BLAK, which was launched by Mount Maunganui based designer Teresa Hodges in 2007, has firmly established itself as a brand to watch in New Zealand. Known for its feminine silhouettes and popular bridesmaid offering, the brand has gained an impressive following with stockists across the country. Zara Overton caught up with the founder and designer to talk fashion, the brand, social media and their Osborne Street store.
N. Where do you look to for inspiration when designing a collection?
It comes from a multitude of perspectives. In the beginning a theme is created, helping to direct the collection as a whole and create a feeling, tying it all together. I look to the previous collection and what our customers’ loved most. I think about how I can re-work these pieces to create new designs from the most loved aspects of them. Fabric is a huge part of my inspiration, once I have discovered my fabrics, textures and colours of the season my mind is opened to all the styles that could be created and brought to life. A favoured fabric can take the range in a whole new direction.
N. Under the label BLAK sit sub-labels BLAK BASICS, BLAK LOVE and BLAK LUXE. How have these diffusion lines added to the wider BLAK experience? How do they differ?
Our diffusion lines have been added as we have gone along our journey of growth and expansion, allowing us to add more variety for our customers. It is also a great way for me, when designing, to ensure each area of our customers’ needs are met. Each collection has a different feeling and purpose, for example LUXE is about pushing design limits, creating special pieces in the most beautiful fabrications, LOVE is everyday styles you can easily grab and know they will work for a multitude of areas in your life, BASICS is casual comfy cool, aka your essentials! Then our latest addition is Bridesmaids, this has been such a special and personal addition to our ranges – we feel so honoured being able to be a part of one of the most important days in our customers’ lives!
N. When you are designing for BLAK, are you designing for anyone in particular? If so, who?
Yes, I am always creating with the BLAK customer in mind. She is the type of woman who is confident, classic, and likes to wear something special, yet in her own unique way. The BLAK customer likes no fuss simplistic styles, but with a stand out aspect. Fabrications and fit must be perfect for her, ensuring when she puts on a BLAK piece she feels amazing and as though it can take her anywhere!
N. What are some key trends that we can expect to see in store this season at BLAK?
White and neutral tones! It’s time to take a really fresh approach to your wardrobe, linens, cottons, light colours, pinstripes and florals. More form fitting, and tailored styles are coming through but there’s always room for a loose-fit cotton midi dress in the mix. Wide leg rompers with blazers, ruffles and sleeve details, paired back but with a little fuss! We like simple paired with feature pieces!
N. Can you tell us a bit about the BLAK Bridesmaid collection?
Our bridesmaids collection has become a huge aspect of the company now. We have brides travel from all over the country to our Newmarket store for this collection; we also often have Skype calls with UK, US and Australian brides to help them fulfil their wedding dreams. It’s so flattering. The way we have set up the collection is that brides can create and tailor their look in a multitude of ways; styles, colours, fabrications, there is even a custom colour option. I feel the most important part is that we are able to work to the bride and bridesmaid’s individual styles, and incorporate the theme of the day. The bridesmaids are such a big part of the overall event, and we want to make sure their dresses are perfect for our brides.
N. How do you juggle the demands of being a mother with running a business?
I feel so fortunate to have both, and regularly remind myself of this. It’s incredible to be able to run a successful business and at the same time raise children. Kyah, 13 and Indie, 8 get to see Mum every day doing what she loves and hopefully it inspires them to work hard and follow their passions. I also work alongside my husband Ben, it’s a true family business and we are so grateful for the flexibility it can give us – plus the added support and understanding. One of the best parts about running a business is that I can go to their school and sporting events one day and the next be overseas shooting a new season campaign. It is the best of both worlds.
N. In an increasingly digitised world, brands are able to connect with consumers from a variety of different touch points, however it has also meant more competition for bricks and mortar stores. How has social media and technology changed the way you do business?
I love that it opens us up to be able to showcase our brand in different ways to our customers, and beyond. The ‘bricks and mortar’ provides us with an important intimate encounter that we could never lose to online shopping, while social media inspires our customers to see pieces in different ways than they may have imagined. Sometimes we have ‘social media’ customers who direct message us and ask questions about the products they’ve seen, which gives us a connection with those who otherwise we might not have met; it also allows us to reach more, and do it quickly. Though, like I said, nothing quite compares to an in store shopping experience with our lovely BLAK stylists.
N. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced building your own brand and running your business?
Growing faster than we can keep up with. With growth comes new ways for a company to structure itself and new systems for employees. Growing faster than expected meant it was hard to find the time to put best practices in place, meaning we all felt like we were run off our feet for a bit! It’s now time to focus on ensuring time is taken to figure out, and implement, the best systems for current and future growth.
N. What is one piece of advice you wish you’d known ten years ago?
Focus on what makes the biggest difference in business rather than trying to do it all.
N. What are your 5 wardrobe essentials?
A blazer paired with wide leg pants and midi dresses are my go-to! This season, my two favourite dresses are the Rosebud Dress in Ivory and the Elusive Dress in Black; two very different styles, with my pick depending on the mood for the day! They’re usually styled with a pair of flat points or white sneakers by Chaos & Harmony (stocked in our Newmarket BLAK store). You also can’t go wrong with an on-trend billowed sleeve top like our Mercy teamed with jeans for the weekends.
N. What has been your best fashion investment?
Starting BLAK, investment pieces for life.
N. And your worst?
I bought a pair of leather pants which I thought I would be able to pull off….I couldn’t quite bring myself to ever wear them.
N. Favourite piece from BLAK?
Currently, the Game Changer Blazer and Frame Pant in matching white with a thin black pin stripe through it; instant boss lady outfit.
N. It’s 10am on a Sunday morning, where will we find you and what are you doing?
I have been up the Mount with a friend, followed by breakfast in the sunshine in front of the beach to wind down. Then it’s off to watch my daughter’s football; we have children that are involved with Saturday and Sunday sports so often our weekends are filled with the children’s priorities, a nice contrast to the weekdays.
N. What is next for BLAK?
Expansion! We will be increasing what we can offer for our customers; first up we will be doing more pop-up bridal spaces in the South Island to help make it easier for our customers that are far from our stores. We are also starting to think about increasing our Newmarket space, we are already outgrowing the area we have.