We chat with co-owner Liberty Fox, about life running a retail business and team, her favourite Nelson haunts, and her new favourite Saben piece.
Tell us in a couple of sentences about Trouble & Fox, who’s the Trouble & Who’s the Fox – how did Nelsons most fun-filled independent boutique come to be?
My husband Craig and I launched Trouble & Fox all the way back in 2010. We’re a boutique store tucked away in Bank Lane just off the main street, stocking an eclectic mix of fashion, accessories and gifts from local and international designers. I’m the Trouble, he’s the Fox (as in Craig Fox – and these days I’m a Fox too!)
Craig is from South Africa, and I am from Australia and we met overseas working winter ski seasons in the USA. My parents are kiwis, and moved from Australia back to NZ, eventually ending up in Nelson, which is what brought us here.
When we first moved to Nelson, we found an old vintage children’s book in an op shop in Golden Bay called ‘Trouble the Fox’ and that’s what lead us to the name. We were young, fresh off the plane from working winter snow seasons overseas and looking for our next adventure. We both had limited-to-no experience in retail, but enjoyed fashion, were interested in running our own business and liked the idea of having our own little shop full of cool things, so decided to give it a go! 😅
What was the founding dream, question or idea running through your minds as you conceptualized T&F?
Trouble & Fox was ultimately inspired the stores Craig and I had experienced on our travels and those we’d grown up with - and wanting to bring some of that to Nelson!
Craig is originally from Johannesburg, and after growing up in the 90s with 3 older siblings, he developed a strong sense of personal style, mixing streetwear with vintage finds. It’s such a melting pot of cultures over there and the fashion scene is incredible. So cosmopolitan and rich in colour and texture. We’ve been back a couple of times and I’m always blown away. The way people express themselves through style is very forward and just next level!
I grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and there were a few local boutiques along the esplanade in Mooloolaba where I spent many weekends, and all my pocket money.
They had a coastal, laid-back vibe and were such a treasure trove of interesting pieces and independent designers. I would usually be chipping away at something on lay-by so became somewhat of a 'regular' and on first-name basis with the staff, which when you're 16 felt a little bit ‘cool’!
After high school I went on to study Visual Arts at university in Brisbane, which opened my world to city life, angsty art-school fashion and some really interesting stores tucked away down hidden lanes and side streets.
Years later when we were living in the USA, I spent a weekend near the beach in California and stumbled upon a great little boutique where I fell in love with everything. The girl working there was so chatty, friendly, and helpful! It stocked a colourful mix of pieces from all sorts of genres, and lots of fun gifty things too to keep you lingering even longer. Most of them were mid-priced, so the store felt ‘accessible’ and in reach.
These stores were edgy and different, but warm and welcoming, and fun - like you’d want to be friends with the people that worked there! They didn’t feel intimidating and museum-like, as boutiques sometimes can.
When we first arrived in Nelson, although there were some awesome independent stores, we noticed there wasn't much that sat between the high street and the higher-end boutiques - and we couldn’t find some of our favourite NZ & international labels available locally.
So, we set out to create a space that would essentially fill that gap in the market – bringing together an eclectic handpicked mix of fashion and accessories, with a smaller, relaxed, family-owned vibe and top-notch, local, service.
It’s been more than 10 years now, how has the business evolved over that decade? Any mantras will you be practicing in store for the coming season?
Wow, so much! We were just kids when we started the store. I was only 24!
Neither of us had much experience in retail other than a few part-time jobs, so we basically just stumbled our way through, learning as we went. We started with a small handful of brands that were willing to give us a go, and things just organically grew from there!
A key chapter of our story was also the menswear store ‘Sidecar’ that we ran next door to Trouble & Fox for about 8 years from 2012 - 2020. Soon after we launched Trouble, we began to outgrow our original space, and a bigger one became available next door. So we moved Trouble over and turned the old space into a menswear store!
We learned so much about retail during this time and having the two ‘his and hers’ stores side-by-side was a big part of our brand identity.
People would find us down our little lane, and you’d have couples trying things on in each store with staff and customers running back and forth between the two.
This was Craig’s ‘biz baby’ and we had some great times and fond memories, but unfortunately made the tough call to close it down shortly after our own babies (and Covid) came along…
It took a lot of inner soul searching to let that side of the business go, but after a crazy 2020 welcoming our second babe during lockdown, and navigating through everything that followed, it was all getting a bit too much and something had to give! We took a good look at ourselves and what was important to us and decided to simplify things to concentrate our energies on Trouble & Fox and allow us to spend more time as a family.
