Premium sports brand iLabb has recently expanded its reach internationally and further into the south of New Zealand, all while celebrating its first decade as a successful Kiwi brand.
The now 10-year-old iLabb was not an instant success. Founders Matt Saunders and Seadon Baker often had to forgo proper meals and sleep to keep the business afloat in the initial stages.
The company was founded as a motocross-inspired decal and casual apparel brand in 2007. By the end of that year, the brand’s decals were seen on many championship-winning bikes both in New Zealand and internationally.
Saunders says the company’s beginnings came from a shared love for motocross and a noticeable gap in the decal market.
“Seadon and I both raced motocross, that’s how we got to know each other. We found that there really wasn’t anyone doing a good job of making the decals that go on the bikes, so we developed the product design and the marketing and it all kind of came together, till now 10 years later.”
Shortly after, the two created iLabb’s apparel line. What started off as a marketing technique for their decal brand now accounts for 95 percent of sales.
“The apparel line initially when we first started… the main thought of that was ‘Walking billboards’,” Saunders says. “We wanted people to be walking around with the logo on their chest as a cool way of marketing.”
But we realised quickly that you can service a lot bigger market [selling apparel] than you can in the motocross scene. So, once we got a taste of getting our power into a few streetwear stores, we began to put a bit more effort into getting more of those stores on board.”
Saunders says the main growth of their decal brand was initially thanks to talented friends within the motocross world, yet the two quickly discovered their ambitions were bigger than just decals.
“Seadon and I were lucky to have some talented mates in the motocross scene who started using the product. And that got it out there quite quickly. So, within the first couple of years, we had a pretty strong hold on the decal market in New Zealand, which was quite a small market, but we had ambitions to be a bit more than that – and that’s where our apparel started to kick off.”
By 2008 the company had moved to bigger premises, and again in 2009, it was moved to a larger studio on Auckland’s New North Rd. In 2010 the company signed its first casual wear distribution agreement with Level Ltd and launched its first full seasonal casual apparel line.
As well as its newest store in Queenstown, iLabb has its own flagship store in Grafton, an outlet store in Onehunga and is stocked in over 90 wholesale stores across New Zealand and Australia.
Saunders says he and Baker have overcome many hurdles while growing their company in the last two years, from sourcing quality fabrics, getting their own production and design team and battling the stresses of two industries.
“The hardest thing is your own state of mind. It is quite a full-on industry to be involved with, so maintaining a positive outlook can sometimes get challenging, especially when you’re a bit run down or overworked. So, maintaining that positive vibe can get challenging at times, but we have a really amazing team here that are very empathetic and can see when someone else is struggling so are there to support them.”
ILabb is known for its upside-down logo. According to Saunders, there’s no rhyme or reason behind it being that way.
“To be honest we don’t know, although there are many urban myths around the building about how it came about. But, what we say is that for us it just stands for looking at things a bit differently and taking a different perspective on things.”
The brand relies heavily on interpersonal relationships and a supportive team, and although now heading more towards an international market, iLabb is a Kiwi brand through and through.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 751 August / September 2017