Describe your family background in fashion
The family has always been involved in one way or another because they were also in the fashion industry.
I worked in my mum and stepfather's retail stores and garment factories when I was still at school. In the holidays I also spent a lot of time in my father's garment factory. My holidays were spent working in their businesses in some way so I had a broad understanding of the business long before I went to fashion college.
Who from your family was involved in the company you started?
The company that I still own, develops, produces and distributes the labels Louche and Aleida. It originally started 14 years ago in partnership with my mother. We also had a garment trading company at that time arranging production for overseas brands via Hong Kong. Within a couple of years we separated the business so that I could concentrate on the labels and she took over the production company.
I found it difficult working with a parent, particularly someone as strong and experienced as my mother. Although I only had everything to gain by being in partnership with her, I also felt frustrated that I wasn't able to run freely with my own ideas and for me the benefit of running a company, in the early stages, was being able to learn from my own mistakes and choices.
After we separated the company, the next few years her company still managed the manufacturing of the label. Then about seven years ago my company became fully independent. We still of course spend a lot of time talking about the business but our personal relationship is a lot smoother and enjoyable now that she has a casual advisory involvement rather than a practical involvement.
My aunt also became involved in my company in the early stages when I needed some help with distribution into New Zealand. As an accounts manager, she has become more and more involved over the years and now manages the distribution, sales and finances for New Zealand.
Have your family ever helped with finance?
My mother and stepfather and even my little sister have extended the company bridging finance when our cash flow has become overly stretched. My cousin's husband is our NZ freight forwarder.
Could your business exist without family help?
I doubt very much I would still be in business without the support of my family.
Manufacturing a new collection, completely new styles under delivery pressures every six months, is extremely time consuming and stressful both financially and technically.
Having an entire family involved in the industry with similar independent businesses gives you a lot of moral, emotional and practical support.
Do your staff bring family into the equation?
Staff has also involved their family in the business. The fashion industry being seasonal means that the peak times require many more hands on deck to keep to schedule.
Over the years we've built up a secondary support team that come on board during distribution and sales periods when we are most stretched. The husband of our Hong Kong accounts manager joins the distribution team, our design and marketing assistant's mother helps in the accounts department.
Being in the fashion industry is also a lifestyle choice. It's hard work but it can also be a lot of fun. If staff have to work long weekends and late nights during peak time, it makes it more enjoyable having some family and friends working with you. It can only be a good thing.
Next week: I am interested in hearing from businesses who have come out of a so-called dying industry and carved out a new niche for themselves, taking a different tack to reach a market which still wants a product. If your business fits this description please make contact..