Sisters aim to sew-up Kiwi market

By Graham Skellern

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Alice Brotherston has bucked the trend.

After living in Australia for 30 years, she returned to New Zealand to pursue a new business opportunity.

She and husband John linked up with her sister, Gail Jory - who worked at a Tauranga woollen knitwear factory for 26 years - and established a retail business specialising in machine embroidery.

Alice's Cre8ive Embroidery, based at Mount Maunganui, has moved the handicraft into the modern world of digital software, producing more elaborate and wider range of designs.

The family-owned company has the exclusive New Zealand rights to market the Creative DRAWings computer programme, which allows embroiderers to create and personalise their own designs.

The business idea, mind you, was developed in Australia. "My sister and I have been doing machine embroidery for a number of years,"Alice said.

"She wasn't able to get simple things like stabilisers and other little nicknacks in New Zealand and I used to send them to her. We decided there was a market for machine embroidery products in New Zealand, selling direct to the public."

Last week, Statistics New Zealand said the Kiwi exodus to Australia had reached a new high. A total of 53,000 New Zealanders left for Australia in the year ending February 29. The net loss was 39,100 after 13,900 people arrived here, most of them returning New Zealand citizens. The latest figures showed the number of people leaving New Zealand last month was 1200 higher than in February last year, including 1000 more crossing the ditch.

The 2006 Census showed that about 390,000 people born in New Zealand were living in Australia.

 It could be more now. But Wanganui-born Alice said the grass was not necessarily greener on the other side of the Tasman.

"People leave because they think there are a lot of opportunities over there," she said. "But there's so much unemployment in Australia and the opportunities have gone. You just have to see the number of New Zealanders on the Gold Coast who can't get jobs - and they have to live there for two years before they can go on the dole.

"I know you can't just walk into a mining job. You have to be well qualified and have experience, and you have to be in the know. People have moved to Mt Isa with the idea of getting new jobs and have ended up on the Gold Coast.

"Along the east coast (of Australia), the floods have wiped out crops and affected livelihoods and employment. The country is in for a tough time, just like Christchurch," Alice said.

"I went there in 1980 and things were different then. Unless you have a job to go to or have heaps of money behind you, I'd think twice about moving now."

She said the cost of living was "much of a muchness". Milk, butter and cheese may be cheaper but the overall food costs evened out.

"I know it's cheaper to register a car here. It starts from $600 in Australia. The younger people think they will earn more money - and wages are a little higher in Australia - but by the time they set themselves up and pay higher rents, they won't have wads of cash.

"I don't think for a minute that it is more expensive to live here. Perhaps it's a little harder in business because there's less population and you don't have the same turnover. But it's all relative."

She said many New Zealanders were planning to come back from Australia, "people like us who have been there a long time. The biggest factor is we are tired of the heat. You live in an air-conditioned world over there."

New Zealand offered a better lifestyle. It was quieter, had beautiful countryside and "the Kiwis are friendlier".

 "We had 30 fabulous years over there but we chose to come back. We wanted to set up this new business and the opportunity wasn't there in Australia because other people were already doing it."

John and Alice Brotherston first went to Sydney where John sold ice-makers. He then bought an ice-making business on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and ran it for 12 years before selling to Brisbane Ice in 1998.

The Brotherstons then developed a cold-storage facility on the coast and, among their contracts, they stored McCain's chips and frozen vegetables and Pura milk and Red Rooster products.

Last year, they sold their storage facility because of the  carbon tax regime, which will be introduced in Australia on July 1.

"You will have to pay for your gas upfront, no one will give you an account," said Alice. "Our power bill would have gone up five to 10 times. Everything will go up because of the carbon tax."

With the embroidery business under way, Alice moved to Tauranga two years ago, while John stayed on the Sunshine Coast to continue the Red Rooster deliveries. But he is planning to be back in New Zealand putting his energies in to Alice's Cre8ive Embroidery.

"I had been digitising embroidery for years but using other programmes," said Alice. "I went to a craft show in Brisbane, saw Creative DRAWings and asked the distributor (Micro 2000 Australia Embroidery) if I could sell it in New Zealand.

"The beauty of this one is that it is simple to use, it is based on Word and it reads and saves to all formats. It can be used on different embroidery machines."

The product comes as a CD which is installed in the computer, the designs are created and saved on a memory stick. It is plugged into the embroidery machine which automatically does the stitching on any material.

Alice's Cre8ive Embroidery has produced lace baskets and swans, decorative table coasters, candle holders and bags, as well as the usual embellishments for dresses, quilts and blankets.

"We are attracting the 50s and over but we are trying to get the youngers ones involved as well," said Alice.

"The way the economy is going more people are coming back to sewing.

"Often, they know how to sew but they don't know how to use the embroidery mondule on machines."

Alice's Cre8ive Embroidery holds regular classes of up to eight people, teaching them how to use the digitising programme, and the Brotherstons are promoting their business at craft and sewing shows throughout the country - John flies from Australia to attend most of them.

Last week, Alice was at the Wine Country Quilts exhibition in Waipukurau and, the week after Easter, she will be at the Quilt Symposium in Nelson.

Alice's Cre8ive Embroidery has become accredited agents for Brother, Janome and Elna machines, and John Watts Quilter frames, and sells accessories such as stabilisers, threads and the design software.

"Initially, we were going to sell from the internet and run the business from Australia," said Alice. "But to sell the big, multi-needle machines we had to have premises to be an agency.

"We also went to a big craft and quilt show in Hamilton two years ago and the response was 'why don't you set up here'. People still like the touchy, feely approach to buying," said Alice.


- Bay of Plenty Times

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