New Zealand’s boutique fashion label “Stolen Girlfriends Club” has in a decade created a niche of its own, spiralling the brand into global stardom. Josh Berry catches up with Marc Moore and Dan Gosling, two of the directors behind its creative vision.
There is an aura of creative nous as I approach the address of 31 Crummer Road, Ponsonby. Vibrant street art adorns the slanted walls of a neglected construction site, and the bitter tinge of barista brewed coffee lingers below the grey clouds of a dully-lit weekday morning.
At the front entrance sits a sleek new Mini Paceman. With a second-glance, I register the oriental-orchid and hand-grenade print embellishing the vehicle’s exterior as the latest designer print released by the label, a tradition incorporated with the release of each new seasonal line.
The rustic bi-fold doors adorning the facade of the building exude an ounce of cheek, much like the underlying tone of the brand’s rules, which encompass youthful rebellion spirit, a healthy sense of humour and the ability to entertain and empower.
I squeeze through the narrow doorway entering a showroom filled with garments. A large rectangular mirror occupies the centre of the room, amplifying the room’s bareness, and my thought’s also, as I reassure myself I have turned up on the right day. My nerves are relieved as a staff member appears out of a doorway to my right.
She guides me through the doorway, leaving behind the rustic interior brick walls of the sterile show room and into the vibrantly lit creative hub of the club headquarters.
The workspace and its adjacent rooms buzz with life, a stark contrast from the still showroom. Staff scurry about pressing garments while a sound system beside a café-sized espresso machine fills the air with hip-hop flavoured melodies.
Seated at a shared desk behind glaring computer screens two-thirds of the creative genius behind the brand sit attentively.
In a red-checked tartan shirt matched with black pants and heavy boots, Marc Moore greets me. His face lights up when I agree to try one of his flat whites, a skill attained from a spell as a professional barista. I hold him to his word as he ducks behind the espresso machine, his long black locks and beard occasionally popping up to produce cheeky banter.
“You’re gonna have to write about this coffee, Josh – It’s pretty fucking good,” he says amid flumes of steam.
In contrary fashion, a weary-eyed Dan Gosling offers a gentle handshake as we take a seat in a room brandishing the creative beginnings of next summer’s line. Donned in black, he sits down steadily. It turns out he has returned from the USA the night before, his presence in the office reflective of the tireless work ethic required with a manic form of drudgery.
The club’s third and final director, Luke Harwood, has been based in New York City for the last few years. However, his absence is made up for through the efforts of a tight-knit team working around the clock.
Stolen Girlfriends Club, the brainchild of the three friends, has become somewhat of a household name since its inception in 2005. With no formal training, they set out to fill a void in the clothing market.
Their bustling personalities and presence about town soon boosted them into the limelight; with their ability to throw a ripping party and/or fashion show, they were an instant hit.
Moore and Gosling hold humble regard, however, for the brand that has transformed their lives from laidback surfers and athletes to high-end fashion designers.
“At the time we kind of wanted to start our own clothing label purely just to make things that we couldn’t find out in the market,” Moore says.
“Just that typical cliché thing, you know, the reason that most designers start a label.”
With no real sense of where they were heading, the trio began producing printed t-shirts, a trend that was beginning to blow-up internationally.
“That’s why we started and we didn’t have any goal from the get go – it was just at that point in time wanting to do something creative and, secondly, to create something we really wanted to wear and were really proud of,” Moore says.
“It just so happened to be a bunch of t-shirts, shitty jeans and a few jewellery pieces which we still have in the range today.”
Humour is heavily incorporated into the labels ethos. And it is easy to see why. Moore and Gosling are skilled in the art of being interviewed, taking advantage of any chance to contribute a laugh – a characteristic from their days as innocent, ambitious, free-spirited kids.
“We’ve always had a bit of humour in the brand,” Gosling says.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously – we’re not pretending that we are the amazing pattern makers you know, we’re creating stuff that we wanna wear.”
But creating a mid-to high end clothing label from the ground up doesn’t happen overnight, contrasting pathways taken by Moore and Gosling a clear indicator of their disparate youth.
