To our lovely Winki Suits family,
I think many businesses are currently in a similar boat, we're in un-chartered waters and for many of us, it feels a bit like an uphill battle. For those who are interested (hi, mum), I hope this gives you a bit of encouragement and insight into what goes into running a small business and how we're dealing with the current times.
Kip and I started Winki Suits about two and a half years ago. We were on the ferry home from the city in our early twenties when we realised there was a real gap in the market for functional, modest and vintage-inspired surf-wear (that didn't give you a sexy wedgie). But we wanted a business to be more than surf-wear, we had a vision of partnering with women to make our suits ethically and wanted a business with purpose. Fast forward to now, where we've almost been live for a year with definite up and downs.
Our business motto for a while was 'started at the bottom and we're still here', which we have laughed and cried at, simultaneously. We both personally had a particularly difficult last year. I remember the cafe we were at during our meeting shut, so we just sat on the pavement laughing and crying because we'd run out of energy, inspiration and drive for our little business. If there's one lesson we've learnt, it is that everything takes significantly longer to accomplish in a start-up setting.
Think, 'lack of funds, working two jobs, faking it till we make it (have we made it yet?!), partnering with women who have had limited sewing experience, trying to make a profit but still wanting to find the best quality fabric and printing, not knowing the design process, riding to the post office everyday, learning tech-programs, designing cool prints that weren't in fact cool, trial and error x 10000, doing business with many people who don't speak english (which gives you hilarious outcomes)' - you get the picture.
I even remember Kip and I going through suits to order on the night before my wedding because we were so keen on getting it right and keeping up with demand. That was just the beginning.
Once we'd started, we had an amazing amount of support from our lovely customers and friends! So much so, that we could not keep up with demand. We sold out of our suits within a few days after every restock. As we are making our suits ethically with a small manufacturer in the Philippines (called The Blessed House), we can only produce very small quantities. We're also self-funded so we don't have the luxury of ordering thousands at a time and neither would we want too, each of our suits are hand made with love and effort (from us and the team who sew them).
We have had a long (two-year) struggle to get the stitching, cuts and prints right. The Blessed House have been amazing in partnering with us as we learn together but we've realised that we've chosen a difficult way to go about things. Maybe logistics isn't our strong-point? Our fabric is shipped from Aus, we then use a sublimation printer in Manilla, labels from China and eventually it's all sent to The Blessed House in the Philippines to sew and send back to Australia. We were still having issues late last year with stitching, so to ensure we were making and selling the best suits possible we decided to bring it all onshore, here in Australia. This was a monster task in itself as we had to find new printers and manufacturers in Sydney (there aren't many around)! We are so thankful to Budgy Smuggler, as they helped point us towards the manufacturers they use and we've been happily set up there for a few months now. This is only for a short-time while the team in the Philippines become equipped with the right machinery and are trained to learn the techniques to sew neoprene securely. We're still 110% committed to working and partnering with them but in order to keep up with demand and ensure quality control, we had no other choice but to bring manufacturing to Australia short-term.
We can happily say that the team at the Blessed House are dedicated to ensuring they can produce quality that is on par (if not better!) than the suits made here in Australia. We've listened to all our customers and have made adjustments to the suits (so there's no more chaffing under the armholes) and we've switched to a new stitching method to ensure our suits are long-lasting and more secure than EVER! WOOHOO. We're really happy with the outcome.
So, what about COVID-19 and what are we doing now? Well, what's not about it.
It has affected manufacturing here and added a whole new dimension of complexity - the time it takes to place an order, print, sample and make our suits has tripled. On the flip-side, we're really happy we can support the Australian economy at the moment. Our sales have slowed a lot (partly because we're out of stock), but regardless we've noticed a dip. I'm sure that's a similar story for most businesses (in fact, I know it is). So we're working with what we have, riding this one out and we will use this time to design new styles and prints to launch in Spring 2020. We'd love to launch a few more products in July this year but that depends on a few things - but girls can dream (and you gotta dream!).
All in all, we're still more committed and more passionate than ever about bringing you the best suits around! We're so excited to see the Blessed House transform and up-skill in their sewing abilities and we're really excited to go over and visit them (we were meant to visit this month but unfortunately that won't happen for obvious travel-ban reasons). We're excited to re-stock and introduce some new products and styles for all you salty, surfer gals out there and we're really committed to being as ethical and sustainable as we can be for our customers. Life is worth doing what you love! We still get such a thrill from seeing our suits in the wild. I was in Byron a few weeks ago and saw a Penny Sand going out at Wategos beach and it's pretty satisfying to say, 'wow - we created that!'.
If there's one take away from this, it would be; if you have a dream or a business idea, start somewhere - anywhere! Once you take the first step, each step from there is more satisfying. And, during this time, appreciate and support small business owners - I so appreciate anyone who has a business - it takes work and dedication and if they bring you something you love, then they've done their job very well!
Love Becky and Kip x
PS; see below for highs and lows from our journey the past two and a bit years!
Our very first ever Winki shoot with samples at Bawley point!
Edil (our head sewer) in the Philippines working with the team our our suits and a long strap...
Our mini tote bag (that wasn't meant to be mini) & Kip wearing a two piece that was meant to be a one piece...haha.
Some of our beautiful friends in our iconic Rust print & us being dorks.
Us being dorks pt. 2
Our girls fighting for the bight! And we won - they're now not drilling the bight!
Mark Morgan doing some great photography for our second campaign this year.
Our amazing group of girlfriends who double as models - what a community!