Op-ed: So, it turns out some people don’t like change

One month since the relaunch of FashioNZ, publisher Murray Bevan shares his thoughts on swimming naked

For a trillion dollar global industry whose entire business model relies on this notion of constant reinvention, fashion people like the way things are, thank you very much.

I started fashion marketing agency Showroom 22 when I was 22 (hence the name) and my reception into the world of New Zealand fashion was as awkward then as it was a month ago when I relaunched FashioNZ with a lean team of writers and a very talented and bold editor with a huge ego.

Older women in fashion didn’t like me back in 2002, a young man, pitching them stories about dresses and female fashion trends, but soon warmed to it when I proved to them that I could make their lives easier, and also pay for a courier to ship their samples at least one way of a two leg journey, even though back then fashion editors had company cars and petrol cards. Not so much nowadays.

My humble, 75 sqm showroom on level 3 of the Canterbury Arcade building slowly became a hive of activity. So much so that over 12 years I changed offices three times in the same building, eventually joining two spaces together on the 4th floor, trialing a content creation studio (Klikk Studio) and launching a talent agency (Milk and Honey Management). Showroom 22 has outgrown another two spaces since.

Throughout this time I learned that I genuinely loved our local fashion community. Friends I made in those early years are still friends now, and they have helped shape and drive the industry forward in so many ways. Dan Ahwa, Zoe Walker, Dan Gosling, Tatum Savage, Kiekie Stanners, Imogen O’Neill, Georgie Clatworthy, Lily Montana, Sammy Salsa, Atip Wananuruks, Rachael and the late, great Grant Fell at Black magazine, Karen Inderbitzen-Waller, Karlya Smith, Marina Didovich, Lucy Slight and many more.

Our local independent media scene is also worth mentioning here. It’s incredibly strong and, by and large, very supportive. Remix, Denizen, FQ, Viva, Island, Together Journal, Mindfood, Here, Homestyle, M2 Woman. And the original indie print titles: Karen, Pulp, Pavement, Black. The list goes on and on. In my 21 years of managing Showroom 22, I’ve been excited to come to work every day and contribute what I can.

Over those 21 years I’ve also learned that I’m not afraid to try new things, going against the grain of my dad who flew commercial airliners for 33 years: the epitome of trust, reliability and sticking to the plan. I really don’t know where I got my risky streak from.

Media is, after all, extremely volatile. In 2020 the tap was turned off, with publishing houses closing down dozens of magazines, and laying off hundreds of staff. Covid wasn’t the first event that threatened to derail our local media scene. As someone who has a vested interest in seeing local media thrive, I once threw my hat in the ring to buy a title that was close to shuttering and, to my surprise (no, really) I discovered that they had never printed anywhere near what their seasonal print run stated they did on the media kit, meaning their readership was also horribly out of whack.

I couldn’t believe it. How could we have been duped this hard by a magazine that was so trusted and so popular? Advertisers had spent thousands backing this title every year on the premise that their content was reaching a fake audience.  Is this the norm?  Personally, I don’t think our local media make up their stats.  But if it is the norm, all I can hope is that there’s a reckoning where advertisers will demand more transparency from media and we’ll all just need to come clean with analytics. As Warren Buffet said, “Only when the tide goes out do you learn who has been swimming naked”.

With digital media, we have nowhere to hide when it comes to divulging our readership.

When we rebranded, redesigned and relaunched FashioNZ back on August 14, 2023, the daily traffic beat any other day in its history since Google Analytics began recording data for the site in 2016. We didn’t include competitions in our weekly content plan (traditionally, competitions have been the most popular traffic driver on the site), and instead lead with articles that were full of ideas and opinion. Our new ethos is to support any fashion or beauty brand that has a presence in Aotearoa. The data says readers love it.

That didn’t stop a small and very vocal group of detractors from coming after us online, saying we’d taken a huge dump on the ‘legacy’ of the brand. What brand? FashioNZ has been the last cab off the local media rank for years now, so it was a genuine surprise to me that anyone even cared. Anyway, they did, and they were very loud about it. All I can say is thanks for visiting the site and making it the biggest day in our history.

There were a great many more to offer their immediate and, in several cases, practical support, and I really should be celebrating them: Simon Farrell-Green at Here and Simon and Henry at Metro were very quick off the mark to send congratulations and encouragement and offer their limited resources to the cause. Rosie Herdman at Broadsheet and Zeenat Wilkinson at Sauce, too. And then there were friends, old and new, who just got it: Karen Walker, Tim Blanks, Kathryn Wilson, Rebecca Lawson, Dame Pieter Stewart, Feroz Ali. All have said, in one way or another, you’re doing a good thing. Focus on yourself.

And so, some self-congratulation. Tall poppy be damned:

  • In our first four weeks, overall monthly page views topped 40,000, up 26% YOY compared to 2022 and up 25% YOY compared to 2021.
  • Our home page visits for August/September 2023 are up 172% YOY compared to 2021, and up 216% YOY compared to 2022.
  • Gender breakdown has become more balanced, with 28% male and 72% female now compared to August 2021, when the audience was 81% female.
  • We’ve also moved mountains when it comes to the age of our readers. Back in August 2021, FashioNZ’s most dominant age group was 65+, and now the largest audience comes from the 25-34 year-old age bracket.
  • All of our most popular content across the last month has been pure editorial, too, whereas in 2021 and 2022 the top-performing stories across any period were competitions.

Our readers are truly engaging with what we do, in larger numbers than ever.

So, where to from here? you might ask. Or, who cares? you might ask. Both good questions. The main reason I bought FashioNZ was that it contains an archive of 25 years of New Zealand fashion history, and I strongly believed that this deserved to be saved. I literally had no idea what I was going to do with it, but no one else wanted it. That was the reality: the site had become so passive that the industry was happy to watch it die. Maybe it will. Ask me in a year.

But maybe it won’t. Maybe we’ll capture the attention of a new audience who wants to cut through the clutter. Maybe we’ll try and fail. Maybe we’ll launch a line of merchandise using quotes from our hate mail to drive revenue. Whatever we do, we’ll have fun. Fashion isn’t meant to be tedious and sad, it’s meant to uplift and offer escapism and joy. It’s hard work, and we work hard, but at the end of the day if you’re not doing it for the right reasons, and remembering to enjoy the ride, then what’s the point?