Twenty Years On: Superette Co-Founder Rickie Dee On Success, COVID and the Trend She Doesn't Want Back
As Aotearoa's retail juggernaut Superette marks its 20th year, co-founder Rickie Dee reflects on how the country's fashion landscape has changed — and how it's stayed the same.
May 27, 2022
As 21-year-olds opening the doors to an industrial concept store filled with hand-picked labels of the early 2000s, Superette co-founders Ricki Dee and James Rigden weren't thinking about 20 years down the track. They were barely thinking about 20 weeks.
"I don't think when we were 21-year-olds opening the Drake Street store did we ever think we'd be here in 20 years' time," Dee told Concrete Playground this week from Superette's Takapuna HQ.
"It's not because we doubted what we were doing, but more so we were living in that day-to-day. It was literally: 'how are we making today work?'"
This month marks two decades since the first Superette store was opened on Drake Street in Auckland's CBD in 2002. Painted with the help of their friends, the store housed a cafe, alongside fashion brands hand-selected by the pair.
Remembering back on that time, Dee says: "it makes me feel old!"
"But at the same time, super proud of where we've built the business. I do think we're better at planning now - we're better at looking past just the day!"
Stores carrying multiple brands are common now. Mecca, Sephora, Flo and Frankie — these can all be found in any upmarket shopping mall. But Dee says their opening was a "unique concept" for Auckland back in 2002.
"When we first opened there were hardly — if any — multi branded stores. My parents lived in Belgium. James and I had gone to see them and it was a very European concept, this idea of shopping as an experience. That was the inspiration – even having the cafe in store, so people wanted to chill and relax and hang out with us," she said.
"Fast forward to now, it's just so important in retail concepts to have that full experience, because customers want that now — rather than just being there to buy."
THE BIG SICK
Superette now has eight brick and mortar stores around the country and employs over 150 staff across the business. In the last 20 years, Dee has been forced to make some big calls and learned some even bigger lessons. The major challenge, of course, has been the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, which wiped out in-person retail business for months and created an online shopping boom across the country as New Zealanders sought serotonin fixes by clicking 'add to cart'.
While COVID caused its challenges and headaches, Dee says the decades beforehand had given her some preparation to face it.
"Growing and building a business creates challenges all the time — it's about learning from those mistakes, driving the business forward and not pondering on that challenge for too long," she said.
"But COVID was one of the biggest – every day was a different scenario we had to face and we had to change pretty much overnight how we were running the entire business. And it was about keeping that income coming in but also supporting our team who were going through something really challenging in their lives... we'd get into a good groove get into a pattern and then there would be something new and we'd have to change.
"But I think a lot of good things have come from COVID. You know it brought our teams a lot closer together, the vibe in our office is incredible — everyone loves being together and collaborating off the back of it. And the first day we opened back up after lockdown it was such a cool feeling to have customers come into the store and have a yarn — and touch things!"
THE NEXT TWENTY
All birthdays are a time for reflection. But Dee says even two decades on, it's remarkable how little the brand has changed — even as it's grown into one of the juggernauts of Aotearoa's fashion landscape.
"As it's 'birthday month', we were looking back at the archives and imagery templates we were using in our very first stores and a lot of them are still in the business today," she said.
So what are the big lessons along the way as the business moves into its 'adult years', so to speak?
"I don't think you can ever stop learning in a business so I don't regret anything – it's all a life lesson. Now we're so lucky to have an amazing team around us compared to 20 years ago, when it was me, James and a person making coffee. We had to do it all and scrape our way through it," she said.
"Now we can hire people who are super skilled and learn from them. With the right people around you have a business that is really cranking, so I'm super proud of our stores and our team — and really proud of how we've stayed true to our roots."
Arguably one of the biggest changes across the fashion landscape at present is the demand of more conscious consumers, as shoppers start shopping for more eco-friendly, sustainable options.
Dee says they're seeing it directly from customers, "because the consumer now is doing a lot more research and being exposed to a lot more concepts around sustainability".
"It's on our radar and in each of our teams, we are working on sustainability initiatives whether that's branding, in-house production— its certainly a journey and not something we can change overnight," she reflects. "But it's being wary about what we're buying and putting the pressure back on our suppliers — making sure they're aware that we're conscious as to what product we're purchasing."
Customers, Dee says, can do their bit by avoiding "diving into certain trends, [and instead] investing in pieces that will last through the seasons".
So what pieces should everyone invest in, and keep in their wardrobes for, say, the next two decades?
"I would say a good blazer, a trench and a couple of really great pairs of jeans. You can dress them up or down — wear them to work and then head out into the night," she recommends.
And one trend from the last 20 years she really, really doesn't want to see back on the shelves of her stores?
"I don't really regret any trends we did because we were just so into them at the time. I would say…we did use to stock Von Dutch trucker caps with all the badges and things going on. That I'd probably leave," she laughs.
Superette first opened on Auckland's Drake Street in 2002, and now has eight stores as well as an online offering. To celebrate its 20th-anniversary, Superette will be releasing a capsule collection in stores around the country. For more information, head to the official website.