Stephanie King sees vintage clothing as high-end pieces of wearable art. 

The founder of boutique Painted Bird Vintage passionately believes in sustainable style, reusing clothing that's already out there in the world.

“I think it's really important – especially now – that we use what's already there, rather than making more and more of the same thing with the tiniest little tweak,” she told BusinessDesk.

King is a self-confessed maximalist and grew up in Auckland surrounded by a family of deeply stylish women, which sparked her interest in personalised fashion.

“My grandmother sewed a lot and my mother was South American and had this background in fashion and style."

After King left school, she trained as a hairdresser. Money was tight, so she looked for creative ways to pad out her bank account – and get into the fashion industry.

“I wasn't earning a lot of money, so I started going op-shopping,” she said.

“In those days, you had a lot of op shops and vintage stores, and the Cook Street and Victoria Park markets were also full of exciting things – it was quite easy to get into it.”

King said clothing used to be focused on the wearer being in charge of everything – from the pattern, to the fabric, to the cut – to create garments that had a “unique story” and were full of personality and identity. But that’s completely changed. Vintage creations were designed to last the test of time, King says, but today it's all about fast fashion.

The second-hand clothing landscape also looks different. 

“It's really hard to find good vintage and op shops today. They're very different to what they were like 20 to 30 years ago.”

King's passion for vintage has taken her all over the world and she's found treasures in Italy, France and Australia. In 2015, her devotion to all the vintage clothing she’d collected turned into a bricks-and-mortar store – Painted Bird Vintage – in Milford, Auckland, which she ran until March 2020.

She wanted to raise the bar on the quality and accessibility of true vintage clothing and says she felt a responsibility to reduce fashion’s environmentally and socially damaging footprint.

More people should be promoting clothing that’s already in circulation, she says.

When the pandemic disrupted retailing, King's Milford store had to make changes and moved online. Looking back, she believes closing the store was the best thing for the future and she says she was fortunate because "there were so many people who had a really, really terrible time”.

King created what she calls a "hybrid boutique solution" called The Aviary, to complement the Painted Bird Vintage website instead of reopening the physical store. She says the online format really works.

Painted Bird’s website stocks more than 2,000 unique pieces and more are added each month. 

After all the pieces have been added, she says the site will have more than 5,000 items, making it NZ’s largest true vintage offering.

Clients can browse on the Painted Bird website, and book one-on-one fitting room appointments on The Aviary section of the website, to try on their choice of items from the online collection.

She says her passion is showing clients how to blend vintage, second-hand and recycled clothes with their current wardrobes. 

“I'm not about trying to make you buy as much as possible; it's more about the unique experience that you're getting by having a personal stylist standing there and helping you.

“You don't really get that in any other kind of shopping experience, and I think it’s important that people are innovating and really embracing those new experiences.”

After all, King’s philosophy is buy once and buy right.