Chris Larcombe, co-founder and director of Kind Face, talks to the Herald about how their family-run business is creating environmentally friendly sleep products and his ambitions for global growth.
What does your business do?
We are a specialised commercial sewing business in Avondale, fiercely passionate about making beautiful products here in New Zealand from premium natural materials which revitalise people with better sleep, greater relaxation and improved comfort.
What was the motivation to start Kind Face?
My wife Sarah and I purchased a commercial sewing business (Uren Barsal) in September 2017 which specialises in making bespoke bedding and soft furnishings for the accommodation and aged care sectors, and interior designers. It was always a goal of ours to develop a retail brand, and one we could instil our inherent values into - Covid was ultimately the catalyst for this.
We want as much of New Zealand as possible involved in the production of our products. We always manufacture right here in beautiful Aotearoa using our very own talented workroom team, and use specialist NZ suppliers for our high-quality natural materials.
What were you doing before Kind Face?
I have a diverse background of work experience, including tourism and hospitality, business development and sales-focused roles, operations management and IT.
What products do you sell?
What began as producing necessities (creating quality linen face masks) has evolved into weighted eye masks (our number-one seller), natural heat packs, eye pillows, sleep masks, door stops, draught stoppers and what we call “New Zealand’s pillow” - the cloud wool pillow.
It wasn’t part of our original plans to be making pillows, but we have become big believers in NZ wool and are not looking back. We have added cloud wool body and buddy pillows into the mix, along with cloud wool cushion inners.
In the next months, we will be launching continental quilts (premium duvets), linen and wool throws and comforters and headboards, all with premium NZ wool replacing traditional synthetic materials.
I must give a shout-out to Wisewool for developing the engineered wool products we are able to work with – these are game-changing in so many ways.
How big is your team?
We are a family of six in the workroom, plus there is an extended family of gurus who take care of social media, content creation, digital marketing and brand strategy. We do need to grow the team to scale up to the next level.
What is your ‘donate New Zealand’s pillow’ campaign about?
There are people in our communities who don’t have a pillow of their own and deserve a restful sleep, and we are in a position to do something about this.
Our Donate New Zealand’s Pillow initiative is our way of giving back to New Zealand through the skills and resources we have in-house, combined with the generosity of individual Kiwis and businesses who cover the cost of producing our cloud wool pillow.
With the support of our suppliers like Wisewool, our wonderful workroom team volunteering hours to help cut and sew, and friends and family helping to fill and pack the pillows, we are able to limit the donation cost to $50 (rrp is $179).
When did you start Kind Face, and how much has the business grown since?
Kind Face as a brand started in March 2020, just before the first lockdown. The business has grown both upwards and outwards by growing the product range and also opening up to the world, with Australia becoming a valuable market for us, and we have even shipped pillows to California, Minnesota and New York City.
How did Covid impact your business?
Covid is responsible for Kind Face being born. Back in March 2020, we moved quickly to develop a reusable face mask made from natural materials, in order to ensure our parent business Uren Barsal would stay in business.
I am not going to lie, the last few years have been extremely challenging and stressful, but we are one of the fortunate ones to have created something positive from Covid.
What’s the major focus for the business right now?
Financial sustainability during challenging economic times. We have managed to reach some significant milestones in the last three years, but we still view ourselves as a start-up, and have had to pivot multiple times thanks to lockdowns and economic hurdles - we now know who we are, our products have been validated and their value proven, and the potential to grow is real.
What challenges is your business facing at the moment?
Aside from not having enough time in the day to tick off the task list, our biggest challenge is the increasing cost of running a New Zealand manufacturing business, growing a business and storytelling.
These are challenges that can be overcome with an injection of capital and bringing on new team members.
We are fortunate to love what we do and create products that are not only amazingly useful to our fantastic customers, but to do things in a way that benefits everyone. This is what motivates us to keep pushing through the challenges.
Where do you see your business in the next three to five years?
I have found it easy to dream, but difficult to plan and execute these plans over the past three disruptive years.
Our goal is to grow the business by a factor of 10 by the time I turn 50, in four years. We will achieve this by growing our channel mix domestically and, of course, internationally.
In the past month alone, we have partnered with a specialist distributor who will find ‘values’-based retail stores in New Zealand and Australia for us, and we are launching an Amazon Australia store which will see our pillows and other items dispatched to customers via their Melbourne fulfilment centre – if this step proves to be successful, we will look to try Amazon USA, Amazon Japan and potentially other markets.
Growth is not only a good thing for Kind Face, it will be good for our suppliers and New Zealand in general, as we have lost so much of our specialised manufacturing overseas that we are reliant these days on importing products - which in so many cases don’t have the environmental or ethical values intended to make our country, or the world, a better place.
One dream I have is to make commercial sewing ‘attractive’ here in New Zealand, and I would love to add a café to our workroom so people can be part of the experience and see products being made – like you do in a coffee roastery or craft brewery.
What advice do you give others thinking about starting their own business?
The world is not complete yet, and there are many problems needing to be solved. If you are capable of solving a problem, then do it - but make sure you have the time, energy and resources to prove your business is viable.
Passion will get you most of the way there, but it will take something special to get across the line.
Having good people around you is so important, but I believe pushing yourself that extra 2 per cent beyond what most businesses feel is the pinnacle makes all the difference.