The retail landscape has also evolved a lot over the last decade and particularly post-pandemic. Customer shopping habits have changed, and obviously the shift towards online and social channels has been huge. Instagram wasn’t even a thing when we first opened!
I think it takes a lot more work these days to generate sales and keep customers engaged, and at times it can be quite overwhelming as a small business owner to ‘wear all the hats’.
The most important mantra for me over the years has been to “stay in my own lane”, focus on what we’re doing and try to stay true to our initial vision. It’s of course important to remain flexible, to grow and pivot when needed – but it can be easy to compare yourself to others or get confused by too many conflicting opinions and lose sight of what you’re doing, so I find this message often helps keep me on track.
Since streamlining our business model, Trouble and Fox has really blossomed though and it’s been exciting to enter this next phase. We’ve acquired some great new brands that we’re really pumped about (hello, Saben!) and last year the store got a wee facelift with a renovation and shiny new re-brand. We’ve got a great team of awesome wahine around us too which we’re so grateful for (basically running things while we’re running after the kids!), and we’re all looking forward to another busy summer ahead.
With business comes challenge, what has been the biggest learning curve?
Being a parent and running a business! I still haven’t quite figured that one out yet. I saw a quote somewhere - “You’re expected to parent like you don’t have to work, and work like you don’t have to parent”. I certainly feel the pull and guilt in both directions, the juggle is real!
What do you love most about the store?
You can’t beat Trouble in summer!
The days are long and sunny, and there's a real buzz in Nelson as a wave of friends, family, students and tourists return for the holidays, shuttling between the beach and the streets. It reminds me a lot of where I grew up.
I think Summer would also have to be my favourite in terms of collections - our racks are full of fun and colour and we’re all stocked up with gifty goodness!
I love working on the floor at this time of year, it’s such a good vibe. Nelson’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone, and a visit to Trouble can often turn into quite the social occasion, with friends and families bumping into each other or popping in to see us for a chat.
When we were working with our graphic designer about the mood we wanted to evoke with the rebrand, I immediately thought of the store in summertime.
There’s always such a great energy around the holiday season and I think it’s where we really see our vision for Trouble & Fox come alive.
Perks of being in biz with your husband?
It’s been pretty special to be able to work together all these years, and although it certainly has its challenges, we somehow manage to make it work.
I am creatively minded, as well as little more highly strung with way too many tabs open, but thrive on the hustle. Craig is more calm, level-headed and methodical and great with numbers. We each have our own strengths and seem to balance each other out.
Pre-kids, it worked really well with the two stores. Craig ran the menswear side of the business, and I ran the womens - but they were both under the same umbrella so we would share things like accounting and marketing. We each had our own zones and space to do things our way, but could also lean on each other where we needed to.
Now with just one store, and a young family, the dynamic has certainly changed. We’re still in it together, but our roles have shuffled slightly. Craig takes care of all the accounts, payroll and a lot of backend admin and also does the bulk of the day-to-day running around with the kids. I oversee all the buying, marketing and general store operations.
Living, parenting and working together, whilst still trying find time to maintain a relationship is a lot!
But it has its benefits, and we’re on an awesome journey together. We’re obviously able to be more flexible with each other and perhaps more ‘honest’ than a traditional business partner. We’re striving towards the same goals, and we ‘get’ what each other is going through - not only at work, but also at home - so can support each other and tackle things as a team.
Upon entering the store, there’s an undeniable sense of fun, you’re instantly made to feel welcome by the team behind the brand. Is cultivating an inclusive culture something that’s important to you and Craig?
Absolutely! From the beginning we’ve always strived to create a relaxed environment with a local, friendly feel - and try to connect with our customers and community on a personal level.
The benefit of being a smaller, independently owned store is that we can remain hands-on and go the extra mile for our customers. Delivering exceptional customer service is very important to us and we try to make shopping with us a personalised experience.
Little touches like remembering someone’s name and what they bought last time, facilitating special order requests and being flexible with our policies where we can. In fact, most of our close friends in Nelson started as customers! We also extend this online too - such as including handwritten notes with every order.
Being more inclusive with our product range is something we’re continually working towards and there’s always going to be room for improvement. It’s hard to be everything to everyone and there are many variables to consider, but we try to buy with a broad demographic in mind.
Looking back over the last decade we feel so lucky to have been embraced by the Nelson community. We’ve really felt the love and support after the turbulence of Covid and it’s important for us to give back. After postponing the initial Saben X Fleur Woods launch due to the recent Nelson floods, it was so great to team up with Fleur on a fundraiser and help out on a local level!
