When personal trainer Nikki Clarke had her first baby, little did she know that her search for a bra would result in a multi-million-dollar export business.
Clarke couldn't find a supportive nursing bra for high-impact sports. The type of garment she had in mind simply didn't exist. Attempting to breastfeed in a tight-fitting sports bra and racer back top was a little akin to lion wrestling.
It was a problem that set Clarke on a trajectory to join a select bunch of at-home parents who set up export businesses with worldwide followings.
With no rag-trade experience, Clarke set out to solve her own problem and, as it turned out, the same issue faced by mothers as far afield as Brazil, Russia and Israel.
Instead of returning to work in 2014 at the gym across the road from her home as she planned, Clarke took a year off to develop her business idea. She was lucky that husband Adam was a personal trainer as well and at times could take the baby to the gym with him.
Clarke began her business journey by mocking up the type of support bra that worked for both exercise and breastfeeding, which she shared online with friends – validating her hunch that this was a much-needed product.
"Right from the beginning we thought there was definitely a market. I started by putting a photo up (on social media) of what we wanted to make. My friends said: 'Oh my God, I need one of those.' There was so much positivity around it."
That was good enough, thought Clarke, to make some money on the side and a business, called Cadenshae, was born.
To get the business off the ground the Clarkes had to order $20,000 of product. It arrived at the couple's 75sq m home in Ruakākā, Northland, just two weeks after Nikki gave birth to their second child. It was scary, says Clarke, but the worst that could happen was they would have to give it away for free.
The reality was that at the end of the first year Cadenshae had sold $300,000 of bras and other maternity activewear such as breastfeeding tops and maternity shorts and sports leggings. Clarke pinched herself over the numbers. Yet that revenue doubled year-on-year and this year will be $5 million. "That is so much. It has been a crazy ride."
The company has won two Westpac Northland Business Awards, in 2016 and 2018, for best emerging business and best small business and in November this year was named in the Deloitte Fast 50: the fastest growing businesses in New Zealand. Cadenshae has been so successful that Adam had to give up his day job.
Around 70 per cent of Cadenshae's sales are outside of New Zealand and the Clarkes say they are very grateful for the advice and support they've received from NZTE.
The couple now employs 15 people at a One Tree Point warehouse. The staff members include all four of their parents and, at times, their children. So far they have sold, packaged and sent more than 100,000 parcels.
The couple has had four children since they started the business.
Mothers who start businesses are often labelled "mumpreneurs", a term slammed as patronising in a study by payments specialist Moneycorp last year.
Sixty-five per cent of people saw it as negative when entrepreneur is already a gender-free term.
Adam Clarke, 35, says he receives a lot of "well-meaning" sexist remarks. He's often asked, "how does your wife do it all?" assuming he takes a back seat in parenting, leaving his wife to manage the majority of the children's care, the house, and the company.
"We've seen a major shift in how households operate since the 1980s, but we have a long way to go.
"There's still a notion out there that women are in charge at home, while men are the moneymakers, and when they get home, they can put their feet up.
"These views need to be thrown out. Many women I know are making more money than their partners, and a lot of dads I know are giving their all at home too - this should be recognised, accepted and celebrated.
"It grates me that in 2019, we're not entirely there. Things are not equal."
Nikki agrees that when a woman returns to work, she's still regarded as the main caregiver and is expected to perform her job to the same standard she did before she had her baby.
"This can be extremely difficult when their partner either isn't supportive enough, or his workplace isn't open to the fact he may have to do more on the home-front now he's a dad.
"Women need more support. Dads need to be available for pick-ups, sick days, to get the milk on the way home etc. Not only this, but we need employers to encourage their working dads to well…be a dad."
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Welcome to our village wee one. Feeling very lucky to have a healthy baby girl that arrived at 4.45pm weighing 3.31kg (7.3lb) Thank you so much for your best wishes and your kindness. We're all doing really well thanks to the wonderful team at Auckland City Hospital.
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Of New Zealanders who applied for parental leave as the primary caregiver in 2019, 98.59 per cent were women and 1.41 per cent were men.
New Zealand's most famous stay-at-home dad is Clarke Gayford, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's fiance who takes care of their daughter, Neve.
Ardern took six weeks of maternity leave in 2018 and was lauded around the world.
Another high-powered woman who cut her leave short to return to work was former Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer. She famously announced her pregnancy the day she was appointed chief executive in 2012. She took just two weeks of paid leave after she had her son.
Mayer was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world and labelled a "pathbreaker and a trailblazer and an inspiration to women everywhere".
She also went back to work in less than a month in 2015 after she had twin girls.
Kiwi workers are entitled to up to 52 weeks of parental leave, with 22 weeks of it paid by the Government. Although many companies offer their workers more on private arrangements. The allowance will go up to 26 weeks in July.
The maximum allowance is $585.80 before tax which can be a struggle for the average family to live on.
Lynley Edwards, aka The Lunchbox Queen didn't want to go back to full-time work in sports and travel marketing after her maternity leave ended. Local part-time jobs paid $20 an hour or less, which didn't enthuse her so she started looking at business ideas.
