Michael Antonievich, co-founder of woollen apparel company Nature's Fleece, talks working with his family and making the most of local market days.
What does your business do?
We're an Auckland-based business focused on creating the softest woollen products for newborns and toddlers worldwide. We launched about six months ago, and we've started off with baby booties and woollen rugs that are 100 per cent New Zealand-made. The focus is on functionality, innovative designs and environmental sustainability. The fibres of this wool are the diameter of human hair and incredibly soft.
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My wife Viv and I started the business with my Mum and Dad and then another couple, our really good friends Andy and Jackie are running the business with us as well. Everything is run out of Mum and Dad's house in Auckland, my old bedroom is now being used for product storage, and the younger gen are looking after social media.
What was the motivation for starting it?
The business has been in the pipeline for about three years. When my wife was pregnant with our son Leon my parents were inspired to rekindle their love of woollen children's products. They previously produced and exported New Zealand woollen products in the 1980s as another family business, so Nature's Fleece is a reincarnation or new venture on the same path.
My dad was on a trip to the South Island when he came across these incredibly soft lamb skins which are basically the result of nature's life cycle and would otherwise go to waste as a by-product from farming, and he thought that they were an amazing textile that could be made greater use of. We source all of the skins from a tannery, mainly in the South Island, and then an Auckland-based sewing team crafts each product from their homes.
How big is the team?
None of us work on the business full time, and we're made up of three generations of our family, if you include the kids, who are basically the models, and our friends, so six of all together collaborate as a group.
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What are your long-term plans?
We are looking to extend our range quite carefully and organically to see how things go. We're currently sending products all over the world and frequenting a number of different market days around greater Auckland. We hope to add in a few more products over the next wee while to take it to the next level. We just want to continue to focus on creating really comfortable and beautiful high-end products for toddlers and children.
What's your background?
Myself, Viv, Andy and Jackie are working on the marketing and social media side of the business, as well as the product dispatch, with e-commerce and the website side, and then my dad is looking after product design and source of the materials.
How many orders are you sending out on a weekly or monthly basis?
We launched just six months ago and it has certainly fluctuated with the amount of advertising spent, and also market days. Most of our sales are conducted online through our website, and we had a really good run up until Christmas. We getting three or four orders a week from around the world. When we go to the markets it can be much higher than that.
What's your main focus for this year?
We certainly going to focus on our e-commerce outreach to start with but we are open to exploring different ideas and avenues longer term as new products come online with the range. We're looking to add one other product to the range this year. Our booties cost $59 and they come in two different colours. The rugs are $98 each and we do a combo with both products gift wrapped for $139 - the combo has been selling really well as a baby shower gift.
What's the biggest challenge you have faced running a retail business like this?
All of us come from very different backgrounds, from human resources through to digital design and marketing; dad is the only one with an export background so it certainly is a new venture for all of us.
What advice do you give to others thinking about starting a business?
Communication and planning from the outset is key. Have a clear idea of your goal and what you are setting out to achieve before you go too far down the line, and high-quality visual images is very important to tell a story online.