Way back in 1987, before recycling and secondhand shops were cool, two intrepid Auckland sisters set up a pre-loved designer clothing and accessories store on Parnell Road.
Thirty-five years later, Nu to U is still there selling high-end goods with owner, Emily-Jane Dasent, behind the desk most days. Emily-Jane bought the shop from one of the original sisters in 2017. Just as it’s always been at Nu to U, she knows the names of her regular customers, and glad to direct patrons to the alterations business next door so clients can take potential purchases that aren't quite the perfect fit for advice before they buy. It’s a glimpse of how clothing boutiques used to be – right down to the price point which is often substantially less than the original RRP.
“We all love to feel that we’re getting value for our money,” Emily-Jane notes, “and never more so than at this point in time.”
But it isn’t just value that makes the shop so popular, it’s the impeccable calibre of designer threads that come through the store.
“We only accept high-end national and international labels, in tip-top condition,” says Emily-Jane. “International brands include Chanel, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, IRO, Zadig & Voltaire, and national brands include World, Juliette Hogan,Zambesi, Kate Sylvester, Gregory, and Trelise Cooper.”
The gorgeous pieces are all intricately made items that deserve a new, loving home. And the recycled fashion movement, of which Nu to U was an early pioneer, is an intersection of high fashion and sustainability that just makes sense.
Emily-Jane is passionate about the premise: “The movement takes fashion that is no longer loved by its previous owner and passes it on to be loved again. That fashion piece re-enters a new phase of its life and as a recycler we extend the life of that piece.
“I think most of us are aware that fast fashion is just not sustainable. Fashion industry waste fills our landfills, drastically contributing to climate change. We have to change our mindset and I think as a society we’re starting to make some inroads there.”
And the people of Parnell and beyond seem to agree for Emily- Jane has never had to actively seek stock. “The wonderful women of Parnell and beyond just come in every season with the most amazing items and entrust us to sell them. It's a privilege to do this on their behalf. It just comes rolling in, and every year the stock seems to be more amazing.”
She estimates that a whopping 70% of her suppliers are repeat clients, with most of the sellers having chosen Nu to U as their reseller since 2017 and before. Little wonder, when the clothes are taken care of with reverence, then when the sales cycle ends, they touch base with the consignor to allow them to collect their items. Nothing is ever donated to charity without ample opportunity for the consignor to take back their pieces.
“I had a client today who told me that her mum shopped with Nu to U 20 years ago which was very special for me,” she says. “It shows that shopping at Nu to U is intergenerational! How cool is that?”
Not only with sellers, but with buyers, too. The racks of Nu to U have seen some heart-melting interactions over the years between people brought together by beautiful things.
“There was one young schoolgirl who came into the shop with her mother looking for a ball dress,” says Emily-Jane. “We found her a labelled dress and she went into the changing room in her school uniform as a young girl and came out as a stunning young woman. The dress looked amazing on her and we all stood there, jaws dropping.”
As the NZ exclusive distributor of an upcycled brand called Heartspeak Worldwide (from which proceeds go towards helping ex-incarcerated women), Emily-Jane sold a piece with COURAGE written on the back to a client who had recently lost someone special to her: “We talked and cried about what it meantto her. It was such a deeply touching moment that I will cherish.”
With all the special and unique pieces coming through the shop, she tries to find the story behind the pieces: where was it bought, what was the owner doing when she purchased it, and where it was worn – one lucky Rag + Bone fedora had even been to Coachella!
The shop has certainly played its part in plenty of fascinating stories too, and in a way, that’s part of its purpose. “We jokingly call the shop ‘retail plus therapy’,” says Emily-Jane. “So many clients pop in for a chat to let us know what’s going on in their lives, the good and bad, the joyous and sad. It's taught me the value of community, especially after Covid and the wonderful support we’ve received from the women of Parnell. I like to think of Nu to U as people empowering other people, offering a kind word or encouragement when needed. The shop is an extension of my own home where friends pop in for a chat. We like to believe that we make a difference in people's lives, both to their wardrobe and their welfare.
“I love the little things. For example, a client came in the other day to ask what length her new trousers should be hemmed to – she wanted to look on point. So, we had a chat and a laugh and sorted that out. I love the banter and the laughs. People bring their dogs in, their babies, and occasionally, even a husband!”
The shop is a pillar of the community in a way not many stores are anymore. It’s a place for fabulous, deliciously affordable fashion, but also a place to chat and bond. It has evolved over the years, with an online consignor portal, an e-commerce site offering Afterpay and PayPal, and of course Instagram andFacebook pages too.
But these conveniences haven’t altered the way that this shop is something very special that you don’t come across very often anymore.
So, what’s next for Nu to U? “We will keep doing what we do best: providing women with fabulous designer clothes at a fraction of the original price,” says Emily-Jane. “We plan to grow our online business and amp things up on our socials. I’d love to expand on the recycling ethos, and include other items –more bags, jewellery and maybe even furniture.
“The options are limitless and recycling really is the way of the future.”