Deadly Ponies' Endless Evolution
Steven Boyd and Liam Bowden's forward path includes vegan handbags, an 'eco-atelier' and hoarding as a virtue
“I don’t enjoy chaos,” laughs Deadly Ponies’ chief executive Steven Boyd of designer husband Liam Bowden’s magpie tendencies.
“But Liam’s very much a collector. The Britomart store has accumulated some really neat pottery pieces and every time I visit I’ll see another three things he’s snuck through from Trade Me or found in a second-hand shop.”
It was during Liam’s early days at art school, when he amassed scraps of cardboard, fabric and leather, that provided the seed for Deadly Ponies to grow, not to mention the luxury handbag and accessory brand’s environmental philosophy.
The brand aims for zero waste by hand-cutting every centimetre of material, and saving offcuts to be repurposed, whether as sunglass cases, coasters or eye masks (and yes, there’s a tinge of regret they didn’t use leftover silk scraps for facemasks two years ago).
“I’m not really about buying new,” says Liam, the irony not lost on him that this goes against the grain of his customers’ wants. “It’s hard for me to throw something away because my essence is: I can always make something out of anything.”
We’re at Deadly Ponies’ chic HQ, a basketball court-sized former carpark in Eden Terrace. Inside is a quiet hive of activity: the 33-strong sales and marketing team are based here, in a semi-industrial space fitted with Thai wooden furniture and a green painted concrete floor.
Around the corner from the photography studio, where they create their often outlandish campaigns, is a high-tech boardroom with a wide-lens camera that can Zoom staff, Austen Powers-style, to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
After 12 years of manufacturing much of their product here in Auckland and China, Deadly Ponies transitioned production to the “Italy of the East”, a walled city in the north of Thailand known for its spicy food, moats and leather goods.
It’s taken the best part of the last three years, a decision the duo say has been equally driven by ethics as it is commerce. However Covid has meant they can’t be on the ground at their “eco-atelier”, a production plant that runs on solar power, and recycles its waste products via a biofuel reactor.
They still source their leather from around the world depending on the finishes each region provides but use New Zealand raw skins, the centralised factory reducing the shipping required to get them to the tannery in Italy.
“It seems crazy,” says Liam. “We banged our heads against the wall trying to change that. But with the creation of the factory we’re working to lessen our carbon footprint and deliver the most responsible handbags to the market.”
Since their head of production has moved over, overseeing 43 staff, they’re now holding less inventory and able to satisfy customers with smaller drops each month.
“We don’t just do what’s cool, we do what we want to do,” says Steven. “Building the factory has empowered us to do that. Otherwise we’d have to produce much larger volumes, and we’d lose all that creativity.”
One burgeoning market is for vegan handbags, a demand they’ve answered by using cactus byproducts from the pharmaceutical industry. Otherwise, they’re best known for their classic leather designs with a twist — the “Mr Robin” proving the most timeless and popular bag, along with black and pieces made in more playful hues, like this season’s “foxglove” mauve.
Deadly Ponies fans will soon get a taste of Thailand in their spring/summer collection, inspired by French designer Charlotte Perriand.
Using her famous Rush chair as inspiration, they’ve incorporated woven components and accessories made by a Thai women’s collective.
It helps that their customer base is broad. Unike ready-to-wear, they’re not limited by sizing. In New Zealand, where the brand were pioneers in the luxury handbag space, they have stores in Newmarket, Britomart, Ponsonby and Wellington. They’re also focusing on Australia, having established a solid relationship with department store David Jones, plus some smaller stockists.
Elsewhere, they’ve sold online to customers in Tokyo, London and Russia.
“Russia’s always a weird one,” says Liam.
Steven: “There are certain countries where it’s like, ‘is this real?’”
They’re still not entirely sure how their Russian fans stumbled across them — that’s been harder to track than the likes of Copenhagen Fashion Week, where their bags were worn by influencers, with sales soon trickling down through Europe.
But it hasn’t hurt that they’ve found new fans through their sometimes zany capsule collections, with Len Lye, Anni Albers and even My Little Pony providing inspiration for some particularly colourful designs.
“It certainly catapulted us to more of a mass market conversation,” says Steven of the nostalgic Hasbro collaboration. “Before then we were more subterranean in the fashion industry so it really showcased what we could do. It was also incredibly fun. One of the things I had personally felt about the fashion industry at the time is that it can take itself quite seriously.”
It’s now 15 years since Liam launched the brand, with Steven coming on board about three years later. He’d been working for the Labour Party (in Helen Clark’s tenure) in political communications, when he moved from Wellington to Auckland. The pair met on a blind date and have been “inseparable” since.
Living and working together might have its challenges but, says Liam, “It’s weirdly got less and less challenging. When we were smaller we were in each other’s business and decision-making. And now it’s bigger it’s allowed us to have our own areas of expertise so we’re not stepping on each other’s toes.”
“We’re two people who don’t stand still,” adds Steven. “We’re never happy with the status quo. We’re always changing, always evolving, which I think speaks to our survival.”
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