Small Business: When routine is right out of fashion

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Owners of fashion brand out to avoid nine-to-five rut, and black, as they seek colour, personality and vibrancy.

Brent and Laurinda Sutcliffe, owners of Loobie's Story, the NZ-based fashion brand, want to get people out of silos.
Brent and Laurinda Sutcliffe, owners of Loobie's Story, the NZ-based fashion brand, want to get people out of silos.

They say routine kills creativity. When Laurinda Sutcliffe set up Loobie's Story with husband Brent more than three years ago, she vowed she would make sure her team never felt they were in a nine-to-five rut.

"Both Brent and I wanted people to have a high degree of job satisfaction and not go to the same place every day doing the same number of hours," she says.

Sutcliffe was made redundant from her position as creative director and a director of New Zealand women's clothing label High Society in 2009.

These days she has all her staff working on contract, doing the hours that suit them and the fashion industry's seasonal fluctuations.

"They can work after the kids are in bed, they can do it on Sunday if they want to," says Sutcliffe. "Everyone has an ongoing role which can vary from 10 to over 40 hours a week."

Contractors fit their other commitments in alongside their Loobie's Story work, which takes planning and a high degree of trust and transparency on both sides, she says.

Sutcliffe is happy to pay a premium for her skilled workers. As a business owner it gives her flexibility and access to high calibre skills.

The designer has two people in each division of the business almost doing a job share. She has two design assistants, two production technicians and two in operations. The benefit of doubling up is that when one staff member went on maternity leave recently, the other "job share" person stepped up for a while.

"I am completely anti people sitting in their silos," says Sutcliffe. She also brings in an experienced graphic designer and a brand strategist at times.

The couple enlisted the help of two key people when starting the business to set the foundations for the company.

One was Jules Carroll, a production expert who introduced Sutcliffe to her main manufacturers in China and India.

The role suited Carroll, who had worked in Hong Kong for 15 years and for Marks & Spencer in the UK and who wanted to learn about the New Zealand market. "It was a case of you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," says Sutcliffe.

Another key figure has been her agent/distributor in Australia, Kim King.

King, from Kolourways Fashion Market, has established the brand in Sutcliffe's home country with great success.

"What I did suited the Australian market very well," says Sutcliffe, who says her brand is quite different from other New Zealand fashion labels.

"We are anti wearing black; we are about colour, personality and vibrancy."

Sutcliffe describes Loobie's Story as luxurious with a pretty, feminine bohemian look. It is designed for women 35-plus, targeting the 45-55 age group especially.

The brand is in 70 stores in New Zealand and more than 150 in Australia, most of which are independent boutiques, including Hartley's and Vincent in New Zealand. Sales are under $5 million.

In the next year or so the couple would like to open a flagship concept store in Auckland. Meanwhile, they expect to achieve sustainable growth rates of 30 to 40 per cent in Australia.

In New Zealand, where the market is more saturated, the idea is to consolidate. "We want to be sustainable here for the long term. We want to focus on making our brand a household name," says Sutcliffe.

Top tip
For flexible working the schedule has to work for both parties.

Best business achievement
To be growing in Australia.

- NZ Herald

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