Deadly Ponies making luxury handbags in NZ

Liam Bowden, who began luxury fashion brand Deadly Ponies while studying at university, has never been a stranger to hard work. By the age of 14, the entrepreneurial Aucklander was holding down three jobs in merchandising and sales, a trend that would continue into his adult life.

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“I was into saving and working and using up all my time really,” Bowden says from the Upper Queen Street warehouse which is Deadly Ponies production and sales headquarters. He’s a little bit puffed, having just nipped out to grab lunch in between meetings. “My mum and dad have a really strong work ethic.”

"Customers want a more personal experience."
  Liam Bowden,Contributing editor, BlueNotes

In his early 20s, while studying graphic design at Unitec, Bowden was working part-time at a restaurant in the city, freelancing as a graphic designer, working as a cleaner, and beginning to experiment with making his own wallets. A buyer from fashion store Superette, one of Bowden’s design clients, saw his wallets and asked to stock them.

Bowden would source leather offcuts from a tannery in Avondale, spending long hours laboriously sewing the scraps together to create handbags, wallets and keyrings.

“With every one that sold, I was able to buy more leather to make more bags,” he says. “Because I was so young I never really thought about it in business terms, I just thought ‘I’m going to make this work’.”

“I pretty much knew nothing when I started. I just learned everything on the job. I’ve now pretty much done every job in the company; from designing to cutting, prepping, finishing, packing, marketing, managing, accounts and PR.”

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Today, Deadly Ponies’ luxury accessories are stocked in Australia, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom, and worn by everyone from Lorde to Charlize Theron and Eva Longoria.

There’s never a quiet moment for Bowden, who designs four to six collections a year and has expanded the label’s core deerskin bag range into silks and outerwear.

In New Zealand, Bowden and business partner Steven Boyd have opened the fourth Deadly Ponies store and first in Wellington.

It is an interesting move for a fashion brand in an era where traditional bricks-and-mortar stores are increasingly under threat from online shopping.

But Bowden says having a physical store presence, and giving customers a tactile shopping experience, is important for a luxury brand.

Some of DP’s top-of-the-range bags retail for $NZ4,500 - not a sum many would be comfortable handing over without testing the item first.

“That means maintaining a certain level of service for people buying our product, and online can only do so much,” Bowden says.  “Customers want a more personal experience.”

In the new Wellington store Bowden has collaborated with interior designer Katie Lockhart to create a suitably opulent interior.

The towering, geometric display plinths are inspired by Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, an aesthetic shared by established Deadly Ponies stores in Christchurch and Auckland. But the Ghuznee St store differs with its use of material, with sheets of colored, opaque resin designed to fit the space.


Retail has been a major focus for the brand over the last year, with Deadly Ponies expanding into David Jones retail stores across Australia. Along with the Wellington store, which opened in August, they’ve recently launched distribution in Japan and Paris.

Bowden admits it was only about three years ago he could finally admit to himself the business was a success.

“It was only then I realised it wasn’t all going to fall over overnight,” he says. “Before then I’d be nervous, hiring staff and knowing you’re responsible for these people’s livelihoods.”

Does he have any advice for young entrepreneurs?

“I had to learn everything from scratch, so I would say doing an internship and working somewhere, say in a small business, would save you months of mistakes and hard work,” Bowden says. “Then again, maybe I wouldn’t have got so far if I had worked for someone else, so you never know.”

And an advantage to growing the business himself is Bowden has now worked in every part of it, and knows how to troubleshoot.

“The biggest part of my role now is problem solving, so I have to know about all the different departments so I can make things work,” he says.

Even after almost a decade in fashion, Bowden still derives pleasure from the smallest things - like designing the tiny Tangle Doll keyring, which retails for $NZ95.

“To everyone else it just looks like a little man keyring, but there have been hours and hours of work put into it just to get it to that stage,” he says. “When you get it finished and sell to the customer, that’s a great feeling.”

Michelle Duff is a contributing editor at BlueNotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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