I’m originally from the South Island – my family live in Wānaka – but I now live in the middle of the North Island on my husband Sam’s family farm near Hunterville – a hill-country sheep and beef breeding farm. I am a mother of two children – Harry, 3, and Gussie, 1 – who are my whole world.
We created Honest Wolf to try to build a place for myself within the larger family business of the farm station, while still fulfilling my own passion. That’s where Honest Wolf fits in – we use wool from the farm but treat it as a separate business.
The original idea for felted woollen bags started from the fact that, like so many other farmers, we don’t do a daily shop. It’s weekly or fortnightly, and generally a pretty large shop, so we need something strong and durable to lug everything back in. One of the qualities of wool is that it’s temperature-regulating. We came up with the shopping bag idea because it keeps frozen items semi-cold on the very long drive home, and we built the brand on top of that. The timing aligned with plastic bags being phased out of the country and this created an avenue to use our wool in a new way – previously it was only being used for carpets.
We were meant to launch in March 2020, but this was pushed out, and we officially launched in June. There was such a movement at that time for New Zealand brands and stories, so the timing of the launch ended up working in our favour. Although the lockdown did hinder our start date, it also meant that we had the time to get everything in line and didn’t rush our launch. Being an online business also helped during lockdown!
There aren’t many manufacturing options here, so making our bags in New Zealand wasn’t an option for us. We send our wool to India by boat to be dyed, made into felt, and then made into bags – alongside New Zealand leather – then shipped back to New Zealand. It is a logistical nightmare. There have been a lot of mistakes along the way – a lot of learning, and we took a huge risk. But our agent in India had a relationship with a New Zealand company that we knew, so he wasn’t a complete stranger. My husband has just returned from the first trip to India to meet our manufacturing team and agent over there. He has built such a strong relationship already in just one trip, I am really excited to join him on the next trip and meet the team over there myself.
We were previously packing all our orders out of our home. Once we outgrew that, we had a third-party logistics company send out our products from Auckland for a while. But we wanted to bring it back and make it local again, so we found a retail space in Hunterville, and we now dispatch our bags from here and treat it as a working store. We also serve coffee at the store, so you can look around, hear our story, and touch and feel the bags. Seventy percent of our business is online. A growing amount is in-store, but we are very much an online business with a retail space alongside.
We are also working on collaborations with other New Zealand brands, building products that use wool in a new way. We’re growing our own range and products, introducing new things, but also building out. We have a collaboration coming up with a baby brand for an exciting new product that’s not a bag. We hope to continue connecting with other local brands, and getting our name out there. We are mainly focusing on New Zealand at the moment, and then plan to look at growing internationally when the time is right for the business, and the family as well. We want to be growing at the right pace.
A big reason why we started Honest Wolf was because of our physical location. We found ourselves deep in the hills, but I didn’t want to be limited by the location. I’d like to encourage others to have the confidence to start something up and not to let location be a barrier to that.
We’ve got five women working for us who found themselves in the area because of their partners. We’ve tried to bring job opportunities to the area, so they don’t have to drive a long way to continue their career. A couple have left to have their own babies, and we now offer flexible working for them to come back and help out as needed.
There are so many women around the country doing business from remote locations now. I’ve connected with others through Instagram and built friendships with those who are in similar situations. We have formed a really incredible, supportive online community. Many of those brands are renowned in New Zealand now. We have all been there, and we just encourage others to get in touch with us so we can help steer things in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
The NZI Rural Women NZ Business Awards celebrate the creative and innovative women running rural businesses and their contributions to rural communities. Visit ruralwomennz.nz/business-awards/ for more information.
Despite being flat-tack running a dairy farm and raising three children, Te Aroha farmer Kate is the successful owner of two small businesses.
Letter from the Editor, Takurua Winter 2023.
Rebecca Greaves, 38, is a rural journalist based in Pongaroa. She is a tireless champion of rural communities.
This story is the third in a series where we share, in their own words, the stories of ten women who call Tararua home.