T-shirts the launching pad to success

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Jake Pyne and Cameron Ward have built their fashion business by aiming outside the mainstream.
Jake Pyne and Cameron Ward have built their fashion business by aiming outside the mainstream.

Jake Pyne got his start in the fashion industry back in 1998 when, while working for Mount Maunganui surf shop Assault, he launched his brand, Lower, with a first run of six T-shirts.

This year, with five retail shops under the Thanks brand, about 35 staff nationwide, and a strong export business developing, his You Know We Ain't group made it into the finals of this year's BOP export awards in the emerging exporter category.

Shane Dufaur, chief executive of Dominion Salt, one of this year's judges, said he had been impressed by the company, which is run by Mr Pyne and his general manager, Cameron Ward, who is also a shareholder. Mr Pyne's wife, Stacey, is also a co-owner.

"There's an incredible amount of staff and management commitment and alignment required for any business to be going that long, especially in the rag trade," said Mr Dufaur.

"And I think the fact they have managed to be in a place like Tauranga and stay relevant to a national and even global market is a tribute to them and their staff." Mr Pyne described himself when he started the business as "an uneducated guy working in a surf shop trying to live the dream".

For the keen surfer and skateboarder, the brand name Lower symbolised the company's identification with non-mainstream youth and underground cultures.

"I was more of a creative director than a designer. I never had any design training, but I had knack for knowing what fashion trends were coming."

The brand grew locally with a lot of support from then Bayfair-based outlet Nevada, then expanded around NZ.

The company began wholesaling, then opened its own retail brand Thanks, which now has outlets in the Mount and Papamoa, two in Napier and one in Palmerston North. New brands were added within the You Know You Ain't group, including Five Each, On & On and Now & Then. The company also has an online marketing presence.

The business has a 12-strong head office team in Tauranga, which includes management, sales, in-house design, distribution and production, with most manufacturing done in China.

Mr Ward, a former operations manager who returned to the company 18 months ago, said they had first entered the Australian market in 2012, but had begun to build brand awareness in the past couple of years and had really seen good traction in the past 12 months.

"We have good design and good quality products, which has enabled us to navigate changes in trends and fashions," he said.

"We have a really robust supply chain, which allows us to manufacture to different ends of the spectrum when it comes to market requirements. And we're lucky to have to have a pretty invested team who are very talented and willing to go the extra mile when required."

You Know We Ain't:

* Finalist: YOU Travel Emerging Exporter of the Year Award at the 2016 BOP Export Awards.

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