The story of Ethcs

"Bugger"

Sitting opposite the large, frowning brows of the Vice Chancellor it occurred to me that criticising the university’s administrative processes wasn’t a good idea. Echoing through my head were my father’s favourite words, “pride cometh before a fall.” But I was proud, stubborn too, and it didn’t seem fair that I should repeat my final year because a bit of paper never made it down the hall and on to the desk of the Head of Department. I followed process, why didn’t they?!

Left with $200, a part-time job and a book full of designs, I wasn’t sure what to do. Times like this usually call for a few beers and a few mates- they certainly did on that night. Someone said, “bro, some of these would look mean on a t-shirt...” and ya know what? That sounded like a pretty choice idea.

“It started with $200 and a dream”

After a few weeks of dreaming, drawing, and worrying, I decided to bite the bullet and get a couple of t-shirts printed. I wore them around and to my amazement people would ask where I got them and if they could buy one. I decided to go into business. I saved for a few weeks and this time I made a box full of printed t-shirts and sold them on Trademe (New Zealands ebay). I quickly raised enough money to get my own website, but I wanted more than that. I wanted to build a brand that stood for something, where doing the right thing is more important than the rules and people matter most.

Ethcs started to grow and most days after work I would process orders, pack t-shirts and send them all over the world. Ethcs didn't start with much of a plan, I'm not very good with plans, I just decided to do stuff, make mistakes, learn from them and move forward.

Ethcs is Born

Then I met Bec...

Bec always has a plan and almost immediately she brought structure to Ethcs. While I worked on new designs and started to learn how to customise and improve our website, Bec started planning ahead. Spreadsheets, marketing strategies and analysis. Bec was implementing some solid business processes, managing taxes and preparing the business for the future.

With the analysis came realisation. Ethcs had launched with a point of difference and very little competition but over time the market was becoming increasingly crowded. It became easier and cheaper to own and run a website and plenty of people were trying their hand at selling online. Designs uncomfortably similar to ours were popping up all the time, so we decided to make a change.

Changing the game

In the immortal words of Ice T, "don't hate the playa, hate the game." We couldn't blame people for encroaching upon our market, just like us they had seen an opportunity and were trying to make the most of it - after all, that's business! Luckily, we realised we had something different: our brand. Where others were farming designs with their template websites, we were building a community with a set of shared beliefs.

“Don't hate the playa... Hate the game!”

It was time to up our game and reinforce the Ethcs brand, so we set about redesigning our logo. It sounds simple enough, but when one person thrives on structure and the other is a creative dreamer , things can get a little heated! This was a huge lesson in working together and even though the first couple of weeks were tense, it was worth it. We explored countless design ideas but we knew straight away when we found the one. A logo that not only looked cool but reinforced what Ethcs stands for.

Next up was a product review. Where could we strengthen the brand and add value to our products for our community? We looked at the competition, which meant buying some of their products. We noticed many of our competitors were selling unisex garments manufactured in the cheapest possible conditions. Manufacturers tags were still sewn in and nearly all of them printed with traditional petrol-based chemical inks. We'd made a decision early on to always sell garments that were tailored for men and women: one size hardly ever fits all!

We'd always intended to sell ethically manufactured garments but this time we decided to investigate our manufacturers and suppliers to make sure they lived up to their claims. They did not. We dumped those suppliers and went in search of a manufacturer/supplier who could prove their claims. Surprisingly, this was a long search but we finally found a supplier that walked the talk. Now we sell garments designed right here in Aotearoa and manufactured all round the world in W.R.A.P certified facilities - meaning they're sweat-shop free and work conditions are ethical. We are proud that our commitment to ethically produced garments is real, not just lip service. You can read more about why we should all care about how our clothes are manufactured on our blog.

“Our commitment to ethically produced garments is real, not just lip service”

Loyal to our soil

We'd never given much thought to screen printing but we started to investigate the materials used in the process, and we found out that our screen printer was using plastisol inks. Without gettin' all chemistry 101 on you, plastisol inks are liquified PVC and PVC is about as bad as it gets for the environment. Even long after your plastisol printed t-shirt is made, it's still letting off toxins when it goes through the dryer and even when it's exposed to sunlight. So, we dumped our screen printer too and found Thomas. Thomas is a local business man with a lot of love for his community. He only prints with water-based inks while contemplating life from a shed near the ocean, and he's damn good at both.

We were feeling pretty good about the changes we'd made to our products and the path they take from pattern to store room. We'd significantly reduced our impact on the planet and the people involved in the production process, and we were better for it. We decided it was time to bring our community in on the secret, and started planning how we could improve your customer experience.

“We'd significantly reduced our impact on the planet”

It was time to look at customising our garments. First up we started with custom synthetic neck tags. At a glance these were great but after about seven or eight washes they started to disintegrate. That was less great. We met with a few suppliers and they told us woven neck tags were the way to go. We got some samples made up and sewed them into a few t-shirts and hoodies. Seven or eight washes later and they were still good. Just to be sure we put them through for another seven or eight washes. Still good. We commissioned three sets of custom woven tags: neck tags, pip labels and custom badges.

Going mobile...

With a product review and revamp complete we turned to our website. The first Ethcs website had been a bit of a disaster. Shane had paid for a website template and registered the domain. He'd designed a cool looking header and loaded up the products. Sales were rolling in and all was good. But all was not as it seemed: the template was a dud, the hosting company that offered such a good deal ripped him off, he didn't own the domain name, all the customisation took weeks... and he was screwed.

Shane decided this would never happen again, and to make sure, he decided to learn how to build the websites himself. The resulting website was a huge improvement, because Shane had complete creative control over everything but it came with some more lessons to learn. It wasn't built on a content management system and it didn't track stock levels. On to Version III... This version ticked all the boxes and it was great in every way... until you all started browsing on your cell phones and tablets. Today you're reading this on version IV of ethcsstore.com, and it's fully responsive, it manages its own stock, it's accessible and straight forward and we made all of it ourselves! Pretty flash eh?

Ethcs Mobile Website

A whānau affair

While Ethcs is a long way from a traditional family business, it's very much a whānau affair. From day one it was inspired by Shane's closest friends, Bec is now an integral part of the business and Shane's mum is frequently called upon to sew together new product prototypes. We even attempted a photo shoot with Shane's Dad once, but that didn't work out so well. Scraggs, or 'The Face' as he's more commonly known, regularly patrols the outside of the storeroom, looking for small intruders. He reminds us to enjoy the simple pleasures, and he's also a constant source of entertainment: like the time he stole Shanes fresh bread rolls, or the time he dragged a kilo of cheese behind the couch for a feed.

Bec

Bec

Shane

Shane

Scrags

The Face

7 Things We've Learned

1
Own your website and design

Control is everything when it comes to online real estate. The last thing you need is someone else having control over your website and your ability to make changes. Own your domain and own the design. Templates can be great but always make sure your website can be customised to reinforce your brand and stand out.

2
Be prepared to change

It's easy to become attached to decisions you've made or things you've created. But if something isn't working, cut it loose and make a change. As my Dad used to say, "there's no use flogging a dead horse."

3
Stand for something

I used to think things like "corporate values" were rubbish. But a couple of years ago we sat down and started listing all things we considered important in business. A few of these really stood out. By understanding what we stand for, it gives us something to measure every decision against.

4
Exceed expectations

People love surprises and people remember surprises. We've had great results from giving people just a little more than they were expecting to receive. Surprises don't have to be expensive but they should be considered.

5
You gotta have personality

There's a heap of competition online these days and you can't beat the big players on price. To stand out, connect with customers and build a community, you gotta have personality.

6
Take it offline

Shane is kinda shy and the possible anonymity of selling online was always appealing. But he's learned there's huge benefits to taking the business offline and meeting people face-to-face. Markets are a great place to start and at least once a year we pack up the storeroom and set up shop at events like Shirtstock

7
Learn to say no

In the early days Shane was so eager to please everyone that he was constantly saying yes. He slowly came to realise that you can't please all the people all the time. Trying to results in some less than good business decisions.

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© 2014 Ethcs Clothing | Online Clothing Store for NZ Streetwear