Moore grew up in the sleepy seaside town of Raglan. Situated on the North Island’s West Coast, around 40 minutes drive from Hamilton, the area is renowned for its world-class surfing point breaks: Manu Bay, Whale Bay and Indicators.
Raised by a solo mum, he never had the luxury of developing a relationship with his father, the late Marc Hunter, former singer of rock band Dragon. Instead, he embraced the small-town vibe and flourished in the riches of surfing the quality waves Raglan had on offer.
“It keeps you humble when you grow up in a small town – I think that’s a really good thing and I like that about the small towns,” Moore says.
“The minute you think you might be better than someone you’ll get knocked down pretty quickly – even in the surfing days, if you were doing really well, you’d still be super humble about it.”
Moore took to surfing from a young age, with aspirations to become a pro-surfer. However, one obstacle stood in his way.
“I hated school. I was a bastard at school, it was horrible, I just didn’t want to be there,” he says of his days spent at Raglan Area School.
“I used to wag all the time and go surfing – I always hung out with the wrong people too, hung out with the hood-rats, which was not good.”
Despite this he put in enough work to pass fifth form, which was enough for him to move onto something new.
“I had fun though! I just passed School C [School Certificate] in fifth form, like, got pretty much 50’s for everything,” he says.
“But in sixth form I fell off, and then just went to work in surfboard factories and surf as much as possible.”
From here Moore leapt at opportunities given to him as new doors opened within the surf scene. His surfing taking him to new heights as sponsors took him onboard.
“I always wanted to be a pro-surfer. That was my dream growing up in Raglan, I wanted to make money out of surfing,” he says.
The realisation of how small New Zealand’s surfing scene was became apparent to Moore early on.
“I saw a lot of the older guys who have had heaps of success in their careers who were like best in New Zealand or whatever, and they were just driving shit-box cars and renting houses,” Moore says.
“As I got a bit older I was like ‘hey maybe that’s not what I want, you know’ – I wanted to be comfortable when I was older and have a good lifestyle.
“I always knew there was probably something else out there for me and I wasn’t afraid of a nine-to-five job ,but I knew it sort of had to be something semi-creative.”
With this turning point, Moore began exploring his creative side through painting. He also took on sales-marketing and design input with “Town & Country” before taking on a brand manager role for “Insight”. By contrast, Gosling was raised in the suburb of Devonport in Auckland. Here he was surrounded by tight-knit family and friends, allowing him the freedom to develop as an all-rounder in both school and sport.
“My parents encouraged me and, not only that, they let me do everything,” he says.
“I would be outside all of the time with the ball you know, just doing something – no computers in those days maaate,” he says cheekily.
Gosling thrived in the school-yard environment, his passion for taking on opportunities leading him, post-school, into a distribution job.
“I loved school, I loved sports and I had good grades, plus a good group of friends, so I enjoyed it,” he says. “I was friends with a guy called Dave England. He had a snowboard company and asked if I wanted to come do [distribution] and I’d just finished school so was like, ‘yeah why not give this a whirl’.”
“That’s how it started – I had no idea what I was doing, just kind of jumped into it.”
This allowed him to further his education at Auckland University where he attained a double-degree in marketing and international business. He also tackled business opportunities abroad. But becoming a “suit” wasn’t his idea of a fulfilling career.
“I went to London and lived there and worked there wearing, like, a three-piece suit and stuff to work (he erupts with laughter) then came back to NZ and my parents were, like, you need to get a proper job,” he says.
“But that was what I didn’t want to do, and I knew that ,so I stumbled onto something that I wanted to do.”
Through their joint passion of surfing Moore, Gosling and Harwood came together embracing the relaxed atmosphere and pleasures that surfing offered.
“Surfing’s what brought Luke and I together, we surfed contests together year after year and travelled around New Zealand doing the circuit and stuff and became really good friends,” Moore says.
“We grew up on opposite coasts which was always quite fun, just taking the piss out of each other – East is least, West is best!”
