas, Le Bonne Marche is probably my favourite along with the Hermes store in Paris.
Are you inspired by any blogs or Instagram accounts when it comes to style, lifestyle, interiors?
Locally I love following Georgia Currie’s Instagram. Her baby Earl is the cutest and no one does a jeans, blazer, t-shirt look better than GA. Some other favourites of mine are Architectural Digest, The Selby and The Socialite Family. I love real interiors that have personality.
What was your last purchase?
A Wynn Hamlyn partner blazer.
What is the one item you are currently coveting?
A Derek Henderson photograph in the latest exhibition at Precinct 35 and the Maggie Marilyn halter neck melon dress.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
My favorite quote is, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” It’s by Winston Churchill and I think it’s a great reminder to stay on an even keel and forge your way forward.
How do you relax away from work?
Bush walks or just any kind of walking either around Wellington or getting away somewhere in New Zealand. I love going to my Grandma’s farm at Lake Okareka and walking to the trig with my boyfriend. It’s the highest point on the farm and on a clear day you can see seven lakes from the top. It’s pretty spectacular.
What’s next for Caughley? Anything exciting in the pipeline?
We are constantly adjusting our brand mix, to make sure it is always exciting and interesting. I want everyone to be happily surprised when they walk in the door with an edit of known and unknown designers. I’m excited to design some more pieces myself and I also think it’s time for a bit of a refit in the space. The list is long, I think you need to keep changing, keep evolving, keep being inspired and keep learning from what’s happening around you. It’s a very exciting time for Caughley so watch this space!