From a small local label to a national fashion powerhouse, yet Jake Pyne and his friends remain humble and hardworking…
Back in 1998, Jake was working at Mount surf shop Assault. He’d always had an eye for design and fashion, wearing things that were a little distinctive, picking what was going to be big well before it became mainstream. As he sold and watched labels created by other young NZ guys - labels like Huffer and RPM that were really taking off at the time - Jake toyed with the idea of creating his own.
Glenn and Wendy Bright, Jake’s bosses at Assault, encouraged him to give it a go, so he designed his first Lower t-shirt and had just six of them made. The aim was to have some fun with it; maybe make a little pocket money. When the six sold, he printed another 12, then 24, then 50…
Along with Assault, Jake credits Geoff and Christina Wylie-Miln, owners of Nevada, with helping Lower to take off. Geoff got behind the label, promoting it in his very influential store, and helped navigate Jake through the world of retail along the way. Mike Smith from RPM was an invaluable sounding board in the early days too.
Stores outside the Bay began to take Lower on, but true to its name and its roots, it remained very much an underground label for a long time. First, it grew a very loyal local following, then it started to gather momentum around New Zealand.
Two years after those first six tees were printed, the popularity of Lower was undeniable. Retailers couldn’t keep stock on the shelves. Jake registered a company, calling it You Know We Ain’t Limited. He was right; they most definitely ain’t.
Today, Lower is an influential force not just in New Zealand fashion, but also in popular culture, writing trends one after the other. And if you love Lower, there’s plenty of it to eat up – the brand does four seasonal collections a year, plus monthly ‘Quick Strikes’ (not-to-be-repeated short runs, that often become collector’s items), and other limited edition injections.
In 2008, supported by the popularity of Lower, the company decided to open a concept boutique, one that would break the streetwear mould. “We liked the idea of being able to present our brands the way we wanted to.”
Re-writing those retail rules that stores need to be on a main strip, with foot traffic, the first Thanks store sat in Mount Maunganui’s semi-industrial Matai Street. Jake and his friends decided just to offer a well-curated selection of their favourite labels. Thanks stocks Ksubi, PAM, Stolen Girlfriends Club, Something Else, and other leading-edge and independent brands, many of which are not widely available in New Zealand. Thanks is also the first (and often last, with product selling out quickly) to get new drops from Lower. And all that support Jake was given by storeowners when he first started out? He’s been able to pay it forward, stocking Thanks with emerging labels from local designers.
There’s more than just clothing at Thanks. There’s luggage, jewellery, independent publications and an inimitable atmosphere, too. Music plays on vinyl, the interior design and product styling is brilliant, and the staff are fun and unaffected.
Just a few months ago, Thanks opened its first out-of-town store, in Napier. The reception so far has exceeded every expectation. There’s an online store too, thanksshop.co.nz. It opened soon after the first shop, offering the same carefully curated product range to the rest of New Zealand – with free delivery.
Why has Lower and Thanks resonated so much with people? That’s not easy to put into words. There are just some who see things differently, aesthetes who ‘get it’ before the rest of us. The tastemakers. They’re the sort of people, Jake and his friends, who always want to be doing something fresh, realising new projects and exploring new ideas.
So, because some of their ideas didn’t fit inside the Lower brand and their collective taste had broadened with time, they created three new clothing labels. Yip, you read that right – three. All within just a few years, and all whilst launching and running the Thanks stores and other ventures.
First came Five Each, a smart basics brand with a clean, simple aesthetic. Only five men’s designs and five women’s designs are created each season, in understated colourways.
Next was menswear label ON & ON, a more grown-up, sartorial older brother to the youthful Lower brand. ON & ON is Jake’s personal project in many ways, an outlet for his higher-end design ideas. The range includes beautiful leather goods to dress your tech, like the honey-coloured, hand-stitched (and seriously handsome) iPhone sleeve.
Now & Then is the latest label in the You Know We Aint Ltd. stable. Its feminine yet functional aesthetic takes what’s on-trend and blends it with vintage inspiration. The collections, along with Five Each garments, are all designed by Tamryn Reeve.
What next, then? The company has already been experimenting with product design, releasing a limited edition Lower G-Shock watch. And Thanks has just made its first foray into furniture design, collaborating with local designer Timothy John on the Sidekick stool.
You’d be forgiven for assuming - with such success in the fashion industry and a brand built on being very much ahead of the pack - that Jake Pyne would have a certain sort of attitude. The truth is, I’ve not met a more humble, helpful guy.
He lights up when he talks about the inspiration and support he gets from his wife of 12 years, Stacey, and their kids - daughter Milla (7) and sons Hayes (5) and Ari (4). And when I ask Jake why he thinks he’s been so successful, he doesn’t mention himself once. Jake and Stacey trust that a higher power is to thank for it all. He feels blessed in so many ways; not least of which is his team. Many of them were friends of Jake’s or fans of the brand before coming on board. “We have amazing, hugely talented staff. People I’m proud to call my friends.”
Jake is also ever-grateful to the businesses and customers who have got behind his brands along the way. “That’s why we called the stores Thanks. If it weren’t for the support of other people, especially locally, this whole story would never have happened. We never want to take that for granted.”
“Fashion constantly changes, and we want to always be moving and evolving. But our values never will.”
This was actually an article I wrote for UNO magazine's Summer issue. I thought you might be interested in and inspired by it... Photos by Quinn O'Connell.