"I wanted something that was my own and I also wanted something that was going to use my brain," says Edwards, a Devonport mother-of-two.
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🍎TWO MASSIVE MILESTONES for The Lunchbox Queen today! We've just reached 10,000 lunchbox fans on Instagram and... $1 million in sales! That's the equivalent of nearly 22,000 Yumboxes over the last 4 years. How crazy is that?! It's been a huge amount of hard work since I still run The Lunchbox Queen on my own from my teeny house, but I'm pretty proud of my little biz ☺ Thank you all so much for your incredible support, and for embracing fun, healthy, waste-free kid food with the same passion that I do 😙😙
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Initially, she started blogging about products for children but realised that advertising alone wouldn't add up to a sustainable income.
Edwards' first business case study was a product that had interested her social media followers: a scooter stand. She went as far as having a prototype built. The build cost, however, was prohibitive and the product would be a one-off purchase, meaning not much of a market for repeat sales.
The idea for The Lunchbox Queen metamorphosed from lunches she made her daughter. On school trips, Edwards noticed the other children's lunchboxes were full of a lot of chocolate and lollies. She knew there must be a better way, although the concept of zero waste wasn't really the thing it is now.
"I wanted to show people you could give kids healthy food in a way it was going to be attractive to them. In the same way she had research the scooter stand market Edwards turned her energies initially to selling products related to children's lunches.
She started out with $1000 of stock, which was mainly lunchbox accessories such as fancy food cutters, food picks and mini reusable sauce bottles, displayed in bento-style lunchboxes.
When Edwards began to post her wares on social media, the response was intriguing. Customers wanted the lunch boxes. Edwards was able to change direction quickly and The Lunchbox Queen was launched in November 2014.
The business took off fast and she built up 15,000 Instagram followers and 25,000 on Facebook. She aims to inspire potential buyers through social media posts, not hard sell. An online friendship with Kiwi blogger Happy Mum Happy Child, who promotes The Lunchbox Queen to 340,000 followers has helped boost sales considerably.
Edwards passed the $1m revenue mark in July this year and for some time has been matching the income of her husband, Colin, a sales manager in real estate. She still works just school hours, but has to put extra hours in during the evenings in peak period from October to February.
She had the market all to herself in the first 18 months. Competitors have come and gone. Often they sell cheap knock-offs from China and word soon gets around that the product isn't up to scratch. There are, however, two competitors who have made a mark.
The "next level" is a dilemma for Edwards. Expanding further would mean taking on staff and premises, which would mean she wasn't at home after school for her children. She currently has a storage unit in Glenfield, and a home overflowing in products.
The alternative is an exit plan of selling the business, which thanks to its social media following is a good option. "It has always been a big thing for me to build up something to sell. Even in the first couple of years when I wasn't earning very much I knew I was building an asset, which is why I kept going."
Work-life balance is the million-dollar question for Edwards. "That is the hardest thing. Having it at home I am never away. When I go away on holiday I am answering emails, especially having all the stock in my house. I would love to have a little shop and I would get to talk with people." But that comes with extra overheads.
The money has helped the Edwards explore their passion: travelling. The family has been able to take holidays to Fiji, Australia and Europe over the past few years thanks to the business.
Starting a business while on parental leave has become easier in some ways, says Nicola Smith, who started educational publisher Essential Resources in 2000 when her four children were aged between 2 and 6.
Smith had no background in education or publishing, but a chance conversation with her aunt Geraldine Sloane led the pair to the founding of the business. Smith started off working from her home office/laundry in Invercargill.
Today, 19 years later, the company is based in commercial premises in the same city. It exports more than it sells in New Zealand, employs more than 20 staff members and publishes on behalf of 150 authors.
In the early days of Smith's business, there was no such thing as 20 free hours of childcare, so the children were banished to the next room, when the older ones weren't stuffing envelopes. It doesn't sound very PC, says Smith, but was little different from her experience growing up on the farm.
Itisn't just women who start businesses while on parental leave.
One such dad-at-home was Darren Rawlins, who started his business the Family Dispute Resolution Service.
When lawyer Rawlins and his wife, Ella, moved to New Zealand from the UK he stayed at home with their 2-year-old and 3-month-old children, Pip and Leni, and she worked in optometry.
The family moved around for her locum positions. Darren built up contacts all around the country during that period and was able to land dispute resolution clients such as ACC, various district health boards and lawyers. The family now live in Auckland.
📷 Fun with the twins after earnings :) https://t.co/nmHouqOFDz— marissamayer (@marissamayer) April 20, 2016
Kiwi babywear brands Bobux and Nature Baby are great examples of businesses started while the owner was on maternity leave, says Lisa Thompson, general manager customers of New Zealand Trade & Enterprise.
NZTE introduces exporters such as Cadenshae to other entrepreneurs, helps them research and then launch themselves into new markets and gives advice on strategy, governance, sales and many other areas of business, says Thompson.
"(Parental leave) can be a really creative time for people when they have a bit of space to think about things."