Indie spirits: Lifestyle business in Dunedin

As well as fostering a start-up culture built on the back of the Gig, Dunedin is also staying true to its indie roots with lifestyle businesses that prove there is still a real market for handmade, artisan products. And it’s not just jams and birthday cards.

The indie spirit is almost like a mantra in Dunedin. It can be seen in the craft beer scene, in the real-foods cafes, the juices, the premium coffee, in the artisan shoe factory McKinlays, in the farmer’s market - widely regarded as one of the best and most vibrant in the country - and, continuing on from the halcyon days of ‘The Dunedin Sound’, in the music. 

Quality and uniqueness is valued in Dunedin, perhaps moving against the tide of a fast-fashion, convenience world.

“I see people deciding to support local artisan and craft products and services when they can here because they realise it is part of what makes Dunedin what it is,” Fishrider Records owner Ian Henderson says. 

Fishrider Records presses some of Dunedin's best "underground pop" on vinyl records (with a UK partner), and exports it to a mainly overseas audience.

The label has been running for ten years and has released 18 records - and despite audiences increasingly moving to digital - Henderson says the business is in the growth phase.

“Labels like Flying Nun Records and Xpressway stopped releasing new Dunedin music in the 1990s,” he explains. “As an avid devotee of alternative and underground music for many decades I knew some of the music being made here was world class and would have an audience but the world no longer knew about it. It has been a labour of love to do something about that.”

Interestingly, Henderson thinks of his record store as music ‘arts and crafts’.

“Arts and crafts means more focus on creating things of lasting intrinsic value designed and crafted using local people and resources,” he explains. 

He says Dunedin is full of smaller-scale businesses making real crafted items that “become part of our lives and experience”.

One such example is Arjun Haszard, who accidentally started a premium coffee liqueur business when he moved to Dunedin five years ago, and has been caffeinating the city—and, increasingly, the nation—ever since.

With the support of the Dunedin community, the business has grown to two artisan product offerings: Quick Brown Fox Coffee Liqueur and Harpoon Cold Brew Coffee

“The community was extremely supportive, which allowed for national growth,” Haszard says. “The Farmers Market community and businesses that I sold to there were excellent supporters in those early years.”

For their businesses, the commercial kitchen space at Cargill Enterprises in South Dunedin is excellent quality and affordable. And he says it also gets the benefit of lower national shipping rates utilising backhaul. 

He also says there’s a good marketing angle being based down south. “You wouldn't put ‘made in Auckland’ on your bottle, but you would put ‘made in Dunedin’. There's a certain Emerson-esque charm that carries through with that,” he says.

You wouldn't put ‘made in Auckland’ on your bottle, but you would put ‘made in Dunedin’. There's a certain Emerson-esque charm that carries through with that" – Arjun Haszard

He says the feeling of being a specialised business in Dunedin is one of “making a difference”.

“With a low cost of living, the way you do business changes. You don't need to bust down doors and you can focus on creativity and delivering value to customers.”

Meanwhile, GUILD Dunedin is challenging the way retail is done in its space where several designers and creators share the costs and time involved in running a retail shop in the city centre. “One of the coolest upshots of this is customers are always served by one of the resident designers themselves, since we all share the staffing,” Paradox Products director Emily Cooper says. “This creates a unique shopping experience for Dunedinites and visitors to the city. Our 12 resident designers' products include ceramics, jewellery, fashion, homeware and skincare - all locally designed.”

Cooper says people can really can do their own thing in Dunedin, whatever that may be. “If you want to run a techy start-up, there'll be the support and infrastructure for that. If you want to run an online store on your terms and surf the rest of the time, you can do that too.”

Owner of artisan juice bar The Design Juicery, Courteney Johnston, adds that, for Dunedinites, healthy lifestyle is becoming more and more important.

She makes boutique cold-pressed juice and nut milk drinks, selling them out of four locations around Dunedin, and at the Otago Farmers Market. “The growing knowledge around what we consume is resulting in a shift from conventional fast food to what we describe ourselves as: healthy convenience.”

And, like her fellow Dunedin artisans, she enjoys the combination of opportunity and ease. 

 “There are so many incredible small businesses working tirelessly to create beautiful things, but when you sit down with the people behind these businesses they are relaxed, easy going, lovely people who really do encompass both ambitious drive and laid back attitudes.”