Being our newest Nelson stockist, we’re in good company with some top notch NZ brands. Talk us through your buying process. Do you buy with your head or your heart?
Both! After a decade in retail I should have it down to a science, but it’s still what takes up most of my time and energy.
Most of our apparel buying is done about 3 - 6 months in advance, and being a multi-brand store, there’s so many moving parts that have to fit together – style selection, budget, delivery timeframes etc. It’s a bit like working on a 1000 pce puzzle while staring into a crystal ball!
We’ve had long-standing relationships with many of our brands which does take out some of the guesswork, but collections and trends are everchanging, so it’s not always so straightforward.
In terms of acquiring new brands there are many factors we consider such as design, price-point, sustainability, brand awareness - and I’m also making an effort to work with more NZ-based labels where possible. Obviously aesthetic is an important part of the equation, but it’s not all about what I like personally. I look at whether it’s the right fit for the store and our customer, and how it will sit alongside our other labels.
Each order usually starts with viewing collection samples in person with a sales rep or via Zoom or catalogue. I’ll make quick notes about what I’m drawn to, or what might have sold well for us in the past, or suggestions for the designer.
Next I’ll start drafting the order and tallying up to see where things are at in terms of unit quantities, cost and budget, cross checking alongside sales reports from previous periods and other forward orders to make sure we’re on track.
Lastly, I’ll start narrowing things down and make adjustments before final submission. This is the tricky part! Adding things, removing things, trying to strike the right balance between securing enough stock for the season and selling through.
After a decade of trial and error, you start to get a feel for what’s going to work and what’s not. But there’s always a few wildcards and I still often get it wrong!
You obviously have an eye for great brands (see what we did there). What was it about Saben that caught your eye (soz, I did it again).
Saben’s aesthetic is classic, refined and luxe, but I love that you’re not afraid to have fun with a little colour, texture and bling - just like us! Saben is also an established NZ brand, women-led and known for its quality and design, so really it was a no-brainer!
There’s something in the water in Nelson and it appears to be talent. From musicians to photographers to embroidery artists, you’ve worked with some mega talented locals. What was it about the Fleur Woods collaboration pieces that piqued your interest??
I’ve already been a big fan of Fleur Woods’ work for some time and have a couple of her gorgeous prints hanging at home. I think the Soul Sisters eye design was a beautiful choice to feature in the collab and is signature Fleur, but will also resonate with those who are new to her work. The collaboration itself is also inspiring and empowering, bringing the work of two local creative women together, celebrating each other’s craft.
How would you describe your style?
Eclectic! I don’t really like to pigeonhole myself into any particular genre. Some days I feel more feminine or playful, other days more masculine and grungy. I love to experiment with colour and print. I must admit since becoming a Mum I’ve got a bit lazier (busier!) and tend to go for comfort and function over style, but generally no rules!
What pieces are currently on high rotation?
Through winter, Commoners knitwear, either Rollas or Abrand jeans and my Dr Marten Chelsea Boots have been a staple. I’ve also got a great denim jacket from Paloma Wool that helps to tie a lot of outfits together.
Weirdly enough, despite having many amazing pieces to choose from in store, I’ve never been a much of a jewellery girl - but have recently picked up a few everyday essentials from NZ labels Meadowlark and Flash.
Your failsafe look (like, your default setting when nothing is ‘working’)
You’ll usually see me in jeans (mum life!) but I’ve also been loving layering sweaters over my favourite ‘fancier’ dresses and team with sneakers for a more relaxed daytime look.
Next on your wish list?
Naturally, I shop almost exclusively at Trouble - but usually I hold back a little so our customers can snap things up first. My birthday is coming up though… I’ve got my eye on some of the new Ruby pieces, or perhaps a new Saben bag!
Saben is a new brand for us, so I’m still figuring out all the pieces I need/ want most! But I think I’ll definitely be acquiring a Coco from the new collection. I just love the compact size and the feature chain. In store customers have already been loving the Fifi, we can’t get enough!
As mentioned, I’m already a Fleur fan. The embroidery on the new Saben X Fleur Wood Soul Sisters collab bags is just stunning and might have to be the next piece in my Fleur collection!
There’s also been a lot of chat amongst some of my friends about the dreamy Saben luggage range. We haven’t tried any in store just yet but maybe watch this space!
We’re beyond excited to have our newest Nelson boutique stocking our limited edition Fleur Woods collection. You will find the range at Trouble & Fox, Shop 4 Bank Lane, Nelson and online at troubleandfox.co.nz