Common Ground

Commoners quality basics have arrive in the Mount.

Commoners, known for its premium, off-duty clothing, has moved to the Mount, along with its beach-loving owners.

If you’ve walked down the main street of the Mount this summer, you would’ve noticed a few
changes to the store that was once filled with Paper Plane’s beautiful homewares. The retail space
is now home to Commoners — a New Zealand design brand that creates high-quality basics for
men and women.

You might’ve also spotted the brand’s owner and director, Jae Mills, working from the office or chatting with customers on the shop floor. “The space is really functional,” Jae explains. “We’ve got the store in the front and office in the back, which is great because I want to make the effort to meet as many people as I can and become part of the fabric of the local community. This region is really progressive — there’s a live audience here and we want to deliver for them.”

Jae says the decision to open a new Commoners store in the Mount (a sister store to the original one in Ponsonby), and make the move down here with partner Jaimee Clapham, daughter Dylan (7) and son Jude (3), was one that’d been brewing for a while. “Our aesthetic of off-duty clothing that’s easy to wear and look after has a nice synergy with locals,” he says. “We’d been floating the idea of moving to the Mount for a number of years. Jaimee’s the art director for OHbaby! magazine, which
is based in Tauranga, so it was always going to be an easy transfer for her. The only obstacle was finding a retail space, as the good ones rarely get advertised.”

Jae spoke to a few of his friends working in real estate, and says it was “pure serendipity” when the owners of Paper Plane reached out and asked whether he might be interested in throwing his hat
in the ring for their soon-to-be-vacant space. “Tim and Krista said they wanted to preserve the downtown Mount area with complementary brands and that we’d be a great fit. I took that phone
call as a sign it was meant to be!”

Commoners 2.0

Jae describes the new store, which opened in December, as “pared back and Brutalist”, with the
use of American oak, concrete and other strong, hard materials. “It’s very different to the Ponsonby store, which has more of a Scandinavian feel.”

Wandering around the new premises is an experience in itself, thanks to Jae’s A-list design team, including interior guru Katie Lockhart and carpenter Grant Bailey. “Katie helped us with our first
store on Ponsonby Road, so getting her on board with this one was a no brainer,” says Jae. “I’ve always liked her style and I find her work with timber particularly interesting; she’s done some amazing things for big names like Karen Walker and Deadly Ponies.”

Beautiful clothing racks, made from ash-coloured oak, were prototyped by Grant in Auckland then replicated by a local company. “We’re using the space to trial features like our new racking system,” Jae explains. “The goal was to create something modular and interchangeable, so we can change the store around on a regular basis. We love how it turned out.”

Coastal Allure

Jae was born in Tauranga (but grew up in Gisborne) and his mother and brother live here. He says being close to family will be fantastic, but another huge driver to relocate is the lifestyle.

“Like most people who move here, we want a better work-life balance. As a teenager I was motivated to work hard and get a good job, and I was fortunate to work for the companies I wanted to work for before starting my own brand. Fifteen years later, now with a young family, I understand how important it is to try and strike a balance. So the idea of cycling to the office or surfing after work is just awesome! Jaimee and I are avid surfers, so I’m sure it won’t be long until the kids are into it, too.”

A Brand is Born

Jae completed a Diploma in Textile Design in Auckland, then got an intern gig with Huffer,
working his way up fairly quickly to become the senior designer. At the same time, he attained
a Diploma of Graphic Design at Media Design School. He then moved on to work at Workshop
as senior designer.

He travelled with Jaimee in 2009 and during this time, he registered the gap in the Kiwi market
for simple, unbranded and well-crafted basics.

He came back and worked at Black Box Boutique as manager and buyer for about four years.
“I started Commoners to stock those stores as an alternative to some of the Australian t-shirt
brands we were buying at the time,” Jae explains. “It was just a side hustle.”

At the start of 2014, however, his side hustle was tracking so well he dropped his hours at Black Box down to part time. By the end of the year, he had the opportunity to open his own store in Ponsonby, and from then on, he was all in.

“I built a small team and developed relationships with wholesalers — we’re now stocked in about 25 New Zealand stores,” he says. “We’ve grown over the years but our purpose as a brand, right from the beginning and to this day, is to make premium wardrobe essentials.

“We’re centred on the white t-shirt, in a way — it’s the centre point of most people’s wardrobes, so we’ve built around that with quality basics like shirts, shorts, linen and knitwear. Our designs are often monochromatic and have an emphasis on simplicity.”

Because Commoners garments are less trend driven, sustainability is a natural part of its ethos.
“We want to encourage people to buy smarter,” he says. “We make things that have a longer lifespan than one season, although we have the ‘icing on the cake’, which is a small number of new and interesting items to keep it fresh. We work with great fabrics and manufacturers and we’re always looking at new options to make sure we’re doing the best we can. At the moment we’re looking at makers in India, for example.”

Jae says the brand is about to roll out a new range featuring recycled cotton t-shirts and hemp jerseys. “A lot of people talk about our cotton and the soft hand-feel it offers, so we’re excited
to announce that the products at the centre of what we do will soon be available in more
conscious fabrics.”

As the menswear designer (he also works alongside a womenswear designer), Jae is always
tinkering with new designs. He’s also fond of spending time on the shop floor, where he can soak
up valuable insight from customers and staff. “I’ll often work in the Ponsonby store to gather feedback,” he explains. “Customers don’t know who you are so they’re usually pretty honest about
the way things fit, what they think of the colours and how they feel about the cost. This sort of information is priceless.”

Jae’s excited about the year ahead. “The curation of a retail space is something I really enjoy,” he says. “From the fit-out itself to meeting new people and adding fresh talent to our team — it’s hard work, but it’s amazing to see it all come together.”

99 Maunganui Rd, Mt Maunganui

Story by Laura Tuck