Martina (left) and Sunny are enjoying rolling out the SLOW concept store.
Sally Connor talks to two entrepreneurial women introducing the concept of slowing down and appreciating quality to a town hell-bent on action and adventure.
Modern life sure moves fast. It can often feel like our days are measured not by the sun and the seasons, but by how many requests to store cookies (not the good kind) we’ve received today, or the number of pointless notifications we’ve dismissed. Mindfulness, gratitude diaries, meditation apps and yoga retreats offer brief respite, but they can’t stop life moving at a rapid scroll rather than an easy flow.
One multi-talented Kiwi duo are so committed to the idea of a more chilled-out existence, they’ve created a bricks-and-mortar concept store simply called SLOW. They’re so committed, in fact, that they’ve trademarked the name.
“It was surprising to find no one else had done it,” says Martina Blanchard, the creative vision behind the new Queenstown store. “But that was my first move. Our lawyer was concerned that ‘slow’ is too generic!”
Former FQ editor Sally-Ann Mullin (left) with Beck Wadworth at the opening of SLOW in Queenstown.
“But it also describes the fact that good things do take a lot of time,” chimes in her business partner Sunny Wehrle. “It’s such a final, strong name, and it described everything.”
The ‘everything’ she’s referring to is the SLOW concept, which encompasses sustainable fashion, Scandinavian design, an experiential Danish coffee space and an art gallery, as well as an extensive online store. But for Martina and Sunny, slowness isn’t just a quick buck. It’s a way of life, a community and a journey that started in sleepy Muriwai on Auckland’s west coast.
“But for Martina and Sunny, slowness isn’t just a quick buck. It’s a way of life, a community and a journey…”
“Muriwai is a really unique place,” says Sunny. “Everyone’s got their own stuff happening and there’s only one shop, so everyone works from home or commutes to the city. It’s like everyone’s on holiday all the time because that environment is so special.”
Raising kids within this creative community brought Sunny and Martina together, and the two quickly realised they had a lot in common – from a shared sense of style to circuitous career paths. Sunny went from accountancy in Tauranga to retail and hospitality in Sydney and back to run her own wholesale agency business representing brands such as Pony Rider and Palm Beach Collection. Czech-born Martina has worked in hospitality, music production and management, and studied a dizzying array of subjects.
“When I moved to New Zealand, I went on a bit of a study journey,” she says. “I studied hospo and business, then creative arts at AUT, then event management at AUT as well. Then I had a shift in perception about what’s important in life so I went to study environmental studies and sociology. After that I became a mum, then about a year ago, I started to do interior design.”
A decision to trade the beaches of Muriwai for the frosty slopes of Queenstown with her husband and twin daughters proved to be a major catalyst for this creative mum.
“My interior design service was just starting to get going in Auckland, so I thought I’d better open a store here in Queenstown. My original plan was to combine an interior design service with selling homewares. But once we moved, I was really drawn to being part of what’s happening in the town. I thought, we can’t just do homewares because the locals don’t shop in the town for things like that. There’s lots of development happening, there’s a big Kmart outlet going up, so I started to rethink the strategy. I thought, if I’m to be in town, the space will need to be something really special.”
Instead of just sticking to her lane and opening yet another homewares store, Martina took her inspiration from Queenstown, an increasingly international hub that’s established itself as the gateway to Aotearoa’s southern wilderness. The idea of an experience, rather than a simple shop, started to take shape in her mind.
“The café idea came because I found a space with a mezzanine level, so I had to think, what can I put up there that will make people want to climb stairs? We came up with the idea of a bookstore, gallery and café upstairs, with retail at the bottom. That space didn’t end up happening, but the idea stuck.”
Martina’s original approach was to offer products with an ethos of sustainability, transparency, quality craftsmanship and natural materials. As a fan of Scandinavian craft and design, she felt that looking to that part of the world was a natural fit for these values.
“We looked for brands that are not available here so we can bring something new and enrich the New Zealand market,” she says. “The clothing part and the café were added but the ethos stayed the same. The message is: buy once, buy right.”
It was around this point that Martina enlisted Sunny to help with establishing SLOW as a real nexus of international design. As the project got bigger and more ambitious, the pair made contact with brands such as FRAMA (Denmark), Norwegian Rain (Norway), Aiayu (Denmark), Not Only White (Netherlands), Ladies and Gentlemen Studio (NYC) Monastery (San Francisco) and Binu Binu (South Korea).
Then, after searching for four months, the stars aligned and the right space was finally found. SLOW suddenly needed to move very quickly. Sunny moved down to Queenstown with her family in September 2018 and joined the frantic rush to get this ambitious project off the ground. But why the hurry?
Martina is a keen astrologist who looks to the heavens for clues about where her path lies. She identified 30 October 2018 as a highly auspicious date and set SLOW’s online opening according, with the concept store opening on 18 November.
“Astrology gives me a way to listen to my intuition and feel confident that what I’m doing is correct,” she says. “It’s about knowing how energy is flowing for you in terms of when is a good time to take flight, or when to take it easy. I did my chart and saw this year was the year for me to take flight. For Sunny, because she is a Sagittarius rising, she’s got Jupiter – the largest, most happy, most beneficial planet – coming into her sign next year. So we are nicely aligned.”
This mix of business nous, intuition and a good dose of fun infuses this formidable friendship, and in talking to Martina and Sunny, it’s hard to imagine a better team to sell the slow lifestyle to notoriously slap-dash, ‘she’ll-be-right’ Kiwis.
“In terms of our partnership, we’ve got our strengths and experience. But we’ve got really similar taste and are always bouncing ideas off each other,” says Sunny. “We dress similarly, too! We’ve been embarrassed a couple of times in town, by dressing the same.”
Sunny thinks Kiwis and overseas visitors alike will be very impressed by the SLOW experience.
“The interior layout is amazing,” she says. “The floating sculptural railings that are that custom-made for the clothing create an open space, the customised Bolia centrepiece that sits in between the coffee studio and the clothing, the STO plaster on the walls, it’s all beautiful. We have created a gallery of products grouped by theme and function into dedicated stations where you can spend time exploring and trying them. SLOW is a concept store, but it also has meaning – we wanted to go further and strive to create balance between the retail and informal realms to heighten sensory experience. We want people to feel really comfortable and really welcome, with friendly service.”
“The fact that our café is experiential is different, too,” adds Martina. “You’re becoming part of the process of getting the coffee in front of you. In the end, with all these details combined, the result is going to be something really special.”
Even though Martina and Sunny have a strong brand and an alluring concept already worked out, they’re open to further evolution once SLOW is open and out in the world. They’ve also built further growth into their business by establishing themselves as the distributor for FRAMA coffee and apothecary in New Zealand, as well as the contractor for FRAMA kitchens.
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@muutodesign Cover chair echoing the sentiments of Scandinavian craftsmanship 👌🏻 available for purchase from our showroom or online ✔️ also featuring Corky carafe, Ambit pendant and Table top #queenstownshopping #slowinteriorstudio #queenstown #scandinaviandesign #permanentdesign #craftsmanship
And as if that wasn’t already enough, they are busy lining up local and international artists to exhibit in the gallery, opening up further opportunities for collaboration.
The secret of great retail is that it isn’t about the product – at the end of the day, it’s people who make shops such unique places to be, and it’s the reason why we don’t all just stay indoors and shop online. Venturing into a space that’s been designed and built by people, and buying products that started life as an idea in someone’s head, will always be a thrilling experience. And at SLOW, the humanity in each and every product, whether its journey started in Copenhagen, Seoul or San Franciso, is what makes this business special.