Aucklander Simon Hetherington explains why finding solutions to problems makes the best businesses, coming up with the idea for Wears lying on a beach in Mexico and running a business while holding down a full time job.
What does your business do?
Wears is an online subscription business that makes underwear for men out of a material called tencel that comes from predominantly beech and eucalyptus trees, which have good growing properties and are self-populating, as opposed to cotton whereby forests are cleared to plant cotton trees and the trade is not that good for the environment. Tencel has great properties of being sustainable but the fabric itself is also incredibly soft.
My business partner Jack Greene and I came up with the idea in October 2017 in Mexico, on the beach at Sayulita brainstorming ideas. We both moved back to New Zealand at the start of 2018, worked on the business all last year and launched it in May.
Was creating a sustainable business a conscious decision?
When we were coming up with ideas, thinking about what we wanted to do, we always said what's the point of getting into business if we're just going to create something that's creating waste through a carbon copy of something else. Our thinking was 'whatever we do, let's try to do it in a way that's going to create less harm'. The best way not to create harm is not getting into business at all but we thought if we can create this and take consumers away from traditional buying methods of cotton then at least it's a step in the right direction.
What was the motivation for starting it?
Jack and I were trying to come up with ideas of how we could find solutions in different industries. We came up with many, but underwear was what we landed on as we didn't feel there were any quality options available. The status quo was either over-priced designer brands or crap quality home brands - nothing really satisfying that middle part with good quality at a good price.
What's your background and have you run a business before?
Jack was overseas for about five years, the same amount of time as me, working on super yachts. I moved to London and did the classic two-year OE at 23, spent a couple of years there, then moved on to Amsterdam for a couple of years and then Canada before going to Mexico, coming up with this and then going back to Europe to find our production plant and fabrics suppliers.
My background is more on the commercial side, I worked for Asics Europe, and now I'm working for Red Bull here, so I'm juggling that and the business at the moment. We both knew we wanted to do something together - we had a raft of ideas we discussed previously, but neither of us has a background in textiles.
How big is your team?
We fairly quickly brought on a third guy, Jebbe Unthank, who is also a Kiwi, based in Europe, who has a background in textiles - he is kind of the master behind design and fabrics.
It took close to a year and a half from idea conception to launch - what went into starting your business?
It's been a long road from conceptualisation to launch but we're happy at how everything panned out when we went live. In that time it has largely been product focused, we were also getting the website developed, developing the brand's identity, and working on a few other aspects. The main thing that took most of that time was sampling the product.
Every time we tried a new waistband or a new fabric in terms of the percentage blend we'd have to source it, manufacture it, send it to New Zealand, test it out for a few weeks, say what worked, what didn't and that whole process of changing elements and getting it re-made was a couple of months each time. We sampled the underwear ourselves - it was a real thought out process as we wanted to get everything right to make sure the product was perfect.
Wears is run on a subscription-based model, what was the thinking behind that?
It takes the hassle out of underwear shopping for a lot of customers, especially guys that can be pretty lazy at shopping or changing their old underwear. We thought let's take the hassle out and start a subscription and people can receive a new pair every three months. We had an idea for the subscription model pretty early on. We had heard of a similar model happening in America, with the likes of Dollar Shave Club and Shade Club.
The whole subscription model thing, we've been listening and reading about how it has been happening overseas but it hadn't really been touched in New Zealand, in many facets, not just underwear. Currently, we're sitting about one third subcriptions to two thirds one-off sales, which is better than what we expected.
What's it like working in the textiles industry?
We've definitley learnt a lot, and a lot about the ways of working in the industry. Because we're manufacturing in Portugal, I'm not sure if it's the Portugese way of working or if it is just the textile industry, but there is always something that's not going to plan. Whether it's the fabrics being delayed or you've been pushed back on the production timeline.
Whenever we call weekly there is always something that is not happening how we planned and we have to put a plan B in place. Some of these manufacturers have big clients so naturally they sway towards their big clients to satisfy them so the little guys drop off and become second fiddle. Even on our latest production run, there was a fire at a factory that delayed the yarn getting to the fabric mill.
What are your long term plans?
As quickly as possible we want to also offer at least a introductory women's range. A lot of feedback from wives and girlfriends is asking if they can buy something - it's quite a common request, so that's next for us in the next year. We also have plans to start pushing into Australia to get some traction there.
What advice do you give to others thinking about starting their own business?
Be prepared for a lot of setbacks before you can even get the business live. Be prepared to learn a lot in business. For the three of us, what we've learnt in the last year-and-a-half is almost ten fold in working for another company.