Former nurse Melissa Heffernan talks about her Auckland-based business and how her time as a nurse inspired her to create a sun protection clothing line.
What does your business do?
Lissy Clothing is an e-commerce store which designs and manufactures SPF 50-plus sun dresses for women. The business was a year in the making and launched in January this year.
What was the motivation for starting the business?
I worked as a nurse for over 16 years and with the business I combined my two loves which are fashion and health. When I was nursing I remember a young mum who lost her life to melanoma and it always stuck with me, and it scared me how New Zealand has the highest rate of melanoma in the world.
I've always put my children in sun suits and rash shirts, and I thought 'well I'm not wearing any protective clothing' and the only thing I could think of was a rash shirt, but with that you are very much confined to the beach, and so I thought 'I'd really like something multi-functional and versatile, and whether that fabric would be able to be made into dresses.
It's early days since you launched, what's been the feedback you've received?
It's been really good. People presumed initially that the fabric was going to be a bit heavy and they are surprised at how light-weight and cooling it is.
What demographic has the clothing been most popular with?
The average age has been around about 30 through to the 65 age group. Some people who have had skin cancer in the past and then also who really care about looking after their skin from premature ageing, that is a bit more stylish.
Where do you get material for the dresses from and where are they made?
It took about a year to get it all up and running, and involved a lot of research into sourcing the specific fabric. I wanted to ensure that I was going to get the best quality fabric. I managed to find an Italian lycra which is also eco-friendly, made from pre-imposed consumer waste, a very hard wearing lycra.
The fabric is manufactured in Italy and I source it from a company in Australia. I design the garments and have them manufactured here in New Zealand.
In your opinion, what's the importance of product being New Zealand-made?
I hope to continue to have my garments made in New Zealand but it does add to the cost of producing the product. It's so lovely to be able to support New Zealand businesses. It's a very small market and has taken longer than expected to get off the ground as there are not as many manufacturers here but I do love having manufacturers in Auckland, it means that I can pop in and chat to them anytime.
What are your long term plans for Lissy Clothing?
I want to keep expanding the range so there's a bigger variety in garments to meet all women's needs. At the moment, with the initial range, there are just two sundresses but I do want to introduce more sundresses with more patterns and designs, and to also add some tops. One dress costs $220 and the other is $230.
What's the most challenging part about running this type of business?
The difficulty for me has been moving from one career to another. I was a nurse for over 16 years and its a very different skill set, so I've had to learn all about design, producing and manufacturing, marketing, getting the website sorted and brand design - a real steep learning curve but so exciting at the same time. It hasn't been easy but I have enjoyed every minute.
How much competition are you facing?
There is overseas competition but there isn't really anything from New Zealand; there's a little bit in Australia. We have a lot of people looking at the website from the US and the UK but the majority of sales and from New Zealand and Australia.
What advice do you give to people thinking of starting their own business?
It's important to have a business that isn't just about income - it has to be something you really love.