Harwood grew up in Whangamata, a small town on the East Coast of the Coromandel. Here he developed a friendship with Gosling, whose family had a bach on the beach. The three met through each other and summers spent surfing the “Whanga bar” and Coromandel beaches.
This was the catalyst for things to come.
The Stolen Girlfriends Club name came about through an art exhibition Moore produced for his first solo-exhibition. It was the title and theme for the art-show which included a collection of 12 works all painted under the same theme – Stolen Girlfriends Club.
“I had this idea of a gang that would steal (rescue) girls out of shitty relationships, quite romantic…..or perhaps idealistic,” Moore says.
“People really loved the name of the art-show so, when we started creating clothes, it seemed the perfect name for the brand.”
When the three got together to start the clothing line, the name fitted well with the themes and ideals they wished to portray.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The success of the “Stolen” trio can largely be put down to their contrasting personalities. The characteristics, traits and talents they each possess complement their individual creative instincts.
Moore’s creative vibes, Gosling’s business nous, and Harwood’s background in client relationship, sales and marketing, meant all the boxes were ticked for the start-up.
And things are looking bright for the future. They’ve just previewed their Spring 2013 line at a catwalk show. Titled “Nasty Goreng”, the line features oriental designs merged with military themes, as well as the creation of a “Death Moth” print.
“We always have, like, two opposing themes in our collection – we hope that both of them in the middle somewhere will create juxtaposition, something a little new,” Moore says.
“So for this line we’ve gone oriental and military; originally it was Asian hooker, but don’t tell anyone, ha.”
They have also stepped up a worldwide presence with an androgynous diffusion line released through Urban Outfitters titled “The Fates”. The name was taken from the first ever collection released by the club in 2005. The threat of cannibalising their mainline is a worry, but the decision to go ahead evolved primarily out of experimentation.
“We just want to build it up to the point where it’s running itself,” Gosling says.
“We want to see how big we can get it, aye – I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, I’ve thought about,” Moore says.
“Even if I was doing nothing and retired, I reckon I’d get bored; even if I was going surfing everyday and it was perfect everyday, I’d need something more.”
Diversification is also something being taken on board with the guys forming side-projects to keep busy.
“Yeah, Dan’s doing a bit of weed dealing on the side ha (jokes),” Moore remarks with a grin.
Gosling has four businesses, which keep him busy with fashion and surfing distribution, to name a few. He also has a young family to add to the hectic lifestyle.
“You gotta keep on moving,” he says.
“You want something done, you ask a busy person to do it,” Moore asserts.
Moore, along with pal Steve Dunstan, has formed a DJing duo called “People of Paris”, although it has been a hobby more than anything else.
“The late nights don’t work well with working all day,” he says.
“But that’s more of a release though, it’s kind of fun – we do Rhythm and Vines and that sort of stuff.”
Harwood has taken advantage of New Zealand’s reputable coffee culture by setting up a coffee shop in New York City. Named the “Happy Bones Café”, he had noticed a trend of over-priced coffee in The Big Apple, which also lacked quality. He went to great lengths looking for a decent barista, before head-hunting the barista from his favourite Ponsonby Road cafe.
It seems hard work does pay off in the frantic world of fashion design. This is more than true in the circumstances of Stolen Girlfriends Club. However, it is the creative minds and instinct behind the brand that have brought it to where it is today.
“We were so naive – and I think that’s probably what helped us at the start,” Moore says.
“We had no expectations – no expectations and no limitations, it’s amazing what you can create from nothing when you’re thinking like that.”
It is this kind of talent and thinking that is influencing future generations of New Zealanders. In a world saturated with expectations, pressure to excel and to conform, the guys at Stolen Girlfriends Club have paved the way for alternate and contemporary thinking.
“I think there is a lot of pressure on young people these days to get out there and get a job,” Moore says.
“But you can actually just go through the motions and try your hand at a few different things and, if it doesn’t work out it’s all good – just keep working out what you don’t want to do and it will be bring you closer to realise what you do want to do.”
“I don’t sit in the design room pinning garments on a mannequin and getting on the sewing machine whipping it up.
“I couldn’t sew to save my life you know!”