Twenty three year-old Stefan Warnaar, a chemical engineering graduate, was inspired to start his clothing business while on his OE. Warnaar tells Aimee Shaw about about competition and sustainability in the retail space.

A brief description of the business

Peak to Plateau uses yak yarn from the Tibetan plateau to create high-performance outdoor clothing. The business started operating in August last year, but has been in the works since around November 2015.

What inspired you to start this kind of business?

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While travelling through Mongolia and central Asia last year I spent a lot of time around yaks and living with their herders.

I was on exchange in Singapore and had a three-month break between semesters, and had long dreamed about travelling to these places.

After feeling how warm and soft it was I knew that it would be great for outdoor clothing.

I always felt current outdoor clothing options could have been improved and yak wool would be perfect to do this.

How big is your team?

Currently it's only me, but there have been quite a few people that have helped along the way.

What is the most challenging thing about operating in the retail market?

Getting noticed. The market is huge and most big brands have a well established presence, so it can be very hard to break in and convince people to try a new brand. I think people are starting to go back to buying from smaller brands, though, especially since the internet makes it easy to find and read up about them.

In terms of direct competition, there are a few other small companies using yak wool - but none in New Zealand - but they haven't established a large presence.

What products do you have and how much do they retail for?

We have six products that retail from between $45 and $145. This includes base layer tops, leggings, beanies and a neck warmer.

A Peak to Plateau garment.
A Peak to Plateau garment.
How are your products made and promote sustainability?

Our main products are made with a 65 per cent yak wool and 35 per cent tencel blend. Tencel is a natural fibre derived from eucalyptus trees. We source the yak fibre directly from the herders, paying them a fair price and supporting them.

We have also partnered with a few major manufacturers in China who process the sorted fibre into the finished garments.

Both yak wool and tencel are sustainable natural fibres that have minimal impact on the environment, and benefit the communities that supply them.

You ran a Kickstarter campaign last year, how did it go?

We ran a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in November-December last year and it raised a total of $78,000 from customers around the world.

Our goal was $50,000 which would have given us enough to complete our first manufacturing run. Reaching $78,000 has instead given us enough money to expand into more products, which we are currently working on.

We went for Kickstarter because it was a great way for us to raise the amount of money needed, and get our product out to customers at the same time. It made sense to have people that wanted to see the product made help us do that.

Yak in Tajikistan, central Asia, a country bordering Afghanistan, China and Uzbekistan.
Yak in Tajikistan, central Asia, a country bordering Afghanistan, China and Uzbekistan.

I think it's fair to say at this point that without Kickstarter the business probably would not exist, or we would still be struggling to find the funds to start manufacturing. The exposure to an international audience provided by Kickstarter was incredibly important.

What has been the biggest challenge running the business?

Developing the fibre and fabric.

The garment manufacturing industry is much more complex than most people realise and a lot of the past year has consisted of working to find the right manufacturers, the right blend of fibre, and the right type of fabric.

In terms of profit, how is Peak to Plateau scaling?

The business is not yet profitable, but we expect to be by the middle of this year.

Peak to Plateau specialises in outdoor performance clothing.
Peak to Plateau specialises in outdoor performance clothing.

Once we get past our first manufacturing run, our cash flow will look a lot better and we will be able to fund manufacturing ourselves from then onwards, and operate like a normal business.

Where would you like to see Peak to Plateau in five years?

I would like Peak to Plateau to be known in New Zealand, the US and Europe, as a leader in the outdoor industry in terms of quality and performance, as well as taking a different collaborative approach to how businesses run.

I want to create a business that focuses on every part of the process and provides a benefit to everyone involved.

What advice would you give to people thinking about a business?

Be confident that you can succeed, and don't be discouraged by setbacks.