What I remember most about my teenage years are the places I shopped. I was obsessed with researching models and fashion, and the relationship it had to my life. I remember the moment when I was told about Good As Gold when I was 14. A guy working at Area 51 told us to check it out. Being fashion obsessed, as was my mother, we immediately hot-footed it over to Victoria Street.
13 years later, GAG (as it is affectionately known) is still going strong. “We haven’t ever had targets. Our target is to be as cool to our customer as we can be” explains Ruben over some very mayonnaise filled pork belly salad at Bao Boy in Press Hall. “Good As Gold is about making people excited about what they wear.”
Ruben was born in Bristol in England. He was three when he came to New Zealand so his memories are from visiting when he was older. “My father’s an architect and designs amazing houses. He worked for a company in the UK and then took a job in New Zealand when we moved” Ruben explains. “For the last 35 years, he’s worked for himself. He and my mum have been married for, like, 50 years. She’s done many things over the years, and is currently a real estate agent, but she also does work with Save The Children and Scouts and has worked on so many community projects. She’s just a helper, she also helps to look after my great grandmother who’s 96.”
Ruben thinks the family moved to give the family the experience of living in a beautiful place. “Dad’s a kiwi and Mums English” he explains, “I think it was about giving us wide green outdoors and all the stuff us Kiwi’s love.”
When the family moved, they lived with Ruben’s grandmother in Crofton Downs, then moved to a house in Khandallah (where his parents still live 37 years later). “It’s a pretty special place. They’ve built a turret. There are so many birds, and its so close to the bush” Ruben explains. “It was magic growing up at that time. I went to school across at Khandallah school and, after school, played in the stream with my friends.”
Ruben’s family were creative sorts, from music to fashion. “My sister had a fashion brand when I was in high school” Ruben explains. “My brother is an artist and was a punk and a musician. Nothing was out of bounds and anything we chose to do as kids, our parents supported. I was always skateboarding or snowboarding.” A core group of friends was formed in Ruben’s life from a young age. They remain friends and now, though distance may separate them, they all work for themselves and stay in touch.
Ruben went to Onslow, were his friends continued to stick together. “I really enjoyed school,” he says. Rubens mother made their clothes, so when he started snowboarding, they made Ruben snow-clothes. “Everything was super baggy - Amazing 90’s vibes. We didn’t buy stuff. You made stuff. And Mum made awesome stuff I was proud of. We didn’t have big brand name things. My first big purchase was from Cockroach Skateboards Australia – I don’t know where they went, but they were a skate brand.” Ruben also went to raves at Sub 9, when he was 14, which his sister’s brand Ripe sponsored. “That was pretty cool” he admits.
When Ruben finished high school, he then went to Wellington Design School. While he was there, he and his friends started Manual Magazine, which is still going to this day, 20 years on. “You used to be able to start out and be a bit shitter at things when we were kids,” he says. “We didn’t have the internet, so you experienced things at a slower pace, through magazines and albums. There was one CD burner for the whole class. It was crazy. A lot cruder and simpler. It was at the end of everything being done analogue and just at the start of things being done digitally. I was quite lucky to be able to experience both.”
As soon as Ruben finished design school he went to Wyoming and then Aspen Colorado, where he looked for work that would allow him to snowboard. “I started working in a shop, selling snowboard stuff,” says Ruben "And I was good at it. I ended up spending four winters in Aspen after being invited back to be a buyer and to manage the store. I could save money in Aspen, and travel in between.”
Ruben eventually came back to New Zealand, he and some friends hatched a plan to open a store together in 2004. Back in 2004, Trade Me had only just begun, there were no online stores, brands didn’t have their own stores, and E-Bay was the US only (and considered a bit dicey). Good As Gold opened an online store early compared to most other businesses, and were one of the first to use the platform ‘Shopify’. “The world was very different,” says Ruben “So we created a store which had different things from around the world. We had big brands like Nike from the start. We paired it with smaller brands, like Twenty-seven Names, where were hand making pins and changed their name a few times. We always wanted it to be a store open to everyone to come into and not be arrogant like some stores can be.”
“After a year, they (his original business partners) decided they wanted to move to Auckland. They left, and I did Good As Gold by myself. It was hard and wasn’t a fun split up at all for either party. I got through it though, and now Good As Gold is almost 14 years old this year.”
Despite the setbacks, Rubens love for fashion and business has never been diminished, and he remains passionate about supporting local designers and businesses. He also knows his stuff when it comes to the big players. “The industry is changing rapidly to become greener and more mindful, and we now have a mindful section on the website. You can’t be perfect. This industry isn’t perfect. But we try and be better” Ruben explains. Sustainability is now one of the big considerations Ruben makes when selecting new brands. “It’s ethics. But its also relationships. This whole business is based on relationships. I’ve got friendships through this job, and we met the bridesmaid from our wedding via her being one of our suppliers. Also, Kowtow is our best selling brand, outselling some of the big global brands.”
Does he ever get tired of looking at sneakers and clothes? “No, I never do. It’s the stories and concepts of style and fashion that keep me going. In my downtime, I watch shows or listen to podcasts or read books about streetwear and fashion. I don’t find Netflix interesting - it’s not reality. I only read non-fiction. Maybe some of our success is due to my obsession with reading and researching the brands and business of streetwear.”
Why Wellington? “It’s just home,” says Ruben. “I couldn’t live anywhere else. We think about Canada because my wife is Canadian. But my kids are growing up in the same forest I grew up in. And that means a lot.”