Have you always manufactured abroad?
We began in 2008 and have always manufactured in China. New Zealand's shoe manufacturing is very limited, so working in China has given us more opportunity in terms of what we can do with our designs.
But all the design happens in NZ?
All of our initial concepts and design happen here in New Zealand. We are passionate about having a theme or a story to tell so there is a lot of research, dreaming and drawing that happens before we travel to China to sample. It makes it easier when finalising samples as you have a clear path and direction of what you are wanting to achieve.
How did you choose your overseas markets?
I originally studied in Italy so had researched manufacturing there and had found some good contacts but the price was noticeably higher. We also researched China as a market and found some good contacts there that were prepared to work with lower minimums. After going to visit factories we settled on a contact, which then opened doors to other factories that have allowed us to expand the range.
What was the research process?
We talked to other designers both in clothing and shoes, who were at the time manufacturing in New Zealand but are now manufacturing offshore, about their processes. We visited factories here in NZ, but always felt we would have more opportunity offshore. We spent a lot of time emailing, searching the internet and then finally going over to China to see what we could achieve. It took a long time and fortunately we were able to make contact with some great people.
What does it do for your business model, manufacturing overseas?
Our business model has traditionally been more based around wholesale, however over the last three years we have gone into more of a vertical model. Doing this means not only producing more but more often. This is something we constantly work on with our factory to maximize customer opportunities.
How do you communicate with your overseas factories? And how often?
Depending on what part of the manufacturing process we are in, we could be talking up to 10 times per day. We mainly communicate via email but Skype is also part of our communication. We do also travel to China four times per year. We find it best to talk face to face as a lot more can be achieved and is a preferred way to business for the Chinese.
What have the challenges been?
Sometimes there are difficulties communicating but we always manage to work it out. I am constantly amazed at how much we can achieve being in two vastly different countries in the world, talking two different languages.
Any advice for other NZ businesses at the beginning of this process?
Do as much research as you possibly can. I think this an area that can be undervalued and if you put in the time and energy in at this point, it will save you a lot of time ahead. Don't be too quick to start. We spent around 17 months researching, talking,contacting and visiting people before we pressed go. Make sure you look at how every part of your business connects from manufacturing to marketing and write a plan.
Next week: Many small businessses are extremely proud of their company culture and it's something they establish very early on. But what happens when your company gets bigger and the boss gets spread ever thinner. How do you protect and continue to nurture that small business culture?