ilabb started as a bike decal company in 2007 founded by Seadon Baker, a sign writer and a professional bike rider and Matt Saunders, an architect.
However, they soon found the market for apparel was a lot bigger than the one for decals, so clothing became the main focus for the brand.
Saunders, the creative director, says ilabb considers itself the most commercial streetwear brand in New Zealand.
“You’ve got Huffer, you’ve got Federation and all of them doing amazing stuff, but we’re put more of a commercial twist on it. There’s customers that see us as progressive but we also work on mass market,” he says.
The commercial twist is: ilabb focuses on collaboration, whether that’s with other brands, athletes or musicians.
Kiwi athletes have co-designed clothing lines with the brand and received a financial cut from the sales, while collaborating with music festivals like Rhythm and Vines allows ilabb to have pop-up stores at events where its key customers are.
This collaboration has also helped it succeed where others has failed. Profits from action sports brands, particularly surf brands, are dwindling. Quiksilver recently filed for bankruptcy.
Saunders says ilabb is succeeding because it has a really good understanding of who its customer is.
“It’s tricky because these surf brands get so big and they perhaps lose touch of who their customer is, whereas with us, the mantra in here is, ‘We’re in this together’, so we work really hard on understanding who our customer is, who our suppliers are, who our staff are.”
From the get-go, ilabb’s ambition was to be a leading global action sports brand, and Saunders says the pieces of the puzzle are now coming together.
ilabb has its own flagship store in Grafton, an outlet store in Onehunga and is stocked in 75 wholesale stores across New Zealand and Australia.
It also has six different international websites (New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, the US, Canada and Europe) that prices and content are individually tailored to.
For ilabb, the US is the most exciting market right now. The company has begun to break into the US market on the ground through pop-up stores at action sports events.
ilabb was the first New Zealand streetwear label to do an activation at the 2015 X Games held earlier this year in Austin, Texas, which attracts crowds of over 100,000 people.
“That was just huge,” Saunders says. “The amount of people there was phenomenal. We were insanely excited to be there at it. We’d grown up inspired by that event, to be a brand associated with it was a dream come true.”
ilabb’s way of cracking the US market is tactical, as not many Kiwi clothing brands have had success there.
The first US pop-up shop was done in a partnership with the company’s very first brand ambassador, Mad Mike Whiddett, a Kiwi drift driver who has almost two million followers on Facebook.
Mad Mike's son modelling some ilabb gears
“There’s obviously niches in the States that people are inspired by and drifting with Mad Mike this year and been an easy way to go into that market,” ilabb marketing manager Lauren Honeycombe says.
“It’s about building little hubs and little communities and spread from there, I don’t think you’d go in and say, ‘Mainstream America! This is ilabb!’ You’d build a story.”
Saunders says there’s two motivations for creating pop-up stores at events.
“It’s to sell products to subsidise being there and contribute to the athlete financially as well, but also to build a digital database of customers,” he says.
“We’ve got people there are collecting emails and contacts and then we hit them up after the event to push them online, so they’ll make a connection with us digitally and see the wider range of our products.”
ilabb just recently held its seventh pop-up store activation in the States last weekend.
“There’s nowhere you can physically enjoy the brand [in the US], so pop-up stores are extremely important for the customer to get that tangible connection with us,” Saunders explains.
As for the future, ilabb is one to watch as it continues to build its international expansion, with the US being a primary focus.
Though ilabb is already stocked in Australian stores, Saunders says it’s not actively pursuing the market there – yet.
“Our goal is we want to come at Australia from a global perspective, not be the little brother trying to get into Australia,” he says.
“It’s a bit harder to crack into as they’ve already got some good brands there. There’s a few markets we want to play in, but America is head and shoulders the biggest and strongest when it comes to the action sports.”