Objecting to a life lived in the legal profession, Nicole Rebstock’s career 180 saw her launch the shoe label of her dreams, helping Kiwi women live a life a little less ordinary by offering beautiful footwear. Below, Rebstock recounts her upbringing in Poneke/ Wellington to immigrant parents and how she grew her business from a sketch into a series of boutiques across the country.
In conversation with Nicole Rebstock
Tell us about your background and your career to date:
I was born in Wellington in 1991 to two parents who came to start a new life together in New Zealand. My mother was born and raised in America and my father in Germany. When I was about five, we moved to Auckland and have been here ever since.
Growing up, I was a high performance gymnast, training up to 30 hours a week. I think it helped instil in me the value of hard work. I studied law and business at university. After completing my degree, I completed my professional studies, becoming a barrister and solicitor of the High Court. Ultimately however, shoes won my heart and I decided to take a leap of faith in the footwear industry.
Now, I have three physical boutiques (two in Auckland – Newmarket and Commercial Bay, and The Crossing in Christchurch) and an online boutique.
What made you want to start your own shoe label?
I always loved fashion and shoes in particular but this was never something I had considered as a career path as I didn’t have the background I considered necessary. I did however grow up in a very business-minded family, which is why I think business resonated more with me than law.
I remember being half way through my law degree and thinking “I don’t think I can wake up every day and do this as a job.” I would day dream about having my own shoe label but never thought I could actually bring the dream to life.
However, one day something clicked. It was the first day of the semester break and I was dreading the three legal opinions I had been assigned to write. I remember sitting up in bed and thinking, yet again, about the shoes label. At that moment something clicked, and I thought “nobody is born with the ability to create a shoe business or design things, you have to learn and if other people can do it, so can I.” I ran downstairs, grabbed a pen, and drew my first shoe. It wasn’t a particularly good drawing but it was the start of something.
From that moment on I started gearing my life to make the leap. I got a job in a shoe store, went to China with one of my classmates to meet shoe manufacturers, enrolled in some courses at the London College of Fashion and ultimately opened my first store on High Street in 2017, where I worked 6-7 days a week.
Where do you get the inspiration for your products?
My main source of inspiration is my European heritage as it underpins our entire brand; the more classic, refined and feminine styling that is so true to Europe that we often seek while travelling there.
I like to draw a basic silhouette and play with different concepts or colours I’ve seen on the runway. Other times, I like to look through fashion archives and re-work then-popular concepts to meet the modern day.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
There is nothing more rewarding than having the opportunity to build something from scratch that you are really passionate about and being able to nurture it and watch it grow. It can be incredibly challenging but that is also why it is rewarding.
What does an average day look like for you?
I wake up and walk my dog. I think it sets both of our days on the right course! I try to squeeze in some exercise, and I’ve recently got into Masterclass which I usually put on for 20 minutes or so. It’s light-hearted and nice to feel like you’re being productive and learning on your own terms.
The workday usually begins around 8.30 for me. We have so many things going on and we are in a real growth phase, so structuring a typical day is impossible. However, I like to block out an hour or two in the morning to deal with emails, so I stay on top of things. Then the rest of the day tends to have a more fluid structure. I spend quite a lot of time conversing with our business partners and team, whether it be with our store managers, manufacturers, marketing, PR company, digital agency, or studio.
The best days are when we receive new collection samples. If I’m really lucky, my sister will be there saying “ok, what are we doing about this style?” She loves to throw me a spark of inspiration here and there! Because I’m so heavily involved in both the creative and non-creative sides of the business, it means I need to be able to switch brains very quickly, which can be challenging at times.
Do you have a favourite style from your brand? If so, what is it and why?
Nemesis – our iconic pointed stilettos. They happen to be the first shoe I ever designed. You can’t beat a pointed stiletto, and the overall silhouette and comfort of these pumps is just unbeatable.
We have built a devoted Nemesis community and each season our customers wait in anticipation to see what colours we are doing next. Powder blue, ruby red and our latest limited-edition finish: sparkling rose, are my all-time favourites.
Nicole Rebstock’s online boutique provides a curated and editorial look at their label, introducing their latest inspirational campaign and the Nicole Rebstock ethos.
As a female business owner, what advice would you give to other women looking to start their own business?
Back yourself and the unique skill-set that you bring to the table. Nothing is black and white and skills are transferable. When I first started my business, so many people said to me “I bet you wish you hadn’t spent all that time studying law” but the reality is the analytical and creative thinking I learned in my legal education helps me every single day and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Yes, design is at the forefront of what we do, but being able to think strategically, analyse things under pressure and be quick on your feet are all equally as important in the business world.
What is the common feedback you get from your customers?
People are always amazed at the comfort of our shoes, particularly as many of the designs are so refined and feminine. But the secret is knowing your customer. We know that Kiwis tend to have wider feet and even often have bunions, so we take all of that into consideration when we create new lasts (shoe moulds).
Retail is a changing landscape. Can you tell us about your in-store experience?
We provide complimentary styling advice so people can see how we bring together our range of shoes, bags, leather belts, silk, and jewellery. Each member of our team has a keen eye for fashion, and we have a loyal following of customers who love to come in with a new garment and let our team take care of their accessories styling. I think this has been such a success for us, as our team is sensitive to individual tastes, and our primary goal is to help women feel comfortable and beautiful in their own skin. If you feel good, you look good!
My go-to recipe… Rhubarb crumble! (I’m a sweet person!)
The best coffee spot near me… Odettes Eatery.
The three beauty products I can’t live without… Mascara, eyebrow gel and perfume.
Best current season fashion purchase… A beautiful high neck black silk dress from Sass & Bide.
Next destination on my travel list… Japan.