Think + Shift director James McNab talks to Aimee Shaw about motivation, competition and plans for his company.

A brief description of the business
Think + Shift is a furniture and spatial design brand that started in 2014. We specialise in bespoke design for clients ranging from small objects, to furniture, to large-scale interior spaces. We also have a new furniture range, angled towards architects and designers.

What sparked the idea?

There wasn't really any particular inspiration to start a business, it kind of just happened. We left university and couldn't find any jobs at the time, and actually started off with two other brands before landing on Think + Shift.

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The first two brands soon faded for various reasons, but mostly that had to do with the furniture retail game which is what we originally started doing. Think + Shift was a considered shift as we realised that we didn't want to be running an operations business our whole lives - doing assembly and packaging - we wanted to be designing, and that's what we had the training in.

How big is your team and where are you based?

There are three of us, Toby Mannis our product designer, Kate Pilot our spatial designer and myself. We moved offices recently to set up a showroom for our new furniture range. We're now situated on the second floor of the large brick building on Auckland's Karangahape Road.

What does your typical day look like?

Lots of discussions and a few coffees. It's all pretty collaborative. Both Toby and Kate work on their own projects but quite often they're working with each other, and I bounce between the two to make sure the projects are heading in the right direction and that the creative direction is still there. At night is when my work is done, this involves a good chunk of emails, design and planning.

Who do you work with?

We're working with some really cool brands at the moment, usually with people doing creative things within the industry, or those who really appreciate creativity. I hate the idea of having to force the relationship on someone, it just has to be a natural fit in my mind. We've been fortunate to have worked with top talent, to name a few of our partners, some of whom we've worked with and others we are working for include Universal Music, AS Colour, Rogue Society, Motion Sickness, Microsoft, Saint Kentigern College, Impala, Lujo and Unsworth Shepherd.

James McNab, director of Think + Shift.
James McNab, director of Think + Shift.

What kind of work are you doing the most for clients?

Generally design and sometimes, strategic thinking. Our clients often approach us to rethink difficult situations and then make them beautiful. With our variety to design small objects ranging to large spaces, we chose to do things in a particular way that gives us a choice to decide what we design and what we outsource.

What are you currently working on?

Universal Music's office and two new AS Colour fit-outs are our major projects right now. We're also in the midst of wrapping up a cool creative project for a carpark in Spain. Bigger plans include international work that accommodates a travelling lifestyle, I have plans to take the brand overseas at some point. I also want to build out a selection of creatively-driven product design for our range.

What keeps your creative in business?

We keep an eye on blogs and websites from abroad, but it's the conversations we have. The people I'm surrounded by are all creative, trying to do different things here, and they're all heading off overseas and bringing back new inspiration.

You can think of something for so, so long, and it never actually happens or someone beats you to it, but just start and figure it out as you go.

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What are the long-term plans for the business?

With the furniture side of the business we're really looking to target the New Zealand market. Overseas imports are starting to dominate the New Zealand market, in terms of furniture, and it's really something that New Zealanders are relying on, so in that respect I want to target New Zealand with my furniture range. With the spatial side of things, there's a lot of room to move from New Zealand overseas, and I'd love to have a studio that's partly based here in New Zealand, but also overseas, to get that international connection.

How much competition are you facing?

Competition in this space is massive overseas, and the work over there is at a really, really high level. In New Zealand competition is a word that gets thrown around often. There doesn't really seem to be competition here, and that might be to do with our size - I think it is a really supportive industry. With furniture design, we're constantly talking through ideas and trying to help each other out.

Do you have any plans to hire any more employees?

Down the line, yes. I'm a bit of a believer in having a team of specialists working under one roof and by this, it will allow us to do a lot more cool, high-quality work in different areas. Further to future plans, I'm really keen to get into architecture too. I don't have the formal training but I guess this ties into hiring more people.

What advice do you give to others thinking of starting a business?

Just start. You can think of something for so, so long, and it never actually happens or someone beats you to it, but just start and figure it out as you go. We didn't take a business approach, we took a design approach - that's everything we knew.