Founder/s: Sam and Sophie Hurley
What problems do you solve, and what products or services do you sell?
In the rural industry, the return on wool is a big topic of conversation as years ago, wool was a sought-after commodity and a big profit earner for farmers, but the return has been declining in recent years. Synthetic options have meant there are cheaper alternatives in many of the products that wool is used for, which hurts the industry.
Sheep need to be shorn for animal health reasons, and in return, we receive a beautiful product. We knew there must be another way we could use our wool to get a better return and help spread the message about the wool industry. So, we launched Honest Wolf.
We produce everyday products using our wool, such as overnight bags, laptop sleeves, wallets, and caps. We are trying to slow down the fast fashion industry by introducing a range that people can keep for a lifetime. We want our customers to buy once and buy right.
Who and where are your target customers?
The rural industry was quick to support us because they understand what’s happening in the wool industry at the moment. However, we also want to target the urban consumer to help tell the story of wool. In return, they purchase a product that supports the industry and the environment and is hopefully fashionable!
To help tell the story, we have created a lining in each bag, which is a topographic map of our farm, and it includes all our paddock names.
It helps connect the product back to the land where the wool was grown.
How and when did you first come up with the idea for your business?
In 2018, we started thinking about what other ways we could use wool. The conversation began because plastic bags were getting banned from New Zealand, and we thought we could make a reusable shopping bag for the supermarket out of wool because of the wool fibre benefits. Wool can keep your product cold or warm, depending on what you require. It’s good for the environment, too. So, we got a sample made of a reusable shopping bag using wool, and one thing led to another with what we could make out of the wool. That idea turned into the product range that we have now.
What are three things about your business that you are proud of?
1) Trying to do it in an honest way and staying relatable to our customers. We’re proud that we are just a normal couple trying to do something different – something that anyone else can do. We live in a remote spot, and we can still launch a business that ships internationally.
2) Secondly, it’s been two and a bit years in the making, with many road bumps along the way, including a pandemic. So, pursuing this was tough, but I am glad we stuck it out!
3) And last, doing it as a mum and the balancing act. Being at home with Harry [my son] and running a business up here is pretty cool as I get to be home with him every day.
How do you market your business and what advice do you have for others around marketing?
We do a lot through social media. It is a place where we can easily tell our story, and people can see exactly where the product comes from. We want to share life on a farm with our urban consumer but translate it to them in a way that they can understand.
We’re also now starting to do a little bit through various fashion, urban, and rural magazines.
At first, we didn’t spend anything on marketing. We wanted to let our growth happen naturally and through word of mouth. It gave us time to figure out our approach and the way we wanted to do things. Now, we’re starting to get into a bit of paid advertising. So, I guess the advice would be to don’t rush into anything initially and let it happen organically for a while.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building your business so far?
We have to send our wool from the farm to get scoured in Hawkes Bay and then send it on a boat to India to get made into our products and then sent back to the farm. That’s our biggest challenge because we’d ideally have it made in New Zealand, but there’s no one that we’ve found that can do what we want here. So, that’s a challenge in itself because it means time and money in shipping something that will return to New Zealand anyway.
We’re hopeful that will change, and someone will bring in the right machinery to make it possible in New Zealand one day. It would create jobs for various industries, and it would be one less step for future entrepreneurs because the logistics behind the transport is not easy!
What is the biggest entrepreneur lesson you would like to share with other Kiwis thinking of starting their own business?
There’s a lot of skills I didn’t have before that I’m still learning. Running your own business means that you don’t always have the money to pay other people to do things for you. So, you’ve got to teach yourself. I had never worked on product design or doing the bills or logistics, but I’m slowly getting the hang of things. Some aspects of running a business sounded a lot harder in my head than what they are. And a lot of the time, I thought, “Oh, I won’t be able to do that” and it put me off. But I slowly am working through each part.
Getting advice from the right people along the way would have made things happen a lot quicker than they did. Sometimes I didn’t even know what I was trying to ask if I did need help! Putting what’s on your mind to paper and having that conversation with someone else is hard, but I would have been a lot quicker if I had done it!