Small business: Sharmas keep fashion family affair

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These children have to work twice as hard to earn the respect of their colleagues and employer- mum and dad.

Brand manager Anna-Lise Sharma with her director mum Christine (centre) and design director and older sister Emily at Ruby. Photo / Greg Bowker
Brand manager Anna-Lise Sharma with her director mum Christine (centre) and design director and older sister Emily at Ruby. Photo / Greg Bowker

Running a family business can be challenging at the best of times. But a family fashion business driven by creative personalities can find itself facing more challenges than many.

Christine and Vere Sharma, co-founders of De Vere Textiles, employ their fashion designer daughter Emily, 29, accountant son Ryan, 33, and brand manager daughter, 23-year-old Anna-Lise.

Christine is managing director of the company's Ruby fashion business, Vere runs De Vere Textiles, which imports uniforms and menswear, and nephew Lyndon is menswear merchandiser.

Ryan had worked in the UK for seven years, Emily in fashion after doing a degree at Massey University and Anna-Lise previously worked in public relations in the fashion industry.

"We have a real thing that you don't employ your family unless they have cut their teeth somewhere else," says Christine. "The kids have learned what another employer is like."

The children have to work twice as hard to earn the respect of their colleagues, she says.

The Sharma textile business began in their Devonport home, from where they first imported fabrics then garments for chain stores. They went into retail six years ago, buying Ruby. "It was an opportunity to take on retail and have a vertical business. Ruby was opening its fourth store when we got involved financially. Now there are eight stores," says Christine.

She is expanding Ruby's wholesaling reach throughout New Zealand, Australia and Asia and has launched an online store. Ruby has a concession at The Department Store in Takapuna and a number of independent boutiques.

"We have the advantage of a lot of mother and daughter consumers," says Christine. Sizes range from 6 to 14, catering for petite customers. As well as the clothing line, Ruby has a shoe range and accessories such as a nail varnish line and bags.

The Sharmas employ 15 staff at the Grey Lynn De Vere Textiles headquarters and a further 40 at the Ruby stores. The group's turnover is below $15 million.

The domestic fashion industry feels the pressure of online sales and of Australian chains, says Christine. But she is determined to avoid the "cookie-cutter" retail environment of Australia.

She would like to see New Zealand fashion brands being collectively promoted overseas, as happens in the wine industry. "We need to go to some of the international trade shows but to do it individually is very expensive."

Christine, Vere, Ryan and Emily have monthly board meetings with chartered accountant and company chairman Matthew Bellingham, of Bellingham Wallace, to bring an outside perspective into the firm.

One of the key issues is governance and the potential for underlying family emotional triggers to cloud business decisions. Bellingham has established a framework and set rules for board meetings.

"Matt's very good at giving everybody a chance to speak. Sometimes it can get heated but Matt can order a time out," Christine says. "You have to allow creative aspects to flow, especially with the younger team, otherwise they feel shut out."

Christine says the family make sure they have personal time together away from work.

"We have a bach in Whiritoa - that's where we have the best quality time; connecting as a family."

Top tip

It is crucial to be disciplined about separating work and family time.

Best business achievement

Surviving the global financial crisis.

- NZ Herald

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