Lifestyle clothing company ilabb is expanding. Co-founder and chief executive Seadon Baker talks emotive marketing and the benefits of pop-up retail stores.

A brief description of the business

Ilabb is essentially a sports, active lifestyle brand which works hard to inspire collaboration to ultimately build an ilabb family, which we put a lot of value into.

What inspired you to start this kind of business?


My business partner, Matt Saunders, and I came from a pretty big racing and motorcross background. We spent many years racing in New Zealand and internationally and we ultimately got to a point, when I was 20 years old and Matty a little bit older, where we were looking to do something a little bit different.

Motorcross at the time was a little bit bland and there wasn't a lot of creativity or colour, so we really wanted to bring something different to the space.

How long has ilabb been in business and how big is the team?

We launched the brand in 2007, 10 years ago - time has flown by.

There are 25 people in the programme currently, including all part-time and full-time employees. Our head office is in Auckland, along with our two retail stores and then we have multiple online stores worldwide.

Are your products made offshore or here in New Zealand?

Offshore. Pretty much 90 to 95 per cent of our production occurs in South China.

What offshore markets are you currently in?

We predominantly sell in the Australasian market at this stage.

We've done a number of pop-up stores in the US over the past 18 months, doing market exploration. We sell online into 30 countries so there's always a consistent flow of ilabb products going to France, Spain and all over the place - it's exciting to see those orders going. There's not a lot of large market penetration in any Northern Hemisphere markets at this point.

ilabb co-founder and chief executive Seadon Baker.
ilabb co-founder and chief executive Seadon Baker.

For us this year a big focus is to grow Australia to a substantial level which will give us a good stepping stone to head to the Northern Hemisphere.

Who are the company's direct competitors?

It's a bit different in New Zealand to offshore, but there are some really awesome successful Kiwi brands such as Huffer, Lower, Federation. We're competitors with each other but we all have a lot of respect for one another so it's quite cool and there is a really good vibe there.

Are you and founder Matt Saunders still involved in the designs?

My role nowadays is CEO and my business partner is creative director.

Matty and the design team work collectively across all of the ranges, so he has a really big part to play in the design of everything and the creative direction of the campaigns. I attend all of the range reviews and give a lot of feedback to our sales manager from a business perspective, so we are really quite hands on and heavily involved in the design process, whether it be critiquing or designing.

If you work really hard at creating emotional connections through marketing and through someone falling inlove with the brand, then you're essentially building your own USP.

What's the best thing about running your own business?

I think the team, and the opportunities to grow. Building a strong team and inspiring others to really join that is a part of the business I really enjoy.

Also the fact that we're growing in the ever-changing retail environment. We're quite lucky as technology is really helping the business to grow at a faster rate and enable us to work remotely nowadays, really easily. There's lots of really awesome technological tools around us to help business be done differently in a new era.

How many units of apparel do you sell per week, month, year?

Last year we were in the hundreds of thousands of units. I would probably say in the 100-150,000 unit mark per year. December is a really big month for us with several thousands of units going out due to seasonality.

Inside ilabb's Grafton store in Auckland.
Inside ilabb's Grafton store in Auckland.

When did you open your retail stores?

We've had one retail store for four years and two for the last year and a half.

We had always done pop up stores in the first year of business and we're still doing them today. Last year we did a partnership with Rhythm and Vines music festival in Gisborne which was amazing - that was our third or fourth year in partnership with those guys and so we designed a really awesome collab festival line which we released in the lead up to the event and then we also had a really awesome store there for the whole festival duration.

What advice would you give to others thinking of starting a business?

Don't be afraid to ask for help, or look for a change. We have always asked questions - you don't always know what you're doing.

One of the really important things we've learnt over the years is that when you're starting in the world of fashion, or the clothing industry, it is typically very tricky as you're not necessarily bringing a USP (unique selling proposition) to the table, or something that is necessarily too different from want is currently in the market. With that said, if you work really hard at creating emotional connections through marketing and someone falling in love with the brand, then you're essentially building your own USP as you go.

It's all about an emotional connection with a brand as to why someone would want to pay more for something than buying a cheap blank with no branding. We try to live by the saying; 'A logo doesn't mean anything, it's what you pour into it over time', and I think that is very true to today's brands - it's about what the brand stands for and what you feel when you wear it.