Hine Collection founder Miria Flavell talks to Jane Phare about launching a business the hard way and the role social media played.
In hindsight, Miria Flavell probably shouldn't have launched a business when she did.
She had little idea how to run one, even less budget and only a vague plan about how it would all work.
But here she is, two and a half years later, the proud owner of the Hine Collection, a brand of active wear designed for women of all sizes and shapes. Last week the company launched its winter range - delayed by Covid - its biggest collection yet.
The launch was social-media based, with images of the new leggings, bomber vests, hoodies, tops, jackets, singlets, sports bras and beanies rolling out on Instagram and Facebook.
Flavell is now confident enough to front the launch, talking through the range on a "reveal" video on launch day – the new zip down the front of the sports bra, the improved sweat-proof fabric - posted on Instagram to the Hine Collection's 56,100 followers and 20,000 on Facebook, backed up by Flavell's personal Instagram account of more than 19,000 followers.
Twenty-four hours after the launch Hine Collection's Instagram following had jumped by 600 to 56,700, and the orders started flooding in.
"I feel like we would have really struggled if it wasn't for social media because that was
where our community was created," Flavell says.
"Having our customers rave about the products and post about them, sharing about them
on their social media pages, that's what really got our brand out there."
And Flavell says just being able to record videos and messages on her phone and upload
them on social media is an instant way to connect with her clients.
It's some of those customers that star in a slick new video set to the seductive Ie Koko song by Puawai Taiapa. Hine women of all sizes dance – a mixture of kapa haka, a little hula, poi, ballet, and modern; there are some netball and gym moves thrown in, professional lighting and editing.
Flavell and her team find women wearing their gear on social media. "We hunt them down," she laughs. "We make sure we find all different body shapes."
It was irritation verging on anger over the narrow portrayal of women's body sizes that caused her to stride into her mother's lounge one day in early 2018 and announce she was going to start a business designing and selling a range of active wear for wahine of all shapes and sizes.
At the time, Flavell was a freelance makeup artist with zero business experience. They privately wondered how on earth she would manage to pull that off.
Flavell, a mother of 6-year-old daughter Te Hare and a son, Taimutuariki, 4, almost didn't manage. The first 18 months was hell on wheels, surviving on her partner Chris' income, working out of the garage at home and grappling with an avalanche of problems.
She had to sell pre-orders just to pay for the first load of stock, and then customers had to wait months for those orders. Batches of faulty clothing had to be returned and Flavell struggled to dispatch the orders.
"I was rushing everything to please our customers. I would launch things before they had even arrived."
In the first nine months Flavell earned nothing from the business, the family instead relying on her partner's income. But, she says, the purpose behind the brand kept her going. It was bigger than any problem that was thrown her way.
That problem was Flavell's increasing awareness that the women she saw on social media
modelling active wear looked nothing like her, or other women she knew. It bugged her that only size 8-12 women were represented, no "bigger wahine".
"A lot of my work was on social media and I noticed that a lot of the fitness and clothing
brands didn't show any women that were any bigger than a size 6 with six-pack abs. It
frustrated me that they didn't represent all women, and all their different shapes and sizes."
Flavell is a fit size 14, working out at the gym regularly and keeping her body in shape.
But she rarely saw anyone with her kind of body on social media. "I thought if I'm feeling this way what about all the other women that are much bigger than me?"
Stuff it, she thought, I'm going to do something about this. And that was pretty much the business plan.
Naming her new active wear brand the Hine Collection was a natural choice. The daughter of former co-leader of the Maori Party, Te Ururoa Flavell, she grew up with te reo Maori as her first language. Now her own two children are fluent.
Flavell's first YouTube tutorials – on how to apply makeup professionally – were in te reo.
She built up a following on social media, and then bands and companies started asking her to post their products. "All that influencer stuff," she says.
Then came the day when an active wear clothing brand asked her to take a photo of herself wearing their outfit. She did but noticed they didn't post it. So she rang them up.
Flavell is coy about the discussion or naming the company. But she does say it was the
catalyst to launching a business that catered for women who weren't all "tiny".
At a loss to know where to start, Flavell spent the next few weeks on Google, typing in
phrases like "how to start an active wear clothing business" and "how to fund a clothing
business." That first year she describes as the hardest in her life.
"I totally underestimated how hard it would be."
Flavell remembers walking into meetings with accountants, lawyers and business mentors, and having no idea what they were talking about.
So she began to read Tony Robbins and similar books, and listening to podcasts. From that she learned it wasn't good enough as a business owner not to know everything about the business.
It was last year that Flavell realised the Hine Collection was becoming a proper, profitable business. In February 2019 they took a stall at Te Matatini kapa haka festival in Wellington, selling the range in sizes from XS to 6XL (8 to 26).
"It was crazy. We had lines and lines of people. That was the first time I stood back and
Suddenly they could scarcely keep pace with growth. Since then they've moved into their own warehouse in Hamilton, have eight staff working for the company and have employed a third-party logistics company to process orders.
What started as a niche brand aimed at Maori women has broadened to a much more
diverse client base. Flavell hopes to inspire other women, including her daughter Te Hare, to take her lead.
Partner Chris has left his earthmoving job, and is studying accounting and finance to help in the business. Then, of course, Covid-19 struck.
The long-awaited winter range, due to launch in May, didn't arrive and the release had to be postponed until last week. The Hine Collection took a big hit but they kept staff on and managed to pay the bills.
Reflecting on those first tough years, Flavell says she doesn't regret any of it. "The hard
knocks were part of the learning curve," she says.
"Everything that I'm doing today is from lessons that have been learned from those first two years of being in business."
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• Today: Miria Flavell's Hine Collection caters for women of all shapes and sizes