Robert Wilson started his brands when he was 21. Fast forward 16 years, he has patented a camouflage print and inked a deal with retail giant Oakley.

What does your business do?

We design hunting and fly fishing equipment and wholesale it throughout New Zealand and Australia. We have two brands: Hunters Element which is the much bigger side of the business and Riverworks which is fly fishing.

Our product is sold in hunting and fishing shops in New Zealand, and some of the general sporting goods stores in more rural areas. In Australia we are dealing with sporting goods store, and a lot more gun shops. Riverworks came first but they were both done at very similar times. It's a very seasonal business and we've been around 16 years now.

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What was the motivation?

When I was 21 I was working at a hunting and fishing retail store in Wellington and I could see a lot of opportunities out there to make gear, what I thought was better, that focused more on advances in technology.

We wanted to make higher-performing, more comfortable gear. Our gear is generally all apparel-based, jackets, clothing and footwear, and I see it as my job to keep people warm and dry and comfortable in their experiences in the outdoors.

How has your business changed in the past 16 years?

Retail has changed a lot. The clothing category in these stores has grown significantly. The retail market that we're in is pretty buoyant and is a growth market. The one thing that we've seen out there and has been very successful for us is the sustainability promise and the moves we've made in that direction.

What are you doing in the sustainability space?

We did a full company-wide audit to review all aspects from production, factories and packaging, and this last season we have removed most of the plastic packaging from all our products. So far, we've removed 59,000 plastic bags which is a pretty significant amount of plastic bags. Because we sell a lot of footwear, we go through a lot of cardboard packaging so we've gone non-recycled not-very-easy-to-recycle-cardboard coated in plastics to recycled packaging that can be composted, and so far we've saved 3.4 tonnes of card.

Fishing seasons have changed, fish don't run at the same time they used to, duck shooting season has changed. We started noticing these changes 12 years ago when the fish changed their running patterns in Taupō and I thought: "We're an outdoors company selling gear and we have no idea of what we're doing [to the environment]." Plastic bags and boxes are easy wins but there were some nasty things we found out that we didn't know if we were doing or not doing so after investigating we decided to clean up and push for our industry to clean up its act.

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Hunters Element product designer Alex Broad wears Oakley sunglasses made with the brand's camo print. Photo / Supplied
Hunters Element product designer Alex Broad wears Oakley sunglasses made with the brand's camo print. Photo / Supplied

You're targeting the US for expansion - what are your plans for that market?

The US is the market that we're really keen to move into - it's the biggest hunting market in the world. Ultimately, it is to open up in the US under our own umbrella; we would go in at wholesale level and online. I've been working on it very closely but I just found out my wife's having twins so I'm probably going to push the plan out by a couple of years. I was working on 2020 but it's now going to go out to 2021. We have a camouflage licensing arm of the business and we license that to very large hunting brands in Europe who use the pattern.

You recently signed a deal with Oakley, tell me about that?

That deal is under our camouflage licensing arm, Desolve Camouflage. Oakley saw this camouflage pattern that we are doing and they thought it looked pretty cool and they bought a film and dipped their sunglasses in it, so you can buy Oakley sunglasses with our camo pattern on them. It's pretty cool to be dealing with a huge, incredible brand like Oakley. The deal isn't worth a huge amount as they bought the film - it's more a cool win than a big dollar win.

What are your plans for the New Year?

Last year we launched a huge range of gear and this year coming we have a number of new pieces coming up to complement them, and a continued push forward on our urban everyday wear - we have new pieces of those to launch also.

What advice do you give to others wanting to start their own business?

Get out and do it, and make sure you enjoy it.