Auckland entrepreneur Geoff Gates, founder of athleisure brand Zovari, talks leveraging synergies off his swimwear brand and the benefits of running two e-commerce businesses alongside each other.
What does your business do?
Zovari is a Kiwi sustainable active-fashion brand, built to combine the worlds of fashion, high-performance sport and self-expression. Our athleisure collections are made using recycled plastic bottles and are designed to be worn as both high-performance gym and fitness apparel as well as everyday athleisure wear. We launched in 2020 but the business has been two years in the making.
What was the motivation for starting it?
I have background in high-performance sport and I've always had a vision to create a brand that inspired people to realise their potential in fitness and life. I see big synergies and crossovers between swimwear and active living, so it was a natural progression for me to bringing Kiwi sustainability and self-actualisation to the performance-activewear market, in a way that inspires self expression in all.
Launching Zovari off the back of Cinnamon Swan has allowed us to offer loyal customers the chance to now connect with sustainability and empowerment not only in the water, but also whether they are a professional athlete or simply living an active life.
How big is your team?
There's three of us working on Zovari, we run a small and very chaotic operation.
How was the business funded?
I started the business with my own personal savings, we haven't taken any outside investment. I invested around $50,000 to start Zovari, a lot of that has been spent on marketing and branding; that's a bottomless pit, and also on product development. Because we're really strong on branding, to get our messaging across, we've invested a lot in that area. One of the challenges with that is you don't often see that return straight away.
How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted the business?
Our brand is all about inspiring people to chase their dreams and to not follow the crowd so it is kind of ironic that right now we're launching a brand at a time where most of other brands are playing it safe and maybe doing the opposite. We see the pandemic and changed consumer behaviour as an opportunity to inspire other people to follow their dreams despite the circumstances. If you really believe in something you can do it no matter what the current environment is like.
It's a really unusual time, we've haven't experienced an increase in sales but we have noticed that people are now more interested in Kiwi brands and sustainability. All of those values that we are all about, people are starting to appreciate a lot more.
You run sister e-commerce brand Cinnamon Swan, is beneficial for Zovari?
Managing two brands and jumping from one to the other you have to ensure that you remain extremely focused, but there are definitely synergies through things like manufacturing, content creation and knowledge-sharing. We find a lot of efficiencies between the brands which has been really helpful. We're based in Remuera and the brands operate from the same office, which again is efficient. We'll always look to have shared resources between the two because they are so similar like a lot of other big brands do.
What are your long-term plans?
We're a proudly Kiwi brand and we're all about building a connection with New Zealand and the community. Beyond that, we want to take the brand global, but we think it is important first to be really strong in our home market. For the next year or two our focus is on New Zealand but we've had interest from countries in Europe and America.
What are you focused on for the next three months?
As a new brand there is a lot of noise in the market so we need to let people know what we stand for and why they would want to purchase from us rather than another brand. I'll be engaging in a little bit of influencer marketing and social media exposure, and more personal forms of marketing - we find it very effective having conversations with potential customers whether it is in one of retailer stockists or a small event of pop-up. I find connecting human to human is much more powerful than just Facebook ads.
Is physical retail expansion on your radar?
We're in three boutiques at the moment and we're definitely open to down the line having our own retail store, but at the moment it has been really good partnering with other retailers with our same values. In two-three years' time we'll have our own branded store.
What advice do you give to others who want to start their own business?
You have to love the process and what you are doing because being in business is too hard to do if you're not doing